Warning: Violence, naughty language, and guess you could say this is considered a dark!fic

Spoilers: Anything up to end of season 3

Disclaimer: sigh No, I don't own them, I don't own much, in fact there have been questions surrounding the ownership of my mind.

AN: I started writing this last year!! It then ended up in my pile as one of my many unfinished fics. Well nearly a year later, I have finally dusted it off and I've completed this baby. Set end of season 3, about a month before Dean's deal is due. Inspired by the song 'Take a Bow', by muse as well as other angsty stuff from Tool.

Graciously beta'd by the one and only pdragon76. I love her to bits!

v

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. Kenji Miyazawa

v

"Dean!" Sam's voice echoed through the small room. He watched his brother get catapulted effortlessly into the air, body contacting with force against the hard wall.

The human projectile hummed a woeful tune on impact.

"Shit! Dean. You okay?"

Sam was by his side, cupping Dean's face in his hands. "Talk to me, man?"

"In..ish...it..." Dean bit his lip, holding off a cry as he attempted to sit up.

"Don't move." Sam pried the book from his brother's grip, stood and made his way towards the bed. He opened it and continued reciting.

"Dómini, ad hanc invocatiónem sanctíssime nóminis tui grátiam, ut, qui hucúsque terrébat, térritus aufúgiat." Sam paused, looked up at the boy's infantile face.

"Burn. You will burn, just like Daddy did!" the demon replied, manipulating the pure voice of its host. A once-innocent body, now a venomous tool that speared its target straight through the heart.

"You pathetic fools. This child won't be saved." A laugh ricocheted off solid walls, sent a chill through every vertebra.

Sam swallowed, silenced momentarily as he struggled to concentrate. They shouldn't have taken this damn job. Neither he nor Dean was up to it. The last few days felt… arduous, dredging up raw, painful voids. Both ached for time they wouldn't allow for healing. Dealing with emotions was just something Winchesters didn't do well. Hunting, killing monsters, banishing demons? They excelled at those things. Usually their work left no time for 'brooding' or 'emo' feelings. For Dean, that's just the way he liked it. Didn't mean his deep fissures weren't seeping. If there was one person who could see that clearly, it was Sam. He broke from his thoughts, heard a grunt from behind, and turned briefly to catch Dean attempting another unsuccessful move.

"Dean…" Sam instinctively knelt down, went to place a hand on his brother's shoulder. He was stopped dead by a blood-curdling scream from the child, which was followed seamlessly by more chilling cackles. He turned his attention back to the task at hand, continued reciting over the loud wails.

"…Canticum Magníficat, ut supra"

"You Winchesters think you help?" The boy spat, his small chest heaving.

"…débitum præbére famulátum" Sam's voice wavered; he cleared his throat and stepped closer.

"You do nothing but bring suffering to others."

"…tibíque possit hic fámulus tuus"

"This child doesn't need to die. But no, you insist on saving people? Oh, such Saints. Your mother must be so proud." The boy hawked and spat a mixture of blood and mucus on the bed spread, tailed closely by a malicious snigger.

"…et fúgiunt qui odérunt eum, a fácie ejus…"

"Death, you bring death and destruction to all that you touch."

Sam's dominant voice dissolved into a strained effort. Taking another hesitant step forward he delivered the words from the book clenched in his hands. The possessed child's speech dithered dramatically, switching from a somewhat human infant to deep animalistic growls.

It was close. The beginning of the end.

Should have never taken this fucking job. Dean stared at the stained ceiling of their motel room. He and Sam knew they should have left this one well alone. For a Winchester, a job was never just a job, a hunt never just a hunt, a 'simple' salt 'n burn never 'simple'. And as he was harshly reminded today, an exorcism was never just a fucking exorcism.

"Something about this job just doesn't sit right with me. Doesn't add up. Maybe you boys should leave this one alone."

Bobby was right. The job had 'bad' written all over it. The young possessed child had been incubating not one, but two powerful demons, each hungry for pain. The duo had deliberately possessed Joey Lucas, an eight year old boy from Tennessee. The possession had managed to cause a bit of a stir, scared off enough local priests to catch a hunter's radar. Hell, these bastards had been expecting the Winchesters, knew damn well they were in the area. In fact, seemed as though they wanted to be found. The case fell too easily in their laps. All the information they gathered had been laid out in front of them.

Dean lifted his hand, placed it behind his head on the pillow. He smoothed his fingers over the bumpy tracks of the stitches. Sam had done a good job patching him up. His vision blurred, a throbbing array of black dots danced before him. God, he was a mess. Concussed, he didn't remember much about how it all ended. Just what Sam had told him; the demons were gone, back in hell where they belonged.

Where I'll be joining them. Dean sighed and rolled his head; let it land gently on the pillow. He took a deep breath and held it. Those demons had got him good this time. Words taunting, lingering like a bad smell.

Burn, you will burn. You will beg for mercy, just as your father did.

His lids felt heavy. He let them slide shut. Sleep. He could hear it calling. The soft bosom of unconsciousness, waiting.

