The Thorn Within

A Supernatural Fanfiction by Merrie

Disclaimer: How I wish the lovely Winchester boys belonged to me! But alas, they belong to Eric Kripke and all associated. Those selfish bastards!

Summary: Dean has been cursed so subtly that no one, not even him, has noticed until the effects start adding up. Meanwhile, Sam's got his own problems. The strain of his visions is quickly becoming too much to bear for no apparent reason with no relief in sight. And that's just the beginning.

Author's Note: My very first Supernatural fic ever, so take that into account when you're reviewing. I'm writing for the "NaNoWriMo" site. If you don't know what this is, please ask! Its great fun and you've still time to join.

Also, this is a SECOND SEASON fic so if you haven't gotten that far, please be aware. I figure it takes place post 'Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things.' It will be AU beyond that point.

Also, also, this is unbetaed so please ignore any and all errors you might find. Thanks.

Rating: Let's just start with M to avoid any problems later. Language, sex, violence, it's all here.

I am the secret
I am the sin
I am the guilty
I am the thorn within

'The Thorn Within' by Metallica

Prologue

Evil exists; don't let anyone tell you different. Dean Winchester had seen far too much in this life to believe otherwise. I'm getting maudlin and I don't even have any alcohol, he thought to himself as he dragged a hand across weary features and a two-day's growth of beard stubble. He wanted to blame his younger brother Sam for such a state of affairs but it simply wasn't worth the hassle. Dean could admit to himself that he had a tendency to think too much, too deep whenever he had a spare quiet moment to himself. It was part of the reason, besides the obvious, that he enjoyed filling the silences between hunts with blaring music. It was hard to think deep when you were singing along with a particularly awesome Zeppelin riff or Ozzie's drawled lyrics. But it was now, in the space between waking and sleeping when the silence couldn't be escaped and the thoughts would inevitably descend. Questions as to whether what they were doing was right or not had never troubled him outside of these damned moments. But it was more than that. It was worse than that. It was now as he lay awake listening to his brother's soft breathing and staring at the ceiling of yet another shitty motel room that he struggled with the too-loud accusing voices in his head. Dad's dead. They'd say in their hissing accusatory growls. Dad's dead and it's all your fault. You lived and you shouldn't. You're a freak; a monster. You don't deserve to live. You killed him. Just like you killed Layla. Just like you killed your mom.

Alright, now he was just being stupid. He mentally tried to erase Mary Winchester's name from the 'Killed by Dean Winchester' list in his head but once written it would never leave. Damn it, I have to get out of here. Out of this room. Out of this crap town. Out of this life. But he couldn't leave. He would be left time and time again by those he loved—this was an accepted fact that didn't trouble him as much as it once had—but he would never leave. Not really. Sure, he had driven off leaving Sammy on the side of the road in Burkittsville, but he hadn't ever planned to stay gone. Not like Sammy had. Not like his father had.

He and Sam hadn't talked about what he had said after they had left the cemetery and they wouldn't. Not that Sam wouldn't try. He always tried, always had to push and push and push for just one more precious chick-flick moment from his emotionally stunted older brother, but it didn't matter. Dean was done talking. He wasn't dealing particularly well, he didn't know how the hell was he supposed to, but he was dealing. He had been doing just fine despite Sam's claims to the contrary. But Sam couldn't accept just fine. His older brother had to be fucking perfect…invincible. Able to not only hunt and kill anything and everything that came his way without issue but emotionally open and more than willing to share whatever happened to be weighing on his soul that particular day. Not that anything weighed on his soul. He was fine and he was done thinking about it.

Except that he wasn't. The silence hadn't ended, dawn was slow in coming and he was still stuck with his own damn thoughts. For the briefest of minutes he was half-tempted to reach over to the other bed and wake Sam up just for someone to fill the silence with, but he wasn't a complete ass despite evidence to the contrary. Sam got little sleep lately as it was. They both did. And with Sam's near constant nightmares and visions only making matters worse, Dean would let his younger brother sleep while he was able. Dean only wished he had the same luxury. He hadn't gotten a good night's sleep in…he didn't want to think about how long it had been. If Sam noticed he hadn't said anything. He simply tried to be subtle by offering to drive more often than he ever had in the past. Dean wouldn't let him. Not until he was so dead behind the wheel that he risked hurting his baby would he admit defeat and hand the keys over to Sam. Getting up out of bed right now would also be admitting defeat, admitting that he wasn't going to get any sleep so there was no point in trying. He wouldn't do it. Well, not usually. He could sometimes rationalise away his retreat to himself by booting up the laptop and researching whatever beastie they were hunting. But not tonight. They had no cases. They hadn't had a real case in weeks. Not since…well he didn't want to think about that either. Ellen had given them the clown case and they had stumbled upon the zombie hunt on Sam's irrational quest to see their mother's grave. Something else Dean didn't want to think about. Even the brief glance he'd had of it when they were leaving had been more than he'd ever wanted.

