Sam lay sprawled across his bed on his stomach, wanting nothing more than to be unconscious, but Dean had ahold of his right hand and was poking and prodding at his palm, making little "huh" noises. It was annoying and was keeping him connected to the waking world, but after spending two hours puking his guts out, Sam was totally exhausted and didn't have the energy to fight it.
He submitted lethargically to the exam, allowing Dean to examine his palm and wrist, right up until he felt the sting of Dean pinching the skin between his thumb and index finger. He let out a muffled yelp and jerked his hand back, glaring weakly at his brother. "Dude, ow!" he whined
"Sorry, Sammy." Dean apologized, dropping Sam's hand back down on top of the covers. "But it looks like it's fading—you feeling any better?"
Sam groaned and buried his head in his pillow. "No."
Dean frowned and reached out to feel the back of his brother's neck; he was dismayed to find that Sam's skin felt hot beneath his palm. Great, now they could add a fever to the list of things going wrong.
He didn't even know how to begin figuring out what was happening to Sam, so Dean went with the obvious: "I think that freaky dude you met in the voodoo shop cast a spell on you."
Sam grunted and pulled his right arm under his body. "How?"
Dean raised his eyebrows at his brother's response. Usually Sam had a theory for everything and a monologue to go along with it; he was the one who often made the difficult connections in cases, and the fact that he wasn't even trying to help himself was a bad sign.
"I don't know, you tell me. Did he say anything, do a chant, a dance, something?" Dean asked. He stepped away from the bed and crossed his arms over his chest.
"He was like a hundred, Dean, he couldn't dance." Sam mumbled, closing his eyes. "No chanting, either. Just told me Melinda was bad."
Dean pondered for a moment, then asked, "Did you leave anything there he could've cast a spell with?"
"Did he say anything weird?"
Sam sighed heavily. "Other than the fact that he sensed I'd been evil? No."
"C'mon, Sammy. Give me something." Dean begged. Sam blinked blearily up at him, silent, and Dean took a deep breath, running his fingers through his hair. "Okay, we've just got to—"
"Wait," Sam said, struggling suddenly to sit up. He got about halfway there and then grimaced and flopped back down.
"Dude, take it easy." Dean admonished.
"He had some kind of charm. A wooden charm. He pressed it into my hand." Sam recalled. He looked up at Dean, eyes wide. "Do you think it's causing this?"
"I don't know, man, but it's a start." Dean replied. He grabbed his coat off his bed, put it on, and then stuffed his wallet into his back pocket. "Okay, you stay here and rest and I'm going to go talk to that old bastard."
At that, Sam perked up enough to lift his head and fix his brother with a serious look. "What about Melinda? We have to find out what happened to her."
"Yeah, we will, but after we get you better." Dean replied. Sick though he was, Sam managed to put on a pretty good bitchface, and Dean narrowed his eyes for the fight that was about to come.
"No, Sam. No arguing." Dean ordered.
Sam glared and twitched at the ultimatum, mumbling his opinion under his breath, but remained in bed. He watched Dean grab a wastebasket and a bottle of water; his brother dropped the cracked plastic container on the floor next to his bed and then plopped the water bottle down on the nightstand.
"Drink as much of the water as you can, and don't puke on the carpet. I'll be back soon." Dean flashed a tight grin, grabbed his keys, and then was gone.
The voodoo shop was at the end of a narrow alley, almost hidden unless a person walked all the way to the end of the narrow street. Dean didn't even bother to see if the door was unlocked; instead, he lifted up his leg and kicked the door open. There was a satisfying crash as it flew in, and then the sound of glass shattering.
Dean stepped into the shop with a glare, ready to do some damage, and immediately saw a little girl staring at him with wide, frightened eyes from behind the counter.
"Uh, hey there." he said, forcing what he hoped was a cheery smile and raising his hand in a little wave. The girl let out a shriek and ran through a beaded curtain on her left, the sound of the little wooden beads knocking together drifting in her wake.
"Well, fuck." Dean muttered. He took a second to feel guilty, and then started looking around the room.
The whole place smelled gross, he quickly decided, and wrinkled his nose in disgust as he poked at an unidentifiable object on a shelf near the counter. He was still squinting at the small brown mass when the beads jangled, and he spun to see an elderly man with frizzy grey hair appear.
"Are you the one who scared my granddaughter?" the old man questioned, his gaze going towards the shop's door, which was hanging half-off the hinges and leaning against the wall at an angle.
"Could be," Dean admitted. "Are you the one who cast a spell on my brother?" He took a menacing step towards the old man, who looked more offended than concerned.
"I most certainly did not cast a spell on anyone. What have you come here for?"
Dean scowled and took another step until he was pressed up against the counter, ready to leap over it if he had to. "I told you, I want to know what you did to my brother. He was fine when he came in here, and now he's got some freaky ass pentagram on his hand!"
