Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. I am sorry I haven't had a chance to respond to each and every one personally but things have been hectic. And a special thank you to everyone who participated in the auction. It's over and it was a huge success! Anyways, thank you to both Red and Kati - I think this chapter is much better for both your input :)
This time when Sam Winchester opened his eyes he knew he was dead. There was no way anyone living could be in this much pain: his head hurt, his nose throbbed, his lips were dry and cracked, he was thirsty. His shoulders ached, his wrists burned…
So not only was he dead, but he was in hell. Well, shit. That just plain sucked.
"Kinda hoped… I'd done… enough good," he gasped and slowly tried to lift his head, unnerved by how much effort that simple task took. His whole body trembled with pain and exhaustion, the minute tremors setting his nerve endings on fire. Was it too much to hope that this was all a bad dream and he'd wake up at any moment to a cheap motel room with a concerned, not-possessed Dean hovering over him? The rancid odor of his own sweat and blood made him sigh. Yeah, apparently so.
Once again his battered wrists were bound together, but this time they were pulled over his head so that he was strung up with his sneakers barely brushing the floor. Sam was pretty certain the ghost had dragged his ass back to her haunted house but couldn't remember much after being tossed in the trunk of the Impala. And, ow, didn't that hurt. It really wasn't fair that possessed people got to be so strong, and how exactly he fit in the trunk was something probably better left unremembered, but even his kneecaps and elbows felt bruised now.
Sam was pretty sure from the way his head pounded that the room was going to be spinning when he finally got his eyes open, so he was opting to do this one step at a time: lift head, get eyeballs pointed in the right direction, then look.
It sounded like a very good plan. Too bad his Moira-possessed brother had other ideas…
"Wakey, wakey, eggs and bac'y, nap time's over."
He so hated that saying.
Something sharp gently caressed the side of Sam's face, and then, suddenly, ripped right down through the front of his shirt.
What the hell?!
Sam recoiled; his eyes opened in time to see the flash of a knife before the world swam and his body lurched again, this time to keep from throwing up.
Chuckling, Dean shook his head as he moved behind Sam, yanking Sam's ripped shirt back so that his chest was fully exposed. Swallowing hard and tensing, Sam tried to see what was happening, but couldn't. His heart raced, his vision dimmed, and he fought hard to stay conscious, terrified of what Moira might do if he passed out. A moment later, his brother stepped back in front of him. The knife was gone, but the older man was now holding something else. Sam couldn't really see what it was.
Dean leaned in close and smirked at Sam; the hatred in his eyes twisted his face into something Dean could never be. And even if Dean killed him right here, right now, his brother's face would not be the last thing he'd see. It was cold comfort, but Sam took what he could. And just where the hell was Bobby?
"Ready to play some more, little brother?" The spirit hissed in his brother's voice.
Sam shivered, his gaze shifting downward, and all the blood drained out of his face. Moira had Dean's belt. She held it in a deceptively loose grasp by the buckle, but the young hunter didn't even try to delude himself. It was still going to hurt. Cold fingers trailed down his chest and Sam shivered. Oh God.
"Please… you don't want to do this," Sam tried to stall, his words a hoarse whisper. He was so thirsty. "You're…not a killer."
The spirit twitched Dean's lips into a scary caricature of his brother's usual shit-eating grin, but she didn't say anything, just continued to watch Sam, her head tilted at an appraising angle.
"We're not here to hurt you… We want to help." Anytime, Bobby…
"Help me?" the spirit hissed. The voice was not Dean's this time. "How can you help me?"
"We – ah," Exhaustion made each word difficult. "We can help you… find peace."
"Peace?" She snorted skeptically; her ghostly face now just barely visible and translucent, superimposed over Dean's. It was unsettling but Sam forced himself to keep eye contact with both of them. "There is no peace in death." Dean lifted the belt back, preparing to strike.
"Please, Moira," Sam begged, "You don't want to do this."
Sam closed his eyes and let his head drop back down.
The belt struck.
Bobby burned rubber. It'd taken too long to finally put the bitch to rest. Too damn long while neither Winchester answered their phone.