He pushed the sheets down off of his chest and sighed loudly, raising his watch to his face and illuminating the tiny numbers. 3:42 am. Great. Last call was through, the girls had all gone home safe to their beds and dawn was still hours away. He was about ready to smother Sam's face with a pillow just for the sheer lack of anything else to do. Forget letting him catch up on his sleep. Forget feeling sorry for him. The only thing worse than not being able to sleep was having to watch and listen to someone not at all troubled by the same problem. He had to get out of here. He had to get far, far away from the silence and his own thoughts. He needed the peace of noise and other people to regain his control again.

Sitting up in bed, he let the sheets pool to his lap, exposing the bare skin of his chest and shoulders to life outside the warm cocoon of the sheets. It didn't matter. He rationalised to himself that he wasn't really giving up on trying to get any sleep per se, but looking for something to accomplish during the time was usually wasted sleeping. It sounded like a steaming pile of bs even within his own mind but his bare feet were on the ratty carpet propelling him further and further away from Morpheus' distant and uncaring embrace. He padded into the bathroom and shut and locked the door behind him out of habit. Sammy might be deep in dream land and not about to come in behind him not knowing, but when you spent nearly all of the hours in the day with someone, a younger brother especially, in tight confines, things like locking doors on bathrooms became a highly prized commodity; a necessity even. To place such emphasis on something as seemingly trivial as well, bathroom time may have seemed stupid to some people, but those people simply didn't know what it was like to spend a life on the road.

He scowled at the harsh fluorescent light above the single small mirror hanging precariously over the small sink and fleetingly wished he had night-vision eyes so he wouldn't need it. Such off-the-wall comments were hardly odd in their line of work in dealing with the supernatural day in and day out, and they were especially common at this time of night. He and Sam used to play a little game unofficially titled "superhunters" when they were children. The object was an often heated discussion about which of the things they hunted's powers they wanted for themselves. They both wanted to be able to fly of course, not knowing anyone who could possibly think otherwise, but while Sam had always leaned toward the fantastical, such as telekinesis, Dean had wanted such practical powers that would serve him in hunting such as night-vision and the ability to heal from virtually any wound suffered. Did it piss him off that Sam seemed to have gotten his wished-for power after all? Maybe a little when he was afflicted with a larger than normal dosage of older brother selfishness, but that quickly faded when he once more witnessed just what Sammy had to go through to get such a "gift." Crippling visions of murder and death for a few moments of highly unreliable telekinesis? It didn't sound like a good deal to Dean.

The water was cool on his face as he tried to wash the grit of insomnia away from his eyes. Sam had enough to worry about without picking up on the fact that his older brother wasn't sleeping. Yeah, he won't be able to tell. Not at all… Yeah right. He scowled at his reflection in the mirror, willing his bloodshot and raccoon-looking green eyes back to their normal state. Nothing doing. The fact that his already naturally pale complexion had paled to an approximation of rice paper wasn't helping matters either. Damn it. He just needed a shave and a steaming hot cup of caffeine and he'd be fine. Well, he wouldn't be fine but he'd be ready to go anyway. Not that they had anywhere to go. They had no job, no reason to leave this particularly uninteresting motel room in a long, long line of uninteresting motel rooms. But he couldn't stay either. It just wasn't in his nature. They, well Sammy had always been a bit of a freak even when they were kids, had been raised as wanderers, as nomads and that was what Dean did. He wandered, not staying too long in one place or the next for fear of…well, he didn't really know what he feared exactly, he just knew it wasn't right to stay in one place for too long. The questions inevitably arose; Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? He had no answers for any of them, nor the desire to give them if he had.

