Supernatural is not mine.
Thanks to charmed1of2, Dreema Azaleia Wingblade, griffin-girl02 (x2), Hope Calaris, Riana1 (x3), imbreena, shadowhisper, Kaewi, bally2cute, Phx, Faye Dartmouth, charli, snfan228, friendly, Sandrine Black and carocali for being such wonderful reviewers.
Tired and Emotional 5
It always came back to this: fire and the demon and Sam. The memory of smoke was almost more overpowering than the smoke itself as Dean stumbled forward, the memory of screams—his father's, Sam's—were louder in his mind than the real ones he uttered, and perhaps that was no surprise, because after the noise that had been more than noise, he couldn't really hear much any more.
He didn't know how long the house had been burning when he grabbed Sam under the arms and began to drag him across the floor. The walls were well under way, and it felt strange, incongruous, that the fire seemed to have started with them and not on the ceiling.
The hungry flames looked oddly washed out and dull. Glass crunched beneath his feet at every step, and it was slow, painfully slow, because every time he pulled at his brother, managed to move him another inch or two across the floor, something in him felt like it was tearing just a little more. He remembered how, when he was a kid, he would imagine bursting into burning rooms and flinging children (mothers) over his shoulder, carrying them to safety to the cheers of the crowd. Yeah, some fireman you turned out to be.
The door was the only place that wasn't burning. That was because the door wasn't even there any more, it had been reduced to dust at some point during the fight, and now there was only a black oblong licked by flames. Dean aimed for it as best he could, though the smoke was making his eyes water and it was hard to see.
And then he was outside. Dean didn't really know how he had got there, because when he had been inside it had seemed like an impossible task, just another step towards failure. But there he was, lying on the ground a little distance from the burning cabin, and he was surprised to see that it was still dark, as though the preceding events had taken only an hour or two, and not the several weeks that he knew must have passed. He lay on his back, taking deep gulps of air and wondering why the stars seemed to be flashing an iridescent green.
It was only after this thought had been meandering through his brain for a while that it connected with something else and he sat up sharply, ignoring the burning in his guts. Sam. Where was Sam?
It was ten seconds, the longest ten seconds of Dean's life, before he found his brother, a dark huddle a few feet away, looking more like a bundle of rags than a living, breathing human being. But Sam was breathing, and Dean dropped to sit on the ground beside him, dizzy with smoke and sulphur and relief. Sam's face was dark with dried and drying blood, and the light that had suffused it was gone as if it had never been there. But when he opened his eyes, Dean knew that this was just an illusion, because the light was still there, somewhere inside Sam, not the warm light of Sam himself, but something harsh, too bright, sharp at the edges.
Dean. Are you OK?
Dean started, looking around sharply. It was Sam's voice, but his brother's lips hadn't moved. He looked back to see those bright eyes watching him carefully. He cleared his throat, his voice rasping with smoke. "Uh, Sam? Did you hear that?"
Sam grimaced slightly. Don't talk out loud. It hurts my ears.
Dean recoiled before he could stop himself. "Jesus, Sammy!" But Sam's wince pulled him back: there was no time to be thrown off now. Dean swallowed, then tried tentatively.
Dude. You can read my freakin mind?
Sam smiled tiredly. Only coherent thoughts. I won't—I can't read anything you don't want me to.
Oh. Dean thought about this. He remembered the confrontation in the cabin, tried to remember if he had actually seen Sam speak, or just heard him. You OK?
Been better. Sam sat up slowly, grasping the arm that Dean held out to help him. I'll live. And you?
Dean shook his head, about to answer out loud and stopping himself just in time. Take more than one crappy demon to slow me down. It was strange how normal this felt, this communication. As if they were discussing the weather at a pavement café in Normal, USA, not communicating psychically somewhere too close to hell itself. He glanced back at the cabin, still burning fiercely. Is it dead?
A shadow crossed Sam's face. No. I hurt it, but I couldn't kill it.
Did it leave that guy's body?
I don't know. Maybe.
Dean looked at the cabin again, wondering if he should try and go back in, try and save the portly, middle-aged man who looked like an accountant and probably had a family somewhere. He felt Sam's hand on his arm.
He's dead already. It doesn't matter.
Dean felt suddenly cold. It always mattered to Sam. No matter how much they had tried to help, no matter what the impossible obstacles in their path, if they failed to save someone, it mattered to Sam. They had escaped, they had survived, they had even temporarily beaten the thing that had shaped both their lives for the last twenty-two years. And it hadn't solved any of their problems.
We need to get you to a hospital.
Sam was standing, watching the darkness as the flames burned out behind him, and he turned in surprise at the sound of his brother's voice. Or thought. Whatever.