Careening to a rocking stop in front of the old house, he let out a relieved sigh when he saw the Impala still parked out front, although he realized, with growing apprehension, that it wasn't Dean who'd parked her. Dean Winchester would never leave his baby resting on the front steps, her front bumper crammed against the banister, the trunk wide open.
"Damn," the older hunter muttered as he hurried out of his own car, grabbed a shotgun, and hit the steps at a run. What happened here? "Sam!" he yelled as he burst through the front door. Had it really been almost five hours, and two dug graves since he'd left them here telling Sam to keep Dean occupied? "DEAN!" he barked, then held his breath to listen, but the house was quiet. Too quiet. Shit.
"No, no," Bobby muttered as he frantically searched the first floor. "SAM!" He shook his head and growled. "We're not doing this, boys, you hear me? Not doing this. DEAN!" His voice booming through the house, he paused and listened again. Did he just hear something?
The sound of whispering chilled Bobby, and his heart pounded with new fear. "Sam?" Moving towards the stairs, the hunter followed the sound. He primed the shotgun and then slowly climbed up. "You up here?"
The stairs creaked under his boots, but Bobby wasn't concerned about stealth this time. Moira was gone for good; now all he had to do was find the boys and make sure they were okay. Some milk run this turned out to be.
"Dean?" Reaching the second floor, Bobby's gaze was instantly drawn toward another set of stairs at the end of the hallway. They led to the attic, and from where he was standing, the man could see the attic door was open wide, a gaping maw in the dimly lit corridor. "Boys?"
The whispering stopped.
Undecided for only a moment, the hunter hurried toward the second set of stairs.
Sam breathed slowly, each breath carefully measured. Too much meant searing pain, too little meant suffocation, so he concentrated hard, fully focused on that one task. And once he didn't think he'd hurl or pass out anymore, he moved on to bigger and better things. Like opening his eyes. Déjà vu.
At first he thought he was blind, and an almost overpowering panic had him forgetting to breathe and doubling over in agony, his forehead pressing painfully against the threadbare blanket buffeting him from the cold wooden floor as his bare chest – and where was his shirt? – protested even the slightest contact. Shit, that belt hurt. Sam had lost count of how many times he'd been struck before his brother had finally collapsed at his feet, truly un-possessed this time. Coarse fibers tickled his nose as he panted and fought hard to stay conscious. Dammit.
Immediately, a warm hand was on his back, and Sam flinched, his bruised body oversensitive and aching. The hand disappeared.
"Sorry," he gasped. He didn't want Dean thinking it was he who had caused that reaction. It wasn't. He wasn't scared of his brother. He wasn't. It was Moira who'd hurt him. She'd just used Dean to do it. But right now he was hurting and his body's responses were beyond his control. But not his words. "S'not you."
Sam remembered the horrified look on his brother's face when Moira had finally gone; the terrified comprehension that bowed his strong brother after Dean lurched back to his feet and got his first good look at what she'd done. The whispered and broken "No, no, no" as Dean had reached out for him and then stopped, his hands hovering, his eyes locked on the nasty welts and marks on Sam's chest. It was only by small favor that Moira had spared him from the buckle but more likely that Bobby had denied her the pleasure. Thank God.
So, no. It wasn't Dean.
"Sam." The heavy sigh didn't sound convinced.
"It's… Sammy," he whispered, wanting his brother to take it for what it was. Absolution.
No chuckle, no exasperation. Nothing. Just a softly spoken "don't" that hurt worse than anything else Sam was feeling now.
It was Sam's turn to sigh.
"Bobby'll be here soon." Dean's voice came from somewhere beside him. He sounded close but had never felt farther away. Sam closed his eyes again, preferring just to listen. It made him feel less nauseated, and the sound of his brother's breathing nearby was always comforting.
"Bobby?" he managed, shifting slightly; even doped up on whatever painkillers Dean had given him, the numb pain in his wrists made him restless. He was lying curled on his side, his back to Dean; a vague memory of being cut down leaving him shivering, and he swallowed convulsively. Damn ghost. He'd been lowered first onto something cold, the floor?, and then moved with great care onto something softer, a blanket, as Dean rushed out an apology for leaving. Sam had no memory of him leaving but by his brother's breathlessness and that he now had both the blanket and the first aid kit, he must have gone to the Impala. Triage was a blurry haze of calloused hands and softly spoken words. Soothing, rambling. A mixed dialogue of "Easy, Sam, I've got you… you're going to be okay" and "Shit, shit, shit" But always ending with "you're safe."