At that, the old man's eyebrows rose and his expression morphed into surprise. "Your brother is the dark one? I cast no spell on him. I touched him with a protection charm, to keep the darkness from him. I did him a favor!"
"Like hell you did. Sounds like a spell to me!" Dean exclaimed, raising his voice an octave higher. He was starting to lose his patience; Sam was sick and in pain and he wasn't going to let it continue. "Undo it, right now."
The old man scoffed, then shook his head. "Spells are for wizards. True voodoo is a belief, not a magic."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean? I don't care what you did, fix it!" Dean ordered, leaning menacingly over the counter.
"I cannot undo it, but even if I could, why would you want me to?" the man asked.
Now he looked perturbed, and Dean was starting to get angry. He considered just leaping at the guy and taking him down—old age be damned—but then decided that he needed a little more information before he broke the dude apart.
"I want you to undo it because it's making him sick." Dean explained. "And I don't have all day, so hurry it up." he added.
"You do not hear me. I told you, I cannot undo it. But it should not cause any effects, unless . . ." the old man trailed off, considering. "The darkness in him, was it there before he was possessed?"
"What? No! That demon took over my brother. It was never him!" Dean protested.
"Are you sure about that?" the old man asked.
"Yeah, I'm sure! Sam is good. He always has been, and he always will be. So you're going to fix this." Dean ordered. He started to make the leap over the counter, only to find himself held back by an invisible force.
The old man pointed towards each end of the counter, where there were small purple jars sitting slightly behind the front edge of the wooden surface. He gave Dean a moment to step back, then spoke. "Perhaps the demon that possessed your brother still lingers. That, or there is something else inside of him. There is no other way the pentagram would have appeared. Choose the option which you believe, but either way, if your brother is unwell it is not my doing."
He dreamed about heat, but when Sam awoke he was freezing. His teeth were chattering and he couldn't stop shaking.
The comforter was tangled around his feet and Sam struggled to pull it up. When he couldn't reach he started to sit up and immediately let out a gasp as a bolt of pain shot through his stomach and up his chest. He went from cold to hot and back to cold again in the space of a second, and found himself gasping for breath.
Sam fell back to the mattress with a moan, curling in on himself until the sensations passed. God, he'd never felt anything like this before. It was like someone was stabbing him repeatedly in the stomach, and he squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to fall back into oblivion.
It wouldn't come. Instead, he felt bile sting the back of his throat and he leaned over to vomit into the wastebasket Dean had left for him.
He knew right away, without opening his eyes, that something was wrong. There was a metallic taste in his mouth, and what he was coughing up was heavy, sticky. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and cautiously cracked open watering eyes to see thick, dark blood at the bottom of the wastebasket.
"Oh, God," he moaned, panting as panic took hold.
His heart was racing and the edges of his vision faded out. Sam suddenly felt like weights had been attached to his arms and legs, and squeezed his eyes shut in an effort to stop the pull on his body.
He wasn't sure how long he blacked out for, but when he opened his eyes again everything was fuzzy and disjointed, and his mouth tasted like copper. He rolled his head painfully to the right to look at the clock on the nightstand, but the numbers were blurry and he couldn't remember when Dean had left. Instead, he tried to remember where his brother was, but that memory didn't come easily, either.
Trembling violently, Sam fumbled to get his legs untangled, kicking his feet in a desperate attempt to get free. His phone was sitting on the kitchen table, and if he could just get to it . . .
The blankets were constricting, but he managed to free himself and stumbled out of bed. He was halfway to the table when the door swung open and Dean came barreling into the room. He stopped short upon seeing Sam out of bed, and they both stared at each other for a second before Sam swayed unsteadily.
Dean jumped forward to grab his brother and started to steer him back towards the bed. "Jesus, Sammy, what are you doing out of bed?" he asked, pushing him onto his bed.
As soon as he was seated, Sam leaned forward with a groan. He was limp and shaking, and it was fairly easy for Dean to get him to lie back. Once he had him there, though, Dean didn't feel relieved. He could feel heat radiating off his brother, and Sam was squirming around in obvious discomfort.
Dean let him go and Sam curled up in a ball on his side, his face tight with pain. "Sammy, hey, hey, look at me. What's the matter?" Dean asked, kneeling beside the bed.
Sam was struggling and slightly incoherent, mumbling about not knowing what time it was or how long he'd been gone. His brother hadn't been this sick when he left two hours earlier, and now Dean was alarmed.
He leaned forward to examine the pentagram on Sam's right hand and his left knee banged into the wastebasket that he'd left behind. It rocked precariously on the old carpet and then tipped over, spilling the contents out.
Dean stared in horror at the dark red liquid that was seeping into the carpet.