Dean snorted, which was kind of weird. He didn't think he'd ever psychically snorted before. Dude. You're a mess. Check a mirror lately?
Sam put his hand thoughtfully to his face, fingering the crusted blood that filled his ears. It's stopped bleeding now. Actually, it kind of helps. He shrugged. Blocks out the noise a little. You should go though. It hurt you.
It wasn't a question, but Dean was pretty sure Sam didn't need to read his mind to work out that his protestations of health were all lies.
OK, then. I'll go. You come with me.
Surprise again. What for? And if Dean was under any illusion that his brother was just slightly off because of the craziness of the past few hours, it was gone. This was worse than before, worse than Fredericksville, because this time Sam didn't even seem to realise that he was doing it.
Dean gritted his teeth, thought about asking Sam to hold his hand, spinning him some sob story about being scared. Wondering if he was so far gone that he would accept it. But maybe he would just say no anyway.
Better the truth, for now at least. We need to hide, Sam. It could come back here.
Sam was watching him curiously, as if he was some kind of science project. It will. It can feel me, just like I can feel it. We can't hide. We can only run—or fight.
Fight? Dean's thought was loud in his head. You just blasted everything you had at that thing and the fucker still didn't die. What are you gonna do, throw freakin corn cobs at it?
Sam was crouching now, holding Dean's gaze where he sat on the hard ground. The light in his eyes seemed to have grown brighter in the short time since Dean had dragged him from the cabin.
I'm getting stronger all the time. I can feel power flowing into me. Soon I'll be stronger than it. Then it can be over.
Dean reached out and touched Sam's cheek, touched the streaked black blood. It's killing you, genius. Ever think of that?
Sam shrugged. It doesn't hurt.
Dean felt anger rise in him. You know what else can stop a person from dying even when their goddamn brain leaks out of their ears? Demonic possession.
Sam didn't look hurt, didn't really look like anything at all. Dean wondered if he had even heard him. Maybe it's supposed to be this way, Dean. Did you ever think of that? Maybe I'm supposed to be a weapon. That's why all this was given to me.
No, Dean's mind snapped, and somewhere in the back of it a voice that he hoped Sam couldn't hear said you're not a weapon, you're my brother. I pulled you from the fire three times. That means I get to keep you.
Don't you see, Dean? Sam's voice in his mind was soothing, persuasive, and it grated on Dean like ground glass. This could be our chance. It could be over. Dad could stop hunting. You could have a life, a real one. You wouldn't need to be alone any more.
And Dean was speechless, because those words were just so damn Sam, it was so like him to be so compassionate and yet so totally blind. Not alone any more. Of all the moronic things...
But Sam was turning away from him now, and the moment of recognition, of sheer Sam, was over. It started with me, said the voice in his mind, all traces of softness gone from it now. It has to end with me too. I hope you can understand that.
Dean stumbled to his feet, watching his brother's back silhouetted against the last of the fire. Yeah, I understand, he thought, and realised that Sam really wasn't reading his mind as he brought a rock down hard on the back of his brother's head.
It took him two days to drive to Lawrence, which was a hell of a lot longer than it should have taken, but Dean had to admit that he wasn't in great shape. He had broken into a hospital supply cupboard back in Birmingham, looking for something stronger than the painkillers in their field first aid kit, something that would take the edge off his own pain and something that would keep Sam unconscious. Not asleep, but unconscious, because Dean hoped that that would stop the nightmares from coming.
He hadn't stopped at motels along the way. It wouldn't look good, hauling his brother's limp body around. People might ask questions. Especially when they noticed the bugs. So he had caught broken sleep by the side of the road in places so obscure that no-one would care, sleep that hit him like a sucker punch but that he kept at bay as much as he could, wanting to be alert for the slightest sound of his brother waking up.
Sam did wake up, once, when the fog of drugs and unpleasant thoughts in Dean's brain was so thick that he couldn't remember when he had last dosed him with sedative. He remembered thinking about it, trying to grasp the memory as it slipped away. Things to do: wash car, buy groceries, drug brother to eyeballs to stop him destroying himself and possibly the entire world in an insane psychic vendetta. Sam's eyes had been half-lidded, disoriented, and his voice in Dean's mind had been thick with confusion. Dean, what...?
He didn't get any further than that before Dean was sliding in the needle, pushing down the plunger. Sam's eyes opened wide, and for a moment Dean felt a bone-breaking pressure on his sternum, forcing him back into his seat. Then Sam's eyes slid closed, and the feeling was gone.
