A/N: Tag to 4.04. A little late, yeah. Whatever. It's been stewing in my mind for awhile. Mega-thanks to zookitty (eightiswild) for the beta. Without her advice, this would not have an ending and would have a heck of a lot more mistakes. Any remaining mistakes are my own. (Or perhaps my computer's - it's been acting up.) As always, any and all feedback is appreciated. Merry Christmas!
Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Run, run, as fast as you can.
The words of the old nursery rhyme pounded in his head in rhythm with his heartbeat as he dodged around a dumpster. His sharp footsteps echoed off the grimy bricks and siding, drowning out his gasping breaths.
Run, run, as fast as you can.
As he rounded another corner, he could hear another set of familiar footsteps echoing behind him. He picked up the speed, ignoring his screaming lungs and aching side. He lifted his feet slightly to avoid an alley cat as it darted out in front of him with a hiss.
Run, run, as fast as you can.
The rhyme was getting louder, and for the first time he realized that it wasn't just repeating through his head – his pursuer was chanting it softly, the low taunts rebounding off the walls, nearly drowned out by their footsteps. He pressed on, blinking fiercely as his eyes burned.
This wasn't how it was supposed to happen.
"Run, run, as fast as you can."
Ahead, he could see the skeletal frame of a ladder attached to a rusty old fire escape. It hung at an angle, half of the escape threatening to come off the building. Taking a chance, he adjusted his trajectory slightly, using an old rubber tire to add height to his jump. He grabbed hold of one of the old rungs, his momentum causing his body to swing up and fold around the two rungs below his hands. He winced as the metal bars dug into his ribs and stomach. With a grunt, he snapped his legs down sharply. When they were directly below him, he jerked his body and tucked his knees to his chest. The rust flaked beneath his hands and sneakers as his feet landed on the lowest rung. The fire escape screeched loudly as he scrambled up the rungs towards the first landing fifteen feet off the ground.
"Run, run, as fast as you can. You won't get away – I'm gonna getcha, Sam."
He grit his teeth as the voice taunted him again, but didn't dare look down into the green eyes he knew were watching him, instead focusing on rushing up the steps. He heard a grunt, and could feel the fire escape shake as his pursuer pulled himself up onto the ladder. Metal scraped harshly against brick, and he heard the tell-tale sound of braces slipping free from the brick they were attached to. He continued going up, barely slowing as he rounded each landing.
"You aren't getting away, you know."
A soft pop and a sharp twang let him know that a bullet – consecrated iron, knowing his pursuer – had just missed him. He didn't dare look down, instead keeping his eyes glued to the roof, just two stories above him now. If he could just ignore the taunts, push out the voice –
"You're an abomination. A demon. You have to die."
That – the cool tone, the angry threat, the hurt, the betrayal in the voice – threatened to bring bile past the lump in his throat that was already impeding his breathing.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
Not that his intentions meant jack squat, anyway – they never had. All the things he had tried to do to help people always ended up backfiring. He was cursed. People around him always died. The people he loved – his mother, father, girlfriend, brother – anyone he had dared to let himself get close to died.
It was all his fault.
But he still kept running. His body didn't know how to do anything else anymore. It was what he'd been doing his entire life – he always ran when it came to facing the truth. He'd often tried to point the blame elsewhere, to say that he'd been trying to protect those around him. Truth was, he'd always run because he was terrified – terrified for those he loved, terrified of what was after him…
Terrified of himself.
He half jumped, half pulled himself over the edge of the roof. The broken brick scraped his arms and stomach, ripping his jeans as he pulled his legs over. He wanted to do nothing more than roll over and wait for his impending death, but his instincts wouldn't let him. He was a Winchester after all, and Winchesters never gave up – even if they were running with tears streaming unheeded down their cheeks.
He pulled himself to his feet and shot across the roof, gravel crunching beneath his feet as he aimed for another nearby building.
"It's been a long time coming, Sam. You've become one of them. You have to die."
This time there was no warning as something slammed into his right shoulder with enough force to knock him forward to the ground. The skin on his cheek gave way to the gravel as he slid forward, rock biting into his face and arms and ripping through his clothing to tear the flesh beneath. A fiery burn started a moment later, spiraling outward from his shoulder, taking his breath away from the sheer intensity of it.
"You brought this on yourself. You've left me no choice."
He swallowed, biting his cheek to keep himself from crying out as the painfully familiar footsteps crunched up next to him. Gravel scraped against concrete as his assailant knelt down. Murky street light glinted off a silver ring as a hand settled on his shoulder, squeezing the bullet wound and bringing stars to his eyes.
He groaned as the hand rolled him over and he stared up into hard green eyes, his stomach clenching at the hatred directed at him, and his voice, no more than a whisper, cracked on a single word.
"Damn it, what do you mean there's nothing I can do, Bobby?"
"Don't you take that tone with me, boy. I'm doing everything I damn well can."
Dean sighed in frustration, his left hand going up and clenching his hair in his fist as he squeezed his eyes shut. His voice quivered slightly despite his best effort to keep in control. "I know, Bobby, I'm sorry. I just can't keep doing this, ya know?"
There was a sigh over the line. "Yeah, I know. You and me both – I swear you both are bound and determined to send me to an early grave."
Dean chuckled humorlessly, opening his eyes and turning to look at the figure on the bed. He swallowed as Sam moaned softly, head jerking to the side, flinging his sweat-soaked hair over his eyes. Dean swallowed, his grip tightening on the phone as he let his other arm drop. "Keep looking?"
A pause. "'Course I will, Dean. Flush it with holy water again, and then smear it with a mix of sage and chamomile. Those more than likely won't kill whatever's infectin' Sam, but hopefully it'll prevent it from getting any worse and maybe lessen the symptoms."
Dean blew a breath out through pursed lips, then inhaled through his nose. "Got it. Thanks a million, Bobby."
"Thank me when we get Sam back on his feet."
Dean's head dropped down slightly as the connection was broken. He glanced at Sam again as he snapped the phone shut, eyeing the sweaty face and the wrinkles around Sam's eyes and mouth that merely hinted at his pain. As Sam moaned softly again, Dean moved to perch on the edge of his bed, grabbing the cool cloth he'd left sitting in a bowl of water to wipe the sweat off Sam's forehead with one hand, tugging the first aid kit across the small end table with the other. After digging around in the bag for a few moments, he grunted in triumph when his fingers closed around a silver flask. He set the cloth aside and held the flask in his teeth by its cap.
"This'd b' eas'er 'f 'ou'd w'ke up," Dean muttered around the cap as pulled the ratty comforter down to Sam's waist and rolled him up onto his side. He winced at the heat radiating from his brