Twilight Zone – Part 3 of 3

Summary: A creature from their past revisits the boys in their time of grief. Will they be able to put aside their feelings and deal with this old threat? Set directly after ELAC (S2).

-0-

Dean was at least used to the way Sam stilled and stared when he was "talking" to the Memory Demon, but the frequency with which the visits were rolling over Sam was freaking Dean out. Under the healing cuts and bruises on his brother's face, the skin was pallid. Dark pouches under his eyes that bespoke of exhaustion.

And the exhaustion, as much as Sam's continuing insistence on forming a bond with that thing, were scaring the hell out of Dean. They'd lost so much recently and now his brother was jeopardizing his health and that did not fly at all with Dean.

He'd taken Bobby's words to heart and tried to do things Sammy's way and it just wasn't working.

Sam was furiously scribbling in a notebook between bouts of the conversations; one moment he would be scrawling illegibly on the paper and the next the pen would drop from nerveless fingers as Sam's eyes lost their focus and all movement save breathing ceased. It was beyond creepy.

His brother was sitting out on Bobby's swing on the porch, and a light breeze tugged and tossed brown strands of hair across Sam's face haphazardly. He had spent a good fifteen minutes observing Sam, who had gone mind walkabout again, and Dean was formulating a plan. It wasn't nice, in fact it was pretty devious, but Dean didn't delude himself — he'd do whatever it took to get his only family back, safe and sound.

A shiver rippled through Sam's body and then he was blinking dazed eyes, staring at Dean in confusion. This was another aspect of the routine that Dean found loathsome — his little brother should never be that disoriented.

Sliding an arm around Sam's thin shoulders, Dean tried to bolster his brother's flagging strength. "What do you say we head indoors, maybe find you something to eat?"

Sam sighed, dragging a shaky hand through his hair. "I'm not really hungry."

His brother's voice was hollow. Dean could feel him slipping away and decided it was time to act. "Come on, you'll be more comfortable inside."

Dean tugged Sam up and steadied him when he swayed, before guiding him in to the living room and settling him on the worn couch. He wanted to make Sam comfortable and trusting; he needed to know 

where the Memory Demon was and get an idea of its weakness. It was time to put an end to this farce. "So, any luck with information on old Yellow Eyes?"

Dragging a hand across his face, Sam frowned. "No, not yet. But now that it's closer by, I can hear it better. It's failing. It won't be around much longer."

Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes — Sam was failing every bit as much as that demon — Dean tried to sound sensitive and sympathetic. "Well, is there anything we can do to help it? Make it more comfortable or something?"

He was flat out fishing for information, and the fact that Sam was letting himself be suckered by Dean's facade told him a great deal about his brother's condition. "It needs to be kept moist but the pond is taking care of that. There's really nothing we can do except wait."

Mournful was a good word to describe Sam's voice. His brother was grieving for that cursed demon even as it tried to destroy him. Of course Sam would never see it, so it was up to Dean to take care of him and damn the consequences. "Oh, the pond at the edge of Bobby's property? That thing is practically dried up. Are you sure it'll be okay?"

Desperation flashed across Sam's face. "What do you mean the pond is almost dry? It needs that water otherwise it will wither up and die. And it can't, not until I find out more."

Sam was on the edge of hysteria and it tugged at Dean's heart. His voice was cracking and pleading and Dean didn't think his brother was going to like what he was going to do to his new friend.

Sam had just unwittingly given him the information he needed to find and destroy the creature.

Now he had to take steps to neutralize Sam while he took care of the demon. "It's okay, Sam. If it just needs to keep moist, there's enough of the pond left. Just relax. In fact, how about I get you a couple of Tylenol? You look like you have a headache."

Dean was willing Sam to go along with his plan. He thought maybe if he gave Sam a couple of Demerol or Percocet, his brother would just drift off to la-la land and be none the wiser. And maybe if he was zonked out, the demon couldn't get its filthy, creepy tentacles into his brother's brain and muck around.

Leaning his head back against the couch, his brother accepted Dean's offer. "Yeah, that would be good. I can't seem to shake this headache."

It was hard not to say something snarky but Dean held back. Sure, his little brother couldn't shake his headache because he had something supernatural pawing around in his brain almost 24/7.

Loping upstairs, Dean pulled items out of his bag helter skelter as he searched for his emergency stash of painkillers. They had pills in their first aid kit, but it was always good to have something as back up. His hands finally landed on a bottle of Percocet. He shook out two of the tablets before returning downstairs to the kitchen for a glass of water. His brother was such a light weight when it came to drugs that two ought to do the trick.

Sam reclined against the couch, devoid of energy. It was so unlike his brother that Dean was having a hard time looking at him. He'd just give Sam the pills, wait for them to take effect and then head out to Bobby's garage for the propane torch he'd used last week. "Here, Sammy, this should help."

Without opening his eyes, Sam took the pillows and swallowed them down. "Thanks, Dean. I just want to write a few things down while I remember them. Do you know where the pen went?"

Sam's hand was casting about for the pen, his movements disjointed and haphazard. His kid brother was really out of it, even when he wasn't under the demon's influence. Dean stilled his hands. "Hang on, I'll get you a pen. Just try to relax, okay?"

Dean grabbed a pen off the kitchen counter and returned in time to find Sam at the mercy of the demon again. His eyes were unblinking, his arms held rigidly at his side. Hoping that Bobby would be back soon, Dean bided his time while waiting for the pills to do their job. Perching against the kitchen door jamb, he watched his little brother fall under the spell of the demon for what he hoped would be the last time.

The sessions had been lasting ten or fifteen minutes at a crack recently, so Dean was startled when Sam gave an audible gasp and clambered to his feet after just a few. Hazel eyes darted from where Dean leaned to the front door and he ambled around the coffee table with studied nonchalance.

His little brother was aiming for the front door, uncoordinated limbs lurching along, when Dean figured out what was going on. The jig was up. Maybe the demon had read Dean's memories and squealed on him. Or maybe Sam wasn't as far gone as he'd thought. "Sam, just hold up..."

Sprinting for the door, Dean stopped when he was directly behind his bother and wrapped his arms around Sam's chest, dragging him back away from the door.

Sam bucked and jerked in Dean's arms but couldn't find the strength to break away. Continuing to draw his brother back, Dean manhandled Sam toward the couch.

The coffee table was caught by one of Sam's kicking feet and flipped over, a jarring crash filling the room. "Damn it, Sam, you're going to hurt yourself. Just calm down."

Refusing to surrender, chest heaving as lungs sucked in air, Sam weakly fought on. Dean worried that his brother was going to hyperventilate.

Throwing Sam down on the couch and practically sitting on him, Dean rubbed taut upper arms in an effort to get his brother to chill out.

Sam tried to scramble up but Dean easily caught him around the waist and pulled him back down. Yanking Sam forward against his chest, Dean locked his arms around his brother's back and tried to sooth him. "Ease up, Sam. Can't you see what this thing is doing to you?"

Warm breath panted against Dean's ear. "No, you don't understand. I have to...don't you see...you can't..."

His little brother's voice was small and worn. Broken. Dean's resolve strengthened as he tried to calm his baby brother. He had to protect Sam.

Dean was reminded of a scene from his childhood. He was 8 and heading off for the first day of third grade after summer break. Sam was 4 and had to stay with their next door neighbor, a sweet old lady named Mrs. Johnson. A meltdown ensued. It wasn't the whiny, bratty tantrum of a kid who wanted to get their way. No, Sam was all big, dark eyes in a pale face, frantically trying to rip himself out of Mrs. Johnson's arms and cling to Dean. It had broken the then 8 year old's heart and nothing had changed since then; Sam had the ability to cut to Dean's core with his emotions.

Shaking and shuddering in Dean's arms, Sam continued to babble almost incoherently about saving the demon. Dean could feel him winding down as his movement became more sluggish and he slurred his pleading entreaties.

Sam's head dropped over Dean's shoulder, his arms lax at his side. Rocking his brother from side to side, Dean could almost convince himself he was pacifying a baby Sam. When Sam ceased all signs of struggle, Dean cradled his head in one hand and tipped it off of his shoulder so he could see his brother's face. Bloodshot hazel eyes darted wildly around the room as eyelids fluttered up and down, fighting the narcotics.

Easing his brother back, Dean deposited Sam against the cushion, his long legs still splayed awkwardly in front of him with his feet resting on the floor. Hooking Sam's legs up, Dean stretched them out on the couch. Perching on the edge of the cushion, his hip nestled against Sam's, Dean drew Sam's uninjured hand between his two and rubbed it. His sibling tugged his hand, but it was in vain as Dean clung to it. "I'm sorry, Sammy. I didn't want to do this but you left me no choice. Just try to get some sleep and when you wake up, it will all be over."

Dean pushed Sam's bangs off his face and frowned when his brother tried to shy away. "No, Dean, don't do this. I'm begging you. I've got to...running out of time..."

Sam's voice was barely audible and he tossed his head from side to side, still fighting the pills. The truck door slammed out front and with it came a sense of relief. Bobby would take care of Sam while Dean got rid of the demon. Everything would be okay.