Humming Metallica's 'Wherever I May Roam,' softly under his breath, he dried his face and wandered back into the main room to get dressed, thinking that a walk might relax him enough to sleep for at least a few hours. It was probably a foolish notion, but he couldn't sit still any longer. He pulled on his jeans and boots with the ease of practised silence and quickly scrawled a note on the motel stationary 'Rob's Roadside Inn' glaringly printed in bold letters across the top, informing Sam of his location should he wake and wonder. He then grabbed his wallet, cell and room key and left the room as silently as he had moved about within it.

Bless 24 hour diners and cheap coffee, Dean thought to himself with a happy sigh as he took a long gulp of the near scalding caffeinated goodness. It burned hot and sharp on the way down but he didn't care. The small diner was empty save a random sampling of insomniacs like Dean himself and the weary looking truck drivers vainly trying to fool their bodies into letting them drive just a few more hundred miles before sleep. Dean barely paid any attention to them in his seat at the counter, but that wasn't to say that he didn't notice them. He noticed everything. The day he stopped was the day whatever he was hunting got the drop on him. And Dean was determined to make it to at least 30 before that happened. Beyond that he figured anything was possible.

"Refill, hon?" the only waitress in the entire place asked softly, interrupting his thoughts. Dean looked up, meeting her eyes with a smile and a nod. She wasn't bad looking and they could likely pass the remaining hours until sunrise in pleasure if she was interested, but he didn't press the issue. He simply smiled and let that work for him.

The waitress, the nametag on her uniform read Anne, looked momentarily taken back as if not recognising the smile for what it was at this time of night. Dean couldn't blame her. Between working the graveyard shift and having to deal with the insomniac dregs of society all night, she had probably been simply going through the motions. Such a glimpse of humanity was unexpected. "You don't strike me as one of them," she gestured with her chin toward a group of what were obviously truckers."

Dean took up the halfhearted attempts at conversation, appreciating the noise. "Couldn't sleep," he said with another grin, a crooked wry one this time and a sip of his fresh coffee.

"Which explains the coffee," Anne the waitress said with a quirk of her lips and a delicately raised eyebrow. Dean decided he liked her eyebrows. They were graceful arches leading up to a smooth forehead despite how tired she must have been at this hour of night.

Dean raised his mug in salute and chanced a wink in her direction. "I simply decided that I wasn't going to wait for the sun to start my day this morning."

"Oh really?" Anne asked, slowly remembering how conversations were supposed to work.

"Really," Dean answered with a straight face. "I'm setting my own hours now."

"Is that right?" Anne continued, placing her now free hands on her hips in a clearly disbelieving manner. "So you've just decided to be up and awake at 4 in the morning despite all signs indicating otherwise?" He might have been cute with a little more colour to his skin and a few less rings around his dull green eyes.

"Seems like," Dean said after a moment's hesitation, smiling at the lie.

Anne huffed and moved briefly away to help another sleepy-eyed customer before returning. "So what's keeping you up, soldier?" She frowned as Dean unconsciously tensed at the title.

"What makes you think I'm a soldier?" he asked warily, his coffee growing cold and forgotten on the counter in front of him.

She seemed taken aback at the question but to her credit leaned back slightly from him to formulate an answer. "Your…what do they call it? Bearing? Yeah, bearing. I can tell you're exhausted and yet you're sitting up straight in that chair."

"Maybe I just have good posture," Dean muttered, uncomfortable with her stare. He refrained from being petty and forcing himself to slouch in the chair just to call her bluff.

She was slowly shaking her head back and forth before she spoke. "No, it's more than that. It's the way you took a seat at this part of the counter where you could see the door rather than sit with your back to it." She frowned and her eyes darted quickly to the door and back again. "You're not…running from something are you?"

He held up a hand to stop her from thinking the worst. "Just sleep and an annoying younger brother."

She nodded as if that explained everything. "I didn't mean to offend you by the soldier remark. It's just been a long night and you're the first person to talk in something other than a come on or a grunt. If you want to be left alone, that's fine." She tucked a stray curl of her bright red hair behind her ear in a nervous gesture.