"Dean?"

He was ready, drifting.

"Dean? Wake up, man." Sam was standing over him. "Hey." He placed a gentle hand over Dean's chest, rubbed it up and down, careful not to apply pressure. "Here." Held out a glass of water and two white pills. "Take these."

Dean blinked, stared at the pills. He was suddenly too tired to respond, let alone take the drug that would curb some of the pain dancing through his body. "Mmmm." It was a yes, thank you, please, in one; all he could muster. Dean tried to focus on Sam, give him the message on the tip of his tongue.

"You with me?" Sam's voice was soft.

Come on, Sammy, you're supposed to be good at this. Dean pressed his lips together, inhaled, and gave it his best shot.

"Sssam…can't," he panted, tried to catch his breath. Sighed in defeat that his voice sounded so weak.

God, I'm so tired. Dean closed his eyes again, blew out a prolonged breath.

"Hey, here, lemme help you." Sam placed the glass down on the bedside table.

Thank you, Sammy. Dean opened his eyes. He hoped he could relay that message, too, without speaking it. He felt a hand slide under his neck. Cooperated with it, as much as he could, until Sam had him sitting.

"Kay, you good?" Sam asked, handing him the pills and glass. "Just take these and you can go back to sleep, okay?"

Dean nodded, felt the glass pressed into his hand. It concerned him that it was only half full, yet felt far too heavy for his wrist. He willed himself to place the pills in his mouth, took a deep breath. He tasted the bitterness of chemicals sizzle on his tongue, grimaced as he forced the glass to his lips, taking a small sip of the clear liquid.

Sam stood at attention, watching him, ready for action should he be needed. It made Dean feel crowded, and he used his eyes to beseech Sam to step back a little.

When he was sure the pills were on their way down, Dean washed the residual bitterness with another mouthful and handed the glass back to Sam. He nodded his thanks and immediately closed his eyes. He could hear it calling again. He wanted - needed - to sleep.

Dean was sure his eyes were closed only for a few seconds, but when he reopened them, he was lying again. Sam stood over him, panting slightly as he adjusted the pillows.

"There. Go back to sleep. I'll wake you again in a few hours, okay?" Sam watched him, waiting for a response.

Dean released a cross between a groan and hum.

The sweet voice of slumber ringing through his ears, oblivion followed closely behind.

v

"Please, wake up."

Small sweaty palms scooped the side of his face. He could feel them prod and pry his eyelids, before moving to vigorously shake his shoulders.

"Please, I'm scared. I don't want to be alone."

Dean stirred, connected and used the plea to pull him from dormancy.

"Sam?" His voice raspy.

"No…" The young boy choked and hiccupped over his words. He began to cry, tears falling on the hunter's face. Dean could taste the salty sadness seeping into his mouth. "I wanna go home…I want my mommy."

Dean opened his eyes, squinted. He instinctively brought up a hand, shielded them from the artificial light. He took a couple of deep breaths, observed his surroundings. A large room, two beds, a window and a door that opened out into a narrow corridor.

He pushed up at the small weight on his chest. He couldn't get a clear view of the young blubbering child. As he sat up, he felt the boy's grip tighten on his clothing. The pinch of tiny hands clenching his shirt.

"S'ok, what's your name?"

The boy didn't answer, continued to wet Dean's shirt with more mucus and tears. He released a desperate set of coughs into the hunter's chest.

Dean sighed, his brain scratching for something, anything that could help to piece things together.

He took another look around the room. Nothing. He had no clue where he was and there was no sign of Sam.

The boy released his grip a little and mumbled something into Dean's chest.

"What? What's wrong little man, help me out here?" Dean steadied his voice, took the opportunity to fill his lungs. He pulled the boy from his chest. Gently gripped onto his small shoulders and lifted him into view.

The young boy kept his head down, eyes closed.

Dean froze, took in his appearance. It was the same boy from the exorcism.

The boy opened his eyes, large black orbs staring back at him. A large wide smile formed on his tiny face.

"Hi, Dean."

Dean parted cracked lips, gasped, mouth too dry to speak.

The child smiled, playfully pointed his tiny finger over his shoulder. "She's waiting for you." He chimed.

"Wha…" Dean spun around with lightening speed; ignored the painful twinge from neck muscles.

He saw nothing but white wall. A playful giggle got his head turning back. As a reward for his curiosity, he was met by a solid fist, followed closely by darkness.

#

He woke from one nightmare into another. Was sure his eyes were open but could see nothing. And then it hit him. The all too familiar aroma of evil; rotten eggs and burnt matches. Sulfur. It lingered in the air around him, filled his lungs. Danced its way as it tickled his throat, nostrils and airway. Dean gagged and coughed. "Uh, God…" He wheezed, tried to inhale, instead choked.

"Shh, its okay, Dean, Mommy's here." A cold hand landed on his cheek.

"Mom?" He whispered, leaned into the familiar embrace.

"That's right kiddo." He heard chains rattle to his right. Sensed the man's presence beside him.