The front door banged shut. "What in tarnation is going on here?"

Rotating his head around, Dean took in the living room; coffee table flipped over, magazines scattered, an over turned lamp and water puddling on the hardwood floor from the half finished glass Sam had used to take his pills. It was a sight, and Dean wasn't surprised at the concern in Bobby's voice. And that didn't even cover his disheveled brother lying limp against the couch cushions. "I've got to do it, Bobby. It's killing him. It's at the pond at the edge of your property and the propane torch should do the trick. Will you look after Sam while I take care of it?"

A hand descended on his shoulder as he turned back to observe his brother, hiccupping and thrashing weakly in distress. "Are you sure about this? Maybe we should all go together."

Dean shook his head no. "I...I gave Sam some pills so he'll sleep. I can't chance waiting. Sam is slipping away and I have to save him."

Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw the older man frown heavily. "Please, Bobby. I can't lose Sam, too."

Bobby still wore a skeptical look but he didn't try to talk Dean out of his plan. "I'm going on record as saying this is a bad idea. But I'll watch Sam. Just be careful, Dean. I don't doubt it's dying but who knows what it will do when it's cornered."

Grateful for Bobby's support, Dean turned his attention back to his ailing sibling. "Sammy, I've got to go. Just hang in there a little longer."

Leaning forward, Dean pressed his lips to Sam's clammy forehead. It was an uncharacteristic move for him, but he was trying to get through to his brother. He touched Sam's cheek once, palming it lightly, and was relieved when Sam's eyes closed and his face relaxed.

-0-

Sam was stuck in that twilight zone between waking and sleep. He couldn't make his body obey him, sunk deep into the couch pillows, but his brain continued to fire synapses.

Sam had to warn the Memory Demon. He tried to initiate contact on his end, not expecting it to work, and was stunned when he found himself standing next to the oak tree by the pond. He'd forged a connection with the demon.

SSSaaammm.

Turning his head to the right, Sam could see the Memory Demon. Or at least what was left of it.

The creature that had traumatized him years before was no more. A viscous puddle, iridescent in the weak sunlight, lay at his feet. One shapeless appendage arose from the amorphous mass and stretched out, touching the still pond water.

I am but a memory.

"No!"

Panic shot through Sam's body, making him sway in place where he stood. He needed answers. It was too soon. "Please, tell me about the Yellow Eyed Demon. The one who killed my mother and girlfriend. I need to know how to destroy it."

His brother's lithe form strode out from behind the rotting corpse of what was once a Ford Escort.

You shine brightly. Others sense this. You must hide yourself.

Sam moved between Dean and the demon. He knew his brother wouldn't hurt him. Rubbing the bruises on his arms, he amended that to his brother wouldn't hurt him too much. "Please, I need to know about the demon. I think he senses me."

So naïve. He does not just sense you, he stalks you. But it is not the only one. The one you call brother would do you harm. You must protect yourself.

Reeling back, Sam almost slid into the pond. Dean wanted to hurt him? He knew he'd done something to raise Dean's ire but all family fought from time to time. "Dean wouldn't hurt me."

You might have to kill Sam.

Bending over at the waist, Sam wrapped his arms around his middle. His father's voice. Telling someone (Dean?) he might have to kill Sam. It was too much.

Sam raised his head and bellowed at the sky. It was a wordless, formless screech dragged from the depths of his soul.

A blast of ice enveloped Sam's torso. He writhed, trying to escape it, but it wouldn't let him loose.

Behind him the Memory Demon echoed his cry.

You must repel the demon blood inside you. Tainted. Wicked. You must guard against it. Go now, pretty SSSaaammm. My time is at an end.

Something tickled his skin. Lowering his eyes, Sam noticed blisters rippling across his arms. Not ice. Fire. Intense heat licked across his exposed skin.

Sam's legs gave out and he crashed to the ground. His hands batted ineffectually at his skin as inescapable pain battered his body.

-0-

Everything was going according to plan. Sam was safely tucked away in the house with Bobby watching over him. Dean had easily located the propane torch and slung it over his shoulder before hot footing it out to the pond.

The oak tree swayed in the breeze as Dean slowed from a sprint to a jog to a walk. Dying or not, the Memory Demon wasn't to be trusted.

Dean paused behind a rusted out Ford Escort and reconnoitered the area.

Surveying the pond he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. When he scanned the area again he spotted what appeared to be an oil slick nestled next to the pond water on the far side of the tree.

Crouching down, Dean swung the propane torch from his shoulder and inched forward. The oil slick bucked and jumped before slithering backward, confirming its identify as the Memory Demon to Dean.

It didn't look so scary to Dean but he continued to approach with caution. It was time to fire up his weapon of choice. He flipped the on trigger, hit the lock button so both hands were free to grip the torch, and wasted no time in targeted the viscous mass.

What followed was the stuff of nightmares.

As heat flowed from the high temperature torch head, the rainbow colors in the oil slick coalesced and a face formed. At least Dean assumed it was a face, although it had no mouth. But the high pitched whining it produced made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. The face sizzled and then disappeared as the liquid settled into a rolling boil. But the sound never stopped.

Dean staggered back as his mind was assaulted with pictures. His mom burning and bleeding on the ceiling of their home. His dad's lifeless body on the hospital floor. Sam writhing as blisters appeared on his skin.

He wanted to bolt for the house and check on Sam but he couldn't stop until the demon was dead. Only then would Sam be safe. He concentrated the flame on the dwindling puddle until a flash fire erupted, jettisoning bits and pieces of dead demon.

The smell of charred meat permeated the air and Dean covered his nose with an arm. Satisfied that the demon was dead, he turned off the torch.

In his mind he could still hear the high pitched squeal and his head pounded from the unrelenting noise. Unable to shake the unease surrounding the visions of his family, Dean abandoned the torch and dashed back to Bobby's at top speed.

-0-

Sam whimpered and Bobby moved closer to the couch. Instead of succumbing to the pills immediately, the young hunter had continued to ramble softly after Dean left the house. He'd settled down a few minutes ago but now as Bobby looked on, he began trembling against the cushions. "Dammit, boy. Just relax."

Bobby didn't support Dean's hare brained scheme but he couldn't fault the older brother for wanting to take action against the Memory Demon. Sam was a mess, no two ways about it.

The kid's chest heaved upward, pulling his body taut, and then flopped bonelessly back to the couch. That couldn't be good.

The fine trembling turned to full body quaking and Bobby reached toward the back of the couch to grab the afghan folded haphazardly there. The old afghan had never seen so much use before. As Bobby started to drape the worn fabric across Sam, he noticed red blotches appearing on Sam's forearms.

Glancing at Sam's face, he saw them appear there as well.

The red splotches started to bubble and the sharp smell of ozone simmered in the air.

Sam's skin was blistering before his eyes but Bobby couldn't find the source of heat. Pale lips parted and moved soundlessly as Sam writhed in pain.

Ozone turned to burnt meat and Bobby gagged at the overwhelming smell.

An inhuman sound filled the living room as Sam gave voice to his agony.

Bobby wanted to clap his hands over his ears but he couldn't waste the time.

Drawing a coffin handled Bowie knife from the sheath at his ankle, Bobby began slashing at Sam's clothing. He winced as he drew blood in a couple of places but time was of the essence. When Sam was left in nothing but his boxers, Bobby scooped the young man into his arms.

Despite the weight Sam had lost recently, the load was substantial and Bobby's back groaned in protest. Long limbs draped limply over his arms, swinging in time with each step, as Bobby scrambled up the stairs with the injured man.

Depositing his inert burden in the bathtub, Bobby turned the cold taps on full blast. He smacked the lever for the drain stop and scooped handfuls of cool water over Sam's exposed skin as he willed the tub to fill more quickly.

Sam's breaths shuddered in and out as his limbs shimmied and shook in the slow filling tub.

Staring at the angry red streaks, Bobby ladled the rapidly cooling water over Sam's face. He worried about shock as the raw body quivered so hard, water splashed over the tub. But Bobby was loath to remove Sam from the water yet; the cold liquid soothed the abused skin as blisters finally stopped appearing.

Bobby wanted to retrieve his phone and call for help but Sam banged the back of his head against the tub with force and there was no way he could leave his semi-conscious charge in this state.

A door banged shut downstairs. "Bobby?!"

After sliding a folded towel behind Sam's head to minimize the damage, Bobby answered Dean's panicked call. "Bathroom!"

Dean thumped up the stairs and skidded to a halt next to him. "No, this isn't happening. Sammy?"

When Sam's body jerked and snapped again, Bobby decided it was time to haul his ass out of the water. He didn't even have time to explain to Dean what was happening. "Here, keep his head above water while I get more towels."

Bobby couldn't hear the words but Dean was speaking to his sibling in a soft soothing voice. Dashing down to his room, he returned with a secret stash of clean towels. He provided towels to his guests but he kept the nice ones back for himself; as the host he figured it was his prerogative.

Spreading some of the towels on the floor he resumed command of the situation. "You take his arms, I've got his legs. On the count of three. One, two, three."

Dean managed to wrap his arms around his brother's chest and did most of the work, heaving the heavy wet noodle out of the tub. Bobby wasted no time in wrapping a towel around Sam's shoulders before allowing Dean to support his torso.

-0-

Feeling disconnected from his body, Sam forced his eyes open to slits. Bobby gently blotted his wet legs with a towel. His back was propped up against something, his head sagging to the side as Sam fought for the coordination and strength to hold it up.

At least his skin no longer throbbed. Instead pressure began to build in his temples. His body shook with the force of a sudden tremor. Sam wanted to curl up but arms continued to hold him upright. A low moan slipped from his lips and Sam quivered in embarrassment.

Embarrassment faded as a crushing sensation replaced the pressure in his head.

Tainted. Wicked. Save Sam. Kill Sam.

"Just relax, Sammy. I've got you."

Dean. His brother was holding him up.

Sam strained forward in a blind panic, nearly knocking Bobby over as he kicked his legs for leverage.

Dean wanted to hurt him.

No, that wasn't right. Dean always looked out for him.

But his brother drugged him and left him to die.

Some instinct was driving him on as he twisted and jerked, trying to get free of the hands holding him back. He didn't know what to believe at the moment so he fought on.

Bobby's face was a blur as he struggled to hold Sam's legs down. Claustrophobia set in as a strong band clamped around his chest, locking his arms against his body. A loud roar and swish filled his ears. Bobby's mouth was moving but Sam couldn't hear what he said.

His breaths came in strangled pants as he twitched against his brother's grip. "Dean, no. Leave me alone. Please."

Sam didn't know if he said the words aloud. He couldn't pull enough oxygen into his lungs and his vision was blackening at the edges. Something snapped inside his head like a rubber band and his struggling abruptly ceased.

"Don't hurt me, Dea…"

Blackness overwhelmed, stealing his breath and vision.

-0-

One moment Sam was fighting like a wildcat and the next he was hanging passively in Dean's arms.

Dean wanted to blame Sam's response on shock. He didn't understand what had happened to his brother. He should have been safe here with Bobby. Instead red dots resembling chicken pox peppered Sam's skin and there was no denying that some of them were weeping like popped blisters.

But Sam's whispered words cut him to the quick. Leave me alone. Don't hurt me.

And he'd said Dean's name both times. Like he was afraid Dean would really hurt him.

Sam was his little brother, his to protect. It had been that way since the fire that stole their mom away. Even when his little brother had fled to Stanford, Dean had kept tabs on him, looked out for him. And now Sam was afraid of him?

Something wet splattered on Dean's hand as he shifted the dead weight in his arms. Something red.

His worries about his faltering relationship with his brother were replaced by a more immediate need; Sam's health.

Bobby, level-headed throughout the ordeal, recognized the nosebleed and thrust a washcloth under Sam's nose. "Sam, boy, can you hear me?"

When no response was forthcoming, Bobby nudged Dean. "Let's get him up off the floor and move him to the bedroom. Dean!"

Fingers snapped near his face. Dean wanted to glare at the older man but he couldn't scrape up the effort. Something was really wrong with Sam.

When the older man gathered up Sam's legs, Dean snapped out of his lethargy. He shifted Sam until he was cradled in his arms and then Dean heaved himself to his feet. The thought that he was losing Sam caused adrenaline to surge through his body, making the task of carrying his brother manageable. Bobby cleared a path and soon Dean was lowering his brother onto the bed.

Sam's chest hitched and a fine red mist was expelled in a sputter. Dean climbed to the head of the bed and inserted himself between the headboard and his brother. Bobby deftly propped his brother's lanky body against his chest so that Sam wouldn't choke on any blood.

Bobby perched on the side of the bed and held the washcloth under Sam's nose, trying to staunch the sluggish flow of blood. "Is the demon dead?"

Startled by Bobby's words, Dean realized they'd been so busy trying to stabilize Sam's condition that nothing had been said about the Memory Demon.

Squelching the urge to laugh hysterically as the lyrics to Disco Inferno came to mind (burn, baby, burn – disco inferno; burn, baby, burn – burn that mother down), Dean found his voice. "It's gone. Scorched to a cinder by the propane torch. It can't bother Sammy now."

Bobby frowned while adjusting the washcloth. "The blisters just suddenly appeared. The bathtub was the only thing I could think of to help."

The way the older man carefully parsed his words together told Dean that what had transpired in the house had been anything but a walk in the park.

Sam shifted a fraction and Dean waited with a sense of dread; would his brother struggle to get away from him again or would he be coherent this time?

"Easy, Sam. Does anything hurt?"