Once Dean had decided Sam's injuries, while painful, weren't life-threatening, the older hunter had carefully treated what he could, given Sam some of the 'good stuff' and helped him settle on his side. Then he'd pulled himself away. Distanced himself from Sam and watched over him, almost as if he didn't trust himself to be too close. Stupid idiot.
Moments later the warm weight of his brother's jacket settled across his bare back and he idly wondered when Dean had gotten the jacket back, too. Sam had thought it'd been left on the side of the road. He had a lot to think about… The lingering scent of aftershave and gun oil lulled his over-stimulated senses.
"Yeah," Dean cleared his throat, sounding oddly uncomfortable. "Figured it'd be best to, uh, wait for him."
Sam frowned and suddenly needed to see his brother. "Dean?" He opened his eyes again and tried to push himself up. Big mistake. Searing agony ripped through his arms and shoulders, and Sam barely bit back a cry before his body heaved and he vomited. Fresh pain ripped through his bruised chest.
Instantly, Dean's arms were around him, mindful of the welts, pulling him up to lean back against his own chest when Sam started to list, forgetting about whatever reservations he'd been harboring. "Easy, Sammy. Easy."
Hot tears pricked his eyes from the force of agony that burned through his body as he continued to heave. Only Dean's strong grip and comforting litany kept him grounded through the pain. He wanted to turn and bury his face in his brother's shoulder and let Dean handle things for a while... His head slowly lolled to the side, his cheek pressed against his brother's shirt, his ear listened for the sound of Dean's heartbeat over his own ragged breathing.
Dean's heart pounded. It was the rhythm of Sam's life, comforting in a way he could not explain or understand himself, and it was only now starting to calm down. His brother had been scared too.
"Don't…want…Bobby," he gasped harshly, every movement tearing hot-white pain through his body. "J-jerk."
Dean didn't say anything. But he didn't move away either. A huffed exhale of air stirred Sam's sweat soaked hair. Fingers idly stroked the arms they held.
Trying hard to control his breathing, Sam settled against his brother soaking up the warmth from the body behind him and having no compunction to move, even if he thought he could. "Dean—" Sam tried again, determined to get through to his bull-headed sibling. And people thought he was the stubborn one?
"Sam?" Dean interrupted him quietly. He felt his brother shift behind him, slowly moving into a more comfortable position and being careful not to jar Sam.
"Shut up…" There was a moment's pause. "…bitch."
Sam bit back the ghost of a smile as he closed his eyes, exhausted but okay. Yes, he was hurting and yes, Dean was guilt-tripping, but, at the end of it all, when the smoke cleared, when it mattered the most, they were still okay.
Moments later, he was out, his brother's whispered and sincere "I'm sorry, Sammy" following him under.
That was how Bobby found them a few minutes later when he burst into the attic. Sam was asleep or unconscious, propped back against Dean's chest, his head half turned and tucked up under his brother's chin. Dean, wide awake, body tensed, eyes deadly, had one arm around his brother, keeping the injured man secure, safe. The other was holding a handgun, steady and aimed. Right at Bobby.
Bobby scowled but didn't take it personally.
The arm holding the gun dropped, and Bobby suddenly wasn't so sure who was leaning on whom. Immediate relief that the boys were okay quickly warred with the obvious fact that they weren't. Dean looked exhausted and beaten, his eyes haunted, and Sam… well, Bobby crouched down in front of the younger men, Sam looked like he'd been hooked up to the back of the Impala and dragged along for a couple of miles. He frowned when he saw the splinted wrists. Recovery was going to be a bitch… But both youngsters were breathing though, and if the glare Dean was giving him was any indication, would live to fight another day.
"So, uh, Bobby," Dean started with faux casualness, "Exactly what the hell did you do? Dig up the grave with your ass?"
Without missing a beat, the older hunter snorted. "Not possible, I left him behind with his brother."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "Hey!"
Bobby laughed 'cause God help him, these were his boys…
And he wouldn't have it any other way.