Not only did Dean now feel like an ass for making her feel nervous, but he didn't want to lose the easy conversation they had been sharing. He hadn't been thinking about his…father at all since his coffee had been refilled. He didn't want to lose that peace, no matter how fleeting it might ultimately be. "Look I'm sorry. You didn't offend me. Not at all. You're almost right. I'm not in the military but I grew up in a military family. Marines. I guess it shows."

"Oh. Your dad or mom?" Anne asked, willing to take up the gentle thread of conversation again if he was.

"My uh, dad," Dean said thickly. And because the lack of sleep can do strange things to the brain, he went on. "He passed recently. They think it was a stroke."

"I'm sorry," she said softly, the pity at once clear and obvious on her face. Dean offered her a weak smile.

"It's alright. I'm fine." The words were practically automatic by now.

She didn't look like she was buying it, but mercifully she didn't press. "Tell me about your brother."

"Sammy?" A real smile made its way to his lips despite the pain of the previous subject. "He's a pain in my ass. Always has been. Smart though. He's always figuring out things before everyone else. I worry about him, but he'll be alright. He's strong."

"You should smile more often. It suits you and it's good for the soul," she said with a smile of her own.

Dean stuck out a hand over the counter. "I'm rude and I know it. I'm also Dean," he offered, realising that up until now he'd shared everything with her except his actual name.

"I'm Anne if you couldn't tell by the nametag," she responded wryly, taking his offered hand and shaking it firmly.

"I might have glanced at it for a second or two," he said as he reclaimed his hand. She laughed. "So Anne, besides working third shift at a diner, tell me your hopes and dreams. And make it quick before the caffeine runs out and I fall asleep mid sentence." She laughed again and Dean decided he loved the sound.

"Well Dean, now that you're not a total stranger I guess I've no choice but to comply. I'm a 4th year over at the University of Colorado studying to be a mechanical engineer." Dean's eyebrows quirked minutely at that and she smiled and elaborated, "My father was one and I guess I've always wanted to be one too. Ever since I was young. I work at this utterly charming establishment to pay the bills. I have an older brother James and two younger brothers, Ryan and Eric. Both of my parents are sill living—still married—in fact so I guess I consider myself lucky on both counts. As for my hopes…well I'm hoping that when I get off work in 15 minutes we can continue this conversation somewhere that doesn't smell like grease and unwashed men." The smile she sent his way at this point was by no means innocent, yet contained a measure of shyness all the same. Dean had to admit, he was charmed.

"You're coming-on to me?" he asked with a smirk, leaning over folded hands on the counter with the question. "While this isn't quite a first, it just doesn't generally go down this way."

"Oh I'm sorry. Would you like to start over? I can pretend you're a total stranger again and you can ask me to come home with you. Don't forget to through in such classic endearments as 'sweetheart,' 'honey,' or even my personal favourite, 'babe.'"

Dean pretended to consider it and let out a mock sigh. "What's done is done. It can't be changed now. Well then yes, Anne the budding mechanical engineer. I would love to come home with you. As long as you call me sweetheart."

She laughed again and he couldn't help but laugh with her, his troubles momentarily forgotten with the prospect of a woman's company. Call him a womanizing bastard or a skirt chaser, he wouldn't mind. Hell, he'd even agree. But he didn't care. He was tired of caring and it had been far, far too long since he'd done something spontaneous; something for himself.

Once more, to her credit, Anne didn't comment on the emotions clear as day on Dean's face. He was so tired of holding everything back but gathered himself just a little bit closer at the slight downturn of her lips. He didn't want her pity but he supposed he'd take a sympathy fuck if that's what she was really offering. Anything to take his mind off of his life for awhile. And if she turned out to be some kind of black widow who lured unsuspecting men back to her lair for a little seduction and slaughter, all the better. Fighting or fucking, he could go either way at the moment.

Dean watched her move about behind counter, removing her apron and smoothing the wrinkles from her white uniform dress. Dean's eyes moved over her figure and he liked what he saw. Her breasts were full and heavy and her hips were deliciously curved. She probably considered herself slightly overweight—he hadn't met a women yet that didn't think she could afford to lose some weight—but if Dean was being particular, he'd claim he liked curves on a woman. "You ready to go, sweetheart?" Anne drawled, coming up beside him at the counter while he moved off of the stool.

"Lead the way, babe," he returned, tit-for-tat, offering the crook a leather-encased arm for her to take. She did so readily, well used to this part of the evening. She wasn't looking for anything more than a few hours with a near total stranger to unwind from a long night's work, and that was more than fine with Dean.