Sam was awake and Bobby was speaking in a low, soothing voice. No one wanted to startle Sam.

A shaky hand lifted toward Sam's head before it dropped back to the bed, lax against the spread. Dean concentrated on holding the body in his arms loosely. He didn't want to provoke his brother in any way.

Bobby grabbed Sam's chin and lifted his face, brushing the tangled brown fringe to the side of his face. The older hunter's eyes flared in conjunction with a gasp. "Okay, Sam, I want you to just rest there. Don't try to move."

A large, calloused hand grabbed Dean's and guided it to the washcloth under Sam's nose. "What?"

Dean spoke the word as softly as he could, still afraid his presence would freak out Sam.

Bobby was already to the doorway when he whirled around and tapped a finger next to his eye. He disappeared before Dean could query him further.

The body in his arms twitched uncontrollably. Dean couldn't tell from his position if Sam was having a seizure or shivering so he eased him out of his arms and onto his side. The chances of choking were minimized with Sam in that position and it afforded Dean a chance to assess him further, maybe see what Bobby was talking about.

His hip pressed into the small of Sam's back as he curved his body over Sam's head and pushed his damp wavy hair to the side. The exposed eye was slowly blinking, the sclera no longer bright white or even blood shot; instead it was a red, bloody patch.

Something tickled Dean's memory. Sam had a hemorrhage. At one time or another each of the Winchesters had suffered from what was basically a bruise on the eye – heavy lifting, coughing, sneezing, even vomiting were enough to trigger it – and it would fade away in a couple of weeks without requiring treatment. But it had been drilled into their heads growing up that sometimes the change was wrought by high blood pressure or a bleeding disorder and when in doubt, it should be checked out.

The hemorrhage in the eye, coupled with the frequent nosebleeds, were cause enough to seek treatment. Throw in the unknown consequences of the Memory Demon surfing around Sam's mind and Dean found himself on the verge of panic.

"Why'd you do it, Dean? I asked you not to. Now I can't save you. And the fire…"

Sam's pained voice cracked and hitched until it drifted off.

Dean didn't know what to do; he was losing his composure, his ability to be rational.

Bobby was right. Sam thought Dean needed to be saved. If only Sam knew the truth; it was Dean's job to save Sam. Their dad had entrusted Dean to save his little brother or else.

His calloused finger drifted up of its own volition and gently traced the skin around a blister on Sam's cheek. Dean's thoughts were racing uncontrollably, his hand shaking. What if Sam had blistered because he was connected to the demon when Dean had torched it? Dean thought he'd taken every precaution to keep Sam safe but the results of his actions – red, weeping skin – were staring him in the face.

But if Sam could forgive the Memory Demon for causing him to scald his hand and step in front of a moving car, then surely his brother would forgive Dean for killing the Memory Demon. Dean had to believe that; if Sam turned his back on him, Dean would be lost.

Sam rolled farther on to his side, leaving Dean bereft at the loss of contact. His brother's limbs flailed, blood from his nose coating the bedding. "Please, just go away."

Dean didn't know what to do. Disoriented or not, Dean's presence was causing Sam distress.

Bobby picked that moment to return to the bedroom. He retrieved the discarded washcloth and applied it to Sam's upper lip. "I called 911. Why don't you bring the paramedics upstairs when they get here?"

Ignoring the look of compassion evident on Bobby's face, Dean slid off the bed, careful not to jostle Sam.

He needed Sam to be okay so he could make things right between them.

-0-

Sam lifted his eyes and stared at the stark, white ceiling above him. He'd shifted back to awareness in slow, painful stages only to find himself alone. Clearing his mind as best he could, he concentrated on the Memory Demon; there was a black hole where the entity had once dwelled in his mind.

So Dean had succeeded in killing the demon.

At least Sam had been able to write down some of the information the Memory Demon had passed on to him. Although Sam was pretty broken up about the fact that the demon hadn't been able to, or refused to, disclose how to rid the world of the Yellow Eyed Demon.

He needed to save Dean from the same fate that had befallen his parents and Jess. It was a lost opportunity and that depressed the hell out of him. And frightened him.

Sam had begged Dean not to kill the demon and it pained him that his pleas had been ignored. Pushing past the hurt feelings, he realized he missed his brother.

Turning his head slightly he saw equipment strewn around the room confirming that he was in the hospital. But right now he was worried about one thing; his brother. If Dean were okay, he'd be planted in the plastic chair next to Sam's bed.

And Sam felt lost without his big brother's steadying presence.

Pain in his temples thundered to a crescendo and for a moment Sam believed he was in the throes of a vision. No vision; instead he found himself overcome by a memory of what the demon had visited upon him in its final moments.