The insects were closer when he pulled into Lawrence at five o'clock in the morning, but somehow Sam was still holding them off. They whined angrily over the house as Missouri rose from the verandah where she had been waiting possibly all night. She didn't ask him why he had come, didn't remind him of her words on the phone. In fact, she didn't speak at all, which made Dean feel both disappointed and relieved—it was two days since he'd spoken a word, and he wondered if he even knew how any more. Sam's gonna be so pissed he missed me shutting up for once.
Between them, they manhandled Sam out of the car and dragged him up to the house. The silence lasted until they had him laid out on the sofa, his chest rising and falling evenly. Then Missouri turned her gaze on Dean.
"Dean Winchester, Lord only knows what your father would say."
Dean felt his legs collapse under him, and he sank into a chair. He coughed a couple of times, trying to get his voice in working order. "My father's not here."
Missouri's face softened. "He's worried about you," she said. "He wanted to find you, but he didn't want to risk drawing it to you. Not that that matters," she added with a rueful glance at the sofa. "That brother of yours is calling for it loud as you please, even now."
Dean looked over at his brother. He didn't look like he was calling anyone, doing anything. On the other hand, he didn't look like he was keeping a psychic H-bomb in his head, either.
Missouri was watching him. "You need to rest, honey," she said. "You been working so hard."
Dean shook his head. "I need your help. I need to get this thing out of him before it finds us again."
"Oh, Dean," Missouri said, taking her hand in his, and the warmth of human contact made the backs of Dean's eyes prickle. "You can't take it from him. It's part of him. It is him."
"No," said Dean, very quietly. "Not all of it."
Missouri blinked, then looked over at Sam. He looked fragile, lying there, the dried blood still clinging to his skin. She looked back, and Dean saw fear in her eyes.
"Oh," she said. "Oh, you poor boys."
"Will you help me?" Dean asked.
"I don't know if I can," Missouri said.
"You can," said Dean, but he wasn't looking at her or even at Sam.
He was looking out of the window.
They chose a pasture a few miles outside the Lawrence city limits. There were no buildings there, no trees, and only the occasional car passing on the narrow road. The grass was wet, probably too wet to catch fire easily, Dean thought as he laid down a ring of salt.
It had been easy, in the end. He hadn't been sure he would find what he was looking for, but it was there, a tiny charm against creatures of the night, printed on thin, yellowing paper in a book that Missouri had found in her loft. Don't get much call for this one, she had said. It can't fight off no werewolves or kill no spirits. But it should be enough for this.
She was sitting now watching him, her own ring of salt pale in the last light of the setting sun. Between them, Sam lay unmoving on the grass, his breath condensing in the still air, and Dean was forcibly reminded of the woods of Minnesota on a night that seemed like an age ago. Above them, the dense, flashing cloud of insects whined on the edge of hearing, and God what Dean wouldn't do for some mutant Raid right about now.
"Are you ready?" Missouri asked, and Dean nodded slowly, holding the fragile paper between fingers that might have been trembling. The old psychic closed her eyes, frowning deeply. Dean waited.
They sat there long enough for dusk to turn into night, and Dean began to think that it wasn't going to work. He had one more dose of sedative left, and although he knew he could always break back in to the hospital in Lawrence, he knew, too, that he couldn't keep his brother unconscious forever. He had had a purpose coming here, and as bad as things had got, he had felt useful. He didn't know what he would do if it didn't work.
Then Sam stirred and opened his eyes. He sat up, looking surprised, confused, looking around until he saw Dean.
Dean. What did you do?
I'm taking care of it, Sam.
Sam's eyes narrowed. You said you understood.
Dean let a sigh gust through his mind. I do understand, Sammy. I understand that you're not thinking straight right now. That's OK, it's been kind of a crappy month. You've just got to let me take care of it.
Sam got to his feet and lifted his eyebrows, and Dean felt all his limbs suddenly become too heavy to move. He dropped the yellowing page that held the charm onto the grass and couldn't make himself pick it up again.
Samuel Winchester, you stop that right now.
Sam looked around, seeing Missouri for the first time. Oh, what is this, an intervention?
Dean shook off the surprise at being able to hear Missouri's voice in his head as well as Sam's. Sam, stop being a whiny bitch. We're trying to help you.
Sam turned on him, his eyes flashing, and Dean felt the pressure on his limbs intensify. I just need you to let go, he thought desperately. Please, just let go.
Sam's voice in his head was cold. You think you've got it all figured out, don't you? You don't know a thing. You don't know. Sweat was breaking out on his forehead, and Dean felt his fists clench, felt the nails break through his skin.
Sam, don't make me force you.