"Dad?" Voice desperate.

"We're all here, Son."

Dean blinked; a tear ran down his cheek. Felt a hand run through his hair.

"Sammy?" Dean cried out. It was still pitch black. The sulfur, although still present, dispersed to a tolerable level. He used his other senses, tried to listen out for a response. "So, dark…" Dean rubbed his eyes.

"I know, honey." Mary's voice was soft, comforting. "Close your eyes, Dean."

"It's over." His dad was close, he could feel the wisp of his breath on the nape of his neck.

"What is…? Where are--" Dean was cut short by a deep growl that tore viciously through the calm. His nostrils picked up the scent of damp fur, singed hair and stale blood. The once strong aroma of sulfur returned with vengeance. He couldn't see anything but knew whatever was coming was evil.

"She's here." John's voice was laced with panic.

"Who?" Dean murmured.

The creature's claws scraped across the floor. It approached at a languid but steady pace, stopped and began panting. Dean willed his eyes to locate a make-shift weapon, a door, anything that could help. That's when he saw it. Slightest flash of red, eyes that pierced through him before disappearing into darkness. His heart beat hard against his chest. There was a clank of chains dropped to the ground and the ringing of metal chased a demonic howl. Mary's hair brushed his cheek, next to him one minute and then she was gone.

"Noooooo." She screamed an agonizing, blood-curdling scream. It pierced his ears. "Mom!?" Dean felt her nails scrape his arms as she was dragged away.

"Nooooo…Please…Stop!" He pushed with his heels, scrambled away. To his left, he heard his father yell out in agony. Tasted the coppery spray that followed a growl and a gargled cry; the sickening crack of bone. Then there was nothing but deafening silence.

Dean brought a trembling hand to his face, smeared blood with the tips of his fingers. He tensed; heard panting. Sensed rancid hot breath that tickled the hairs of his neck.

"Welcome, Dean. My pets been keeping you company?" She snorted. "Oh, the fun has only just begun."

v

"Come on Dean, I need you to open your eyes for me, okay?" Sam stood over Dean, plea riddled with concern. "God, Dean. You're really burning up." Sam pulled back the sweat-soaked covers.

Burn, you will burn.

Dean shivered and curled himself into a ball as the cold hit his damp skin. He moaned through throbbing agony that pulsated from sore ribs. Took a moment for his breathing to regulate. Instinctively, he gripped onto the warm consoling arm. Dug his fingers deep, needed to know it was real. He heard his brother's cries but ignored them. He wasn't going to let go.

I don't want to let go, Sammy. I don't want to be alone, I don't wanna die.

"Dean, you're hurting me." Sam used his other hand to work his way out of the painful grip. It was clear that Dean was still not fully conscious. The pain in his arm was becoming unbearable. He felt Dean's nails penetrate deeper into his skin, tried again to gently manipulate Dean's tightly clenched muscles. Began rubbing in circular motions until he felt the grip release a little.

"That's it, Dean. It's me, Sam." Sam winced, bit down on his teeth as Dean finally released.

"Sammy?" Dean whispered, groaned as he tried to straighten his uncooperative body. Sam's voice was his focal point, he used all his senses to home in.

"Yes, Dean. I'm right here." Sam emphasized his presence with a light squeeze.

"Sam?" Dean's confused whisper unnerved Sam.

"Hey, deep breaths, man." Sam got onto his knees, used the damp cloth to wipe Dean's forehead.

"God, Sammy." It was no longer a question. Dean opened his eyes long enough to watch Sam sigh in relief.

"You scared the shit outta me, Dean." Sam cleared his throat, tried to make his voice steady.

"You're really burning up, I have to get your temperature down." Sam went to get up, stopped when he felt a gentle but firm grip.

"Dude, just…" Dean left one hand over his face, inhaled, and rubbed his palm into his eye. He slowly exhaled. "Stay." Dean licked his lips, looked up for a brief moment, made eye contact.

Sam nodded. Silently moved to sit beside his brother.

Twenty quiet, comfortable, minutes passed to find the brothers still sat side by side on the bed.

"You wanna talk about it?" Sam chose his spot on the bedspread, began smoothing it before scrunching and repeating the process. He couldn't see Dean's eyes but knew from his brother's breathing that the floodgates had burst.

Sam looked up briefly. "Dean…" He opened and closed his mouth, the right words never quite making their exit.

Dean sighed hopelessly, shook his head.

"I'll be okay, I just…" The words felt heavy, he spat them out sluggishly. They left him drained, physically and mentally. If he had anything left within him, his current vulnerable state would have him embarrassed. He was too tired for that. "Can't you smell that?" Dean asked, turned to face his brother.

"Smell what, Dean?" Sam raised his brow. "Look, you're running a pretty high fever. You're burning up."

Yes, I am, Sammy.

"Smoke." It was so faint Sam could have sworn he imagined it. He paused on his way to the bathroom, turned to face his brother.

Dean was huddled in a quivering ball. A trail of sorrow trickled from his eyes.

-End-