Dad said that I'd have to save you. And if I couldn't save you, I'd have to kill you. Dean had been harboring one hell of a secret. And it was about Sam. No wonder his brother had been so on edge around him.

And it bothered Sam more than he would admit to that Dean hadn't told him about their dad's last words. Sam had specifically asked Dean if John Winchester had said anything to him before he'd died and Dean had said no.

Sam's brain was still scrambled from all of the interaction with the Memory Demon so it was hard making sense of what had happened.

He'd believed the demon when it said it could help Sam but looking back it was probably just a ploy; the demon had been lonely and having formed a link with Sam once, had easily forged one again. Sam understood loneliness but there's no way he would have tempted fate, putting himself at the mercy of such an unpredictable entity, if he'd believed he wouldn't take away something that would help in his quest to destroy Yellow eyes.

Dean's life was at stake.

Feeling too wrung out and ill equipped to deal with his feelings, and failings, Sam turned his attention to working out why he was in the hospital. There was a mask covering his nose and mouth and as he thought of his nose, he realized the inside of it felt raw. A headache throbbed at the back of his head but he vaguely remembered knocking it against the back of the bathtub. He wasn't exactly sure why he'd been in the bathtub, though.

Closing his eyes, he told himself to relax. Somewhere around the bed there ought to be a call button and if he could find it, he could find out about his brother.

With a deep breath he opened his eyes and started searching for the call button. His fingers collided with a hand and startled, he quickly withdrew his with a gasp. A figure drifted into his line of vision. "I'm sorry, Sammy."

Sam was so surprised to see the object of his thoughts that Dean had almost made it to the door before he found his voice. "Dean, wait."

-0-

Dean slipped quietly into Sam's room. It was a double room but at the moment Sam was the only occupant.

His brother continued to sleep despite Dean's presence. Creeping closer to the bed he saw the remnants of Sam's ordeal.

Sam was still pale beneath the oxygen mask, despite the units of blood they'd pumped into his body.

His brother's blood pressure had bounced from so high as to be in the danger zone to so low Sam kept losing consciousness that a blood pressure cuff remained wrapped around his right biceps.

The nosebleed had been cauterized and the doctors were mystified that it could have caused the depleted blood volume to begin with, but they were unable to find another explanation.

The scans and x-rays hadn't turned up anything more suspicious than past head trauma, already healed.

No new damage.

His brother, the modern medical miracle.

The once blistered skin had faded so that Sam appeared to be more heavily freckled than those on Dean's own fair complexion.

Had his overzealous actions resulted in causing Sam more harm than the thing by the pond?

"Tainted. You've been tainted. Wicked, bad human. The memories are delicious but we can't keep you. You've been marked. You belong to something else."

That's what the Memory Demon had told Sam when he was thirteen. Dean couldn't understand why Sam had let himself be suckered in by some sweet talking demon, especially one that had threatened him years ago.

And it had nearly killed him when his little brother had begged Dean to leave the demon alone. As if. Sam was so far gone at that point that he couldn't make rational decisions.

Although maybe there could have been another way. Lord knows his way almost got Sammy killed.

Sam gave an audible sigh before his eyes snapped open. The white sclera on both eyes had been replaced by bright red and although the nurses had warned Dean they would heal on their own, it was disconcerting to see. As his brother fumbled for something with desperation, Dean located the call button and shoved it toward Sam's hand.

His brother's cool fingers collided with his skin and Sam jumped, gasping in dismay. What did Dean expect? Every time Dean had been in the room, Sam had become agitated. Maybe with time Sam would forgive him. "I'm sorry, Sammy."

He made for the door and was halted in his tracks when Sam spoke. "Dean, wait."

Dean didn't want to see the disapproval in his brother's face but he'd do what he had to in order to make things right. Sam's scratchy voice called to him again. "Are you okay?"

There was no disapproval, only concern. "Me? I'm not the one in the hospital."

Concern melted into confusion. Sam squinted at him and then his eyes slid away. "Oh, I woke up alone and…never mind."

Sam's lips were turned down in a pout beneath the oxygen mask. Dean could have sworn his little brother was hurt because Dean hadn't been at his side when he woke up. The same little brother who had told him repeatedly to leave him alone and go. "When can I take this stupid thing off?"

His brother's voice was gaining strength. Sam reached up and tugged at the oxygen mask. Dean captured his brother's hands and pulled them away from the mask. When Sam didn't tug out of his grasp or tell him to leave, he found himself relaxing a little. "Your oxygen levels were all over the map so you need to leave it on for now. They couldn't put the prongs in your nose because they cauterized the bleed and didn't want to irritate their handiwork."