"Sam. Sammy, what happened? Did you cut yourself?" Dean asked, letting go of Sam's hand and frantically starting to check his brother over. There was a smear of blood on his left palm, but no cut, and Dean couldn't see any other obvious injuries. "Sam!"
"N-no. Got sick." Sam finally whimpered. "D-dean, there's s-something w-wrong. It hurts."
"Oh, God . . ." Dean murmured under his breath, his own stomach twisting at the realization that his brother had vomited blood. Blood.
Dean swallowed hard and reached out to brush Sam's damp hair away from his face. "It's okay, Sammy. I'm gonna fix this."
He was floating.
His stomach didn't hurt anymore and Sam finally felt relaxed, like some sort of invisible string had been cut and he was lifting off. Except he was facing the wrong direction, or he thought he was. He was pretty sure he was upside down, so he opened his eyes and was surprised to find that he was in the dark.
It was quiet, but not peaceful. There was something not right, and he flung out his arms, struggling to figure out what was going on. His fingertips brushed up against something cold and hard, and he frowned.
He tried to stretch again and felt something grip his wrist, then a flood of scalding cold shot through his veins. A second later a flash of light ripped through the darkness, filling his vision, and an image popped up in his head. A memory.
He could see himself, sitting on the edge of a motel bed holding a hot curling iron over the skin of his inner forearm and talking to himself. I'll curl your hair after I'm done, Sam. Don't worry, this is only going to hurt like a bitch.
The flash of light came again, and he saw some guy in a gas station, his hands held over his head.
Don't shoot me, man. Please. Just take the money. Take whatever you want.
Another flash, and there was a middle-aged man in a home office, struggling against him.
What do you want from me?! What are you?! No! No! You son of a bitch, I'm gonna—"
I don't think it's my blood . . . Dean, I don't remember anything.
Sam, get off me! Sam! Get off me! Let go! No! Sam, no, please! Please!
You're gonna die, Dean. You and every other hunter I can find. One look at Sam's dewy, sensitive eyes, they'll let me right in the door.
Whatever I do to you, it's nothing compared to what you do to yourself, is it? I can see it in your eyes, Dean. You're worthless. You couldn't save your Dad, and deep down, you know that you can't save your brother.
You will be the darkness again.
Sam screamed and tried to kick his legs, move his arms—anything to stop the flood of memories. He felt the hard, cold thing touch his fingertips again, but he couldn't seem to move beyond it. Something was holding his wrists and ankles down. There was a noise too, a beeping sound in the background.
It was a faintly recognizable sound and he calmed down slightly, straining towards it. The beeping got louder and was joined by voices, calmer than those in his memories. He still didn't know what was going on, but he was sure he heard his brother.
"What's . . . wrong . . . him?"
" . . . react . . . drugs . . . fine . . . give him . . . different . . ."
There was a rush of warmth under his skin, replacing the harsh cold he'd felt earlier, and then there was nothing.
Sunlight behind his eyelids and the smell of antiseptic woke Sam from a dreamless sleep. He opened his eyes to find himself staring at a white cardboard-paneled ceiling. The beeping of a heart monitor was loud next to his ear, and his arms and legs were strapped to the metal guardrails on his bed.
He flexed his fingers, remembering the touch of a hard, cold surface on the tips. Frowning, he turned his head and was immediately met by his brother's relieved gaze.
Dean rocked forward in his chair and reached out to grip the side of the bed with one hand. "Hey, dude. How are you feeling?"
"What happened?" Sam croaked out, coughing at the dryness in his throat. He winced and before he could blink Dean had stuck something in his mouth.
Sam jerked in shock, nearly choking, and Dean wiggled the cup he was holding. "Ice."
After his throat was taken care of, Dean leaned forward and undid the cotton straps that bound his wrists and ankles to the bed. Sam attempted to shift and hissed at the ache in his torso. He settled for flexing his fingers and toes, watching as Dean sank back in his chair with a sigh.
"Man, Sammy, you sure know how to cause a scene."
Sam frowned and shook his head. "What happened?"
"You had an ulcer that ruptured. " Dean replied, lips tensed in an expression Sam recognized as fear.
Sam raised his eyebrows in surprise. "That's . . . normal. So what . . ." Sam trailed off. He knew what he was trying to ask, but things were still fuzzy and he had to work extra hard to get his brain to make connections. Dean seemed to get what he was trying to ask, though.
"Yeah, I know. I had a bitch of a time explaining the pentagram. I think they thought I poisoned you and then gave you a bad tattoo." Dean admitted, shaking his head. "Morons."
"So what . . ." Sam repeated, trailing off and raising his right hand to glance at his palm. He was slightly surprised at how heavy his arm felt, but was relieved to see that the pentagram was gone.