The sex wasn't spectacular but it wasn't bad either. Dean supposed he wasn't all that surprised, really. Two exhausted souls desperately seeking each other's company didn't leave a whole lot of room for foreplay and romance. But the sex had served its purpose; for the both of them. Dean Winchester never left a woman unsatisfied, even when the sex was all but meaningless. Especially when the sex was meaningless. Just because he was using her for a few hour's peace didn't mean he'd leave her feeling used. He wasn't a complete bastard. No, he'd left young Anne the prospective mechanical engineer and part-time waitress content and sleepy within her bed, smiling up at him as he pulled on his hastily discarded clothing.

Dawn was creeping over the edges of night now, slowly revealing yet another sunrise after yet another night of no sleep, but oddly enough, he felt great. Spectacular even, despite the less-than-spectacular sex. His eyes and mind were clear, his step was sure and confident; he felt like a million bucks. God Almighty, he was even whistling! Dean chuckled at his own foolishness and stuffed his hands deeper into his pockets as he made his way back to the motel were Sam likely still slept. He could have called for a cab, he had the money for once, but he was practically bursting with energy and needed to walk as much of it off as he could before Sam woke up otherwise the accusations of drug-taking would start flying every which way. He just needed to get laid. That's all there was to it. He hadn't been with a woman since…longer than he cared to admit. God love the fairer sex, he silently praised. All it took was the attentions of a good woman to push him past 100 again. The guilt, the grief, it didn't matter now. Not in the light of a new dawn.

Gently jiggling the stubborn motel room lock and forcing himself not to whistle in case Sam was still asleep, he entered the motel room as stealthily as he had excited, only to be caught this time. "Ah. Morning, Sammy. How'd you sleep?" Dean asked casually, dropping his keys and jacket on a nearby chair as he moved into the room. His brother's dark hair was still mussed rather than forced into the shaggy mom he normally kept it in, which told Dean that his younger brother must not have been up long.

"Did you turn your phone off?" The question was blunt and shot pointblank. Something in Sam's eyes softened the harshness of his words though and Dean couldn't quite pinpoint it.

Had he? Dean pulled the object in question out of his jacket where he had left it and flipped it open. "Yeah, I guess I did. Sorry dude. It's on now. Why?" His little brother cursed softly and shifted on bare feet as if he had just been asked to take a large bite out of a steaming shit sandwich. "Sammy?"

"I uh, got a call for you," Sam started, seeming to square himself for whatever he had to say. It was beginning to worry Dean. "That's what woke me up. I guess they tried you first but couldn't get an answer. Damn it, Dean."

"What? What's wrong? Who was it?" Dean was definitely nervous now. "Is it the demon? Is it back?"

Sam held up a hand. "No, no it's not the demon. It's uh, fuck. It's Cassie, Dean." The words came out in a whoosh of air, as if Sam were in a rush to get them out of his mouth.

"Cassie?" Dean asked with a confused frown. "My Cassie?" Sam nodded, seemingly lost for words. "You're scaring me man, cut it out. What did she say? Is the spirit back?" Sam still didn't answer. "Stop pretending to be a damn mute and answer the question!"

Sam took a breath and wished he knew a better way of doing this but he knew his brother. Bad news was best delivered in the fastest most direct way possible, akin to ripping off a Band-Aid from a bloody wound in one sharp motion, but this…this was worse than bad news.

"Dude, if you don't open your mouth and answer my question I swear—"

"She's dead, Dean," Sam said softly. "It was Cassie's mom on the phone. The funeral's tomrrow afternoon."

"That's not funny, dude," Dean said evenly, his jaw clenching and unclenching as he stared Sam down.

"She was sick, Dean. Apparently she's been sick for a long time. Dean—"

"No. No I don't believe it," Dean denied, shaking his head back and forth as he began to pace the length of the small room. "She would have called me. She would have told me she was sick. She wouldn't just die. Someone's lying to us Sammy. Cassie's not dead. She can't be. She just can't."

TBC

A/N: Yes, I'm evil. I am well aware of this and yet completely unrepentant. If you made it this far, please do be kind and drop a review. The next chapter should be up in a day or two. Until then, thanks for reading!