Comprehension dawned on Sam's face. "What about the head of the bed. My neck is sore from craning up to see you. Can we put this thing up?"

Dean dropped down into the chair next to the bed, still holding Sam's hands awkwardly in his own. "Your blood pressure kept bottoming out, McFainty, so you need to stay flat until the doctor gives his okay."

Definitely a pout. Blood red eyes tried to work Dean and damned if they didn't have the same effect as Sam's normally hazel eyes. But Dean held fast. His position was strengthened as Bobby stepped into the room. "You scared the crap out of us, Sam. How 'bout you at least wait until tomorrow before you start giving us a hard time?"

-0-

Bobby stopped outside of Sam's room with a coffee in each hand. Dean refused to snatch some shut-eye so Bobby figured he'd pump him full of caffeine. At least until he crashed.

Pushing the door open with his foot, he heard soft voices.

"Can we put this thing up?"

"Your blood pressure kept bottoming out, McFainty, so you need to stay flat until the doctor gives his okay."

At last. Sam was awake. And he wasn't booting Dean out of his room.

Easing into the room, Bobby made his presence known. "You scared the crap out of us, Sam. How 'bout you at least wait until tomorrow before you start giving us a hard time?"

It was hard to make out the smile behind the oxygen mask but Bobby couldn't miss the way Sam's hands were enfolded between Dean's.

And the older brother, allergic to Hallmark moments, was lovingly holding his kid brother's hands as though he was afraid Sam would float away without the contact.

Bobby set the coffees down on a tray table and approached the bed. "One of those coffees had better have my name on it."

Sam's voice was muted by the mask but strong and sure. The red eye effect was freaky as hell but if you concentrated on Sam's eyes, the hazel rings could be seen. "When the doc clears you, I'll have Dean here whip up a batch of his brew at home and bring it to you in a thermos so you can enjoy it at your own pace."

A bark of laughter greeted Bobby's words. "You're a cruel man, Bobby Singer. What did I ever do to you to deserve that fate?"

Bobby's humor faded as he seriously considered Sam's question. There had been a moment or two when he was positive Sam was stroking out on them. "Don't you ever pull a stunt like that again. At least not while under my roof."

Dean's neck was swiveling between Sam and Bobby as though he were watching a ping pong match. But he still clung to his brother's hands.

Sam's mood had subdued as well. "I'm sorry, I thought the Memory Demon was the answer to all my problems. It had me so screwed up, I didn't realize how much damage it had done."

Lightly chafing Sam's hands between his own, Dean jumped into the conversation. "I should have listened to you, Sam. I almost took you out when I killed it."

A lot of raw emotions were wrung out of that one word. Dean couldn't even bring himself to call the thing a demon.

The younger brother didn't say anything but Bobby was pretty sure he squeezed one of Dean's hands. A difficult feat to perform when the older brother had a death grip on both of Sam's hands.

Sam shifted restlessly on the bed and a clump of hair fell over his right eye, obscuring it from view. Dean kept holding on to Sam's hands while disengaging one of his own to smooth the hair out of his brother's face.

Bobby felt like a bit of a voyeur as he watched the gentle scene play out before him. He decided to give the brothers some privacy. Maybe they could work out some of their issues.

"There's something I have to tell you, Sam. It's about Dad."

Dean's voice cracked with deep emotion.

The door swished shut behind Bobby. He was a curious man and wanted to know what Dean was going to tell his brother but it wasn't his business.

Bobby didn't consider himself to be a sentimental man but for one moment, everything seemed right in the world. The two young men in the room behind him, the closest thing to sons Bobby would ever have, were trying to mend fences. It did his old, grumpy heart good.

"Crap. The coffee."

Once again the Winchesters had managed to get between Bobby and his java fix.

The world shifted back on its regular axis as Bobby glared his unhappiness at a pretty young nurse walking by. Maybe he could hit a drive-thru on his way home for a cup of caffeine. He was going to need it while he cleaned up the mess caused by the brothers' misadventures.

Finis

A/N: My thanks to Anjelicious who said in a review for Enter Sandman that she would love to read a sequel where something happened to Sam again when he was older. That sounded like a great idea to me and Twilight Zone was born.

Thanks again to my beta dream team, Gidgetgal9 and Floralia; I'd be lost without their guidance, humor and friendship.

Ongoing thanks to my mentor and friend, Faye Dartmouth -- I gave her break from this story because she's got more exciting things on her horizon at the moment -- but without her support and mentoring I wouldn't be posting.

And thank you for taking a trip through this Twilight Zone.