Sam's laughter in his head was high-pitched, shrill. You think you can force me? How? With one worn-out psychic and a carton of salt? You... he paused, wiping his hand over his face. What did you do?
Dean swallowed. He hadn't known if it would work, and God knew he hadn't wanted to try his luck. A day of research on the internet, a quick trip to the hospital, and then waiting for Sam to get the sedative out of his system because Jesus this was a mess and mixing drugs that he really didn't know anything about was just the perfect way to make it all worse. He had almost hoped it wouldn't work, because really, suppressing his little brother's brain activity on a chilly evening outside Lawrence had never exactly figured highly in his long-term plans.
Yet here Sam was, sinking to his knees on the wet grass and giving him a look that suddenly was only Sam, a look of fear and sadness and Dean, what did you doBut Dean didn't answer, because he didn't know yet what he had done.
And then the whining began to grow louder, pressing against his eardrums, acutely uncomfortable. He looked up to see the cloud of bugs closer now, boiling and seething, expanding and contracting like flames. Why is it always freakin fire? It was time.
He clenched his teeth, feeling the pressure rise from him and snatching the charm back up from where it lay, forcing himself to watch Sam, his fingers twitching so hard that he thought the paper might rip. They settled on him, the little bastards, first just one, almost too small to see, then several, and then he couldn't even see Sam, could only see a mass of darkness flashing green in the beam of the flashlight, and he felt his gorge rise because that was his brother under there, that was Sam, and sweat broke out on his brow as he concentrated on not moving, on not breaking the circle. He raised his eyes to meet Missouri's, pleading wordlessly, but she only shook her head with a look of infinite sadness.
The whining was making all the hair on Dean's body stand on end. He felt disjointed, lost in a swirl of tiny wings and greedy mandibles, even though they couldn't touch him, couldn't cross the salt. He wondered if this was what it was like for Sam. If Sam could even feel this. If Sam was even in there any more.
And then, as if she knew that he couldn't hold out for one more moment, Missouri nodded her head. Dean had gabbled through the unfamiliar words of the charm before he even knew it, tripping over the pronunciation, and when he had finished, he started again, and kept on reading it, again and again, the words tumbling out of him, staring at the paper so hard his eyes began to blur, but that was OK because the words were seared on his memory now, right beside the image of his brother sinking under a dark cloud of hungry bugs, so he kept repeating it until he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Missouri standing there.
"Dean, honey," she said. "It's over."
They didn't know if it had worked. The charm, of course, had worked like... well, a charm, despite Dean's misgivings. He had tried to understand, tried to work out how something so slight, so fragile, could drive away a plague of locusts. It doesn't matter how many there are, Missouri had said. It's a charm against the small evils of life. And they're small. Eventually, Dean had shrugged, not caring how it worked as long as it worked.
Missouri said the fact that the insects hadn't come back meant it must have worked. She said she couldn't hear Sam calling any more, and Dean tried to persuade himself that that meant it had gone OK, but somewhere in the back of his mind he became more and more convinced that it just meant that Sam wasn't in there any more.
The hospital was too quiet. Dean had been there years before: once when he was born, though of course he didn't remember that, once when Sammy was born, and once when mom... He pushed that thought down, but all the same he couldn't stop himself from staring at all the older doctors and orderlies, wondering if they remembered the night twenty-three years earlier when a broken man had stumbled in with his two motherless sons. He didn't want to think about the hospital, didn't want to think about anything, really, but there was nothing else to do because it was so damn quiet, and Dean realised after a while that it had been quiet for longer than that, too, quiet ever since that explosion of heat and light and din somewhere in Alabama. Sam had been unconscious since that night, and Dean wasn't sure he himself had had a single clear thought in all the quiet torture that had followed.
After the doctors had pronounced that his internal injuries were serious but fixable, they had tried to persuade him to stay in his own room, in his own bed. They had given that up when it became clear that he would do more harm to himself if they made him stay than if they let him go. They had set up a bed for him in Sam's room, but Dean preferred to sit, trying to sort through the jumble of his thoughts, made more confusing by the painkillers that he had at first refused to take because he wanted to be lucid when Sam woke up (if Sam woke up), but had eventually given in to because his headache might be doing a lot of things to him but it sure as hell wasn't making him lucid. The doctors or whoever they were came by sometimes, checking on Sam, checking on him, shooting him looks that were curious or resentful or nervous or sympathetic. Dean ignored them all.
And then there was Sam. Three days since that night in a field outside Lawrence, three days of hospital and quiet and MRI results and we won't know until he wakes up and goddamnit Sam, are you still in there?And all he had for company was his own thoughts, thoughts that stalked each other through his mind, circling warily, playing a psychotic game of cat and mouse where each pounce was worse than the last.