"The old voodoo guy said he just wanted to give you protection, that it wouldn't hurt you. Guess he was telling the truth." Dean explained. He sniffed a little and ran his hand through his hair. "Guess I'm just so used to supernatural shit, I didn't think it could be anything else."
"Hey, s'not your fault." Sam said, relieved that the words sounded like they had some strength behind them. He shifted a bit and a little more of the fog that was wrapped around him cleared.
"No, no it is." Dean said, raising a hand when Sam started to interrupt. "I should've taken you to a doctor first. It's just, man . . . I guess after what happened with Meg I thought . . ."
Sam was instantly more alert at Meg's name and raised hurt eyes to meet his brother's. "You thought I was going evil again?"
"No, God, no. I just thought something supernatural had to be to blame, cause it sure has for every other freaky thing that's happened in the last sixth months." Dean meant it as a joke, but Sam squirmed uncomfortably and looked down at his folded hands.
Dean shoved at the edge of the mattress with his foot, prodding his brother. "Hey, you finally had a normal problem is all I'm saying." When Sam still didn't look up, Dean reached over and nudged his leg. "Hey, you got me?"
"Yeah." Sam muttered.
"Sammy, I didn't think you were evil. I thought you'd been cursed. Huge difference."
Sam scowled and leaned his head back against the pillows, closing his eyes. "Yeah, that makes me feel better . . . If I hadn't been evil the guy would never have cast a protection spell on me. It started because I was evil, Dean." Sam opened his eyes and looked at his brother. "It's never gonna end, is it?"
Dean shook his head. "Not if you don't let it, you big girl. You were evil, Sam. You aren't now. You've never been evil, you never will be. I've explained this to you."
A year ago the words would've brought Sam comfort, but twelve months had been a lifetime and nothing was the same. Nothing would ever be the same. For the first time in their lives, Dean's promises were nothing but empty hopes in a world that was taking too much from them.
"You can't promise me those things anymore, Dean."
Dean looked offended. "Uh, yeah, I can. Listen to me, Sammy., you can't go around thinking the worst all the time. What Dad said was a contingency plan. It wasn't a prophecy. Even dad didn't know how to tell the future."
Sam was silent for a moment, then shook his head. "Dean, I am connected to the Demon and other psychic kids are bad. The possession was a fluke, yeah, but we can't ignore what's happened. I can't ignore it."
"Sammy –" Dean started, only to be cut off as Sam kept talking.
"You can't fix everything and you can't make me believe you can anymore, either. We've gone too far for that. Too much has happened."
Dean sat back in his chair, lips pursed in an expression that meant he was thinking. "That may be, but I can fight for you. When I say I'm going to save you, I mean it. It's not a belief, Sammy, it's a fact. I'll die before I ever let anything happen to you."
Sam wiped his hand across his eyes and shook his head. "I don't want you to die for me. I can't lose you, Dean."
"You won't." Dean promised.
"Two months ago I shot you, Dean! I almost killed you!" Sam said, tears burning the corners of his eyes. A few blinks and they spilled over his lashes and down his cheeks. Dean looked horrified and leaned back in his chair as far as he could.
"Dude, you didn't! I wasn't even close to death! A little maimed, maybe, but—"
"It's not a joke!" Sam cried, fisting the blankets in his hands. The exertion hurt, pulling something in his stomach, but he didn't back down.
Dean sighed and managed to look worried and annoyed at the same time. "No, man, you're right. But . . . listen, you had to be evil when you were possessed. You didn't have a choice. I wasn't gonna put you down for something that wasn't your choice. But you, here, now –you have a choice. And you've chosen to be good. I've known you your whole life. You'll always choose to be good."
"Things always change." Sam protested. "If I ever—"
"Sam. You won't."
"No. You won't. I won't let you."
Sam shook his head and a stray tear slipped down his cheek. "You can't promise that. We don't know what I'm capable of. I don't know anymore."
At that, Dean rocked back in his chair and stared at his brother. "I do. You're not gonna hurt me. I won't let you."
"You won't kill me. Dad told you to kill me."
"I don't care what Dad said. He wasn't always right, and he didn't . . ."
Dean trailed off, looking surprised by whatever he had been going to say, and Sam filled in the words in his head. Didn't know you like I do, didn't love you like I do, didn't plan on saving you like I do.
"Dean . . ."
"No, Sam. I'll save you. If I have to move the earth to do it, I'll save you."
Sam stared at his brother, and Dean stared back. They stayed that way for a moment before Dean's eyes started to narrow, and Sam allowed himself a small smile and shook his head. It still didn't make things okay, but he was exhausted and he could at least bring Dean some peace, even if he couldn't take some for himself.
"Dude, only the earth? What about Heaven?" Sam asked. "I want Heaven and earth moved."
Dean huffed. "I don't believe in Heaven. I'll work with what we've got going on here, thanks."