If I hadn't been so stupid it might not have caught me.
If I had got him to Lawrence earlier, it might never have found us.
If I hadn't killed the thing in Fremont, there might have been a solution.
If I hadn't lost him in the woods in the first place...
And always, bubbling under, Sam's accusing voice. If you had let me kill the demon, it would all be over by now.
Dean sighed and closed his eyes, leaning forward to rest his head on his forearms on the edge of Sam's bed. Maybe it was over anyway.
Dean's greatest fear, besides Sam not waking up at all or waking up wrong, was what he would say when (if) he did wake up. He imagined the moment in his head hundreds of times, and always it left him with a dark sense of shame. Would Sam be betrayed because Dean took his powers from him without his consent? Would he be disappointed because Dean had failed to protect him better? Or would he be angry because Dean had screwed up the only shot they might ever have at killing the demon?
But in the event, what Sam said was I'm sorry.
Dean wasn't even sure he had heard it. In fact, he was pretty sure he hadn't, because for one thing he was asleep, for another Sam didn't have a damn thing to be sorry about, and of course, let's not forget, his brother was in a freakin coma.
Then Sam said it again, and Dean was awake and staring. For a long moment, he looked into Sam's eyes, trying to see if that brittle light was still there. But he couldn't tell, and he knew he should say something, something to break the silence of five days or however many it had been now, but his throat felt raw and unable to cope.
"Dean?" Sam asked. "Are you OK? Did you hear me?"
And Dean looked away, sure now that he had heard the voice with his ears and not his mind, and cleared his throat. "Jesus, Sammy. You look like crap."
Sam sighed and sank back on the pillows. Dean steeled himself, waiting for the inevitable, wondering if Sam would leave him again now, and knowing he wouldn't blame him if he did.
"Everything was so clear," said Sam, his voice sounding somehow disconnected. "I could feel everything, how it all fit together. See it all, you know?" He turned his face away from Dean, and Dean swallowed. "I don't... It didn't seem like individual people were important, not in the grand scheme. I just knew what I was doing was right. Dean, I'm so sorry, man."
Realisation flooded through Dean's confused mind. Sam was trying to apologise. Sam was trying to apologise. "Sam, don't," he started, but Sam lifted his hand weakly.
"I want to," he said. "I need to."
But then it seemed like he had lost the will to continue his train of thought, and Dean was glad because he didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to remember it, and he sure as hell didn't need to forgive his brother anything.
Sam was different. It wasn't major, just a few little things. He didn't remember a childhood incident that they had joked about just a few weeks before. He had trouble with words for simple things like water and gun. Sometimes he said things that didn't make any sense and then stared at Dean like he expected him to understand.
Of course, that last one was nothing new.
The doctors said it was normal after an injury of such severity combined with drug use sliding dangerously close to an overdose, and in fact seemed amazed that there wasn't more damage. Dean thanked them, pocketed the pills and the counselling and rehabilitation flyers they gave him and got Sam out of that damn hospital as soon as they said he was ready to go.
Sam was different, but really Sam was the same.
They spent some time in the mountains, recuperating. They borrowed a cabin that seemed to be empty, because for some twisted reason it made Dean feel safe. To begin with, he had to help Sam remember how to do the oddest things, like switching on the light or loading a shotgun. After a while, though, Sam seemed to grow stronger, and to remember, some of it, at least.
One night, Sam turned that worried look of his on Dean and said do you think I'll still have visions?
But what Dean heard was do you think that thing's still inside me?
And Dean answered I don't know, Sam, we'll have to wait and see.
But what he meant was I freakin hope not.
Dean didn't know what day it was when he woke up to find Sam packing. He wasn't even sure he knew what month it was, though it was snowing outside so that ought to narrow it down a bit. What he was sure of was that the moment had finally come, and Sam had decided to leave. He stood in the doorway of the cabin and stared.
Sam didn't look at him. "I'm sick of this place," he said. "I packed your stuff already."
Dean felt his mouth open and close soundlessly, and wondered if he'd imagined it. But no, there was his duffel, neatly packed, his clothes freakin folded, which might have been considered torture if they hadn't been inanimate objects. "Where are we going?"
"Away," Sam said.
Dean fingered his bag. "Sam," he said, and his tone was so serious that Sam looked up, worried.
"What?" he asked softly.
"When you packed my bag... did you go through my underwear?"
Sam's mouth snapped shut. "Yeah, with a barge-pole."
Dean grinned. "I always knew you were weird, geek-boy, but I never even heard of a wooden pole/brother's underwear fetish before today."
"Shut up," said Sam.
And Dean knew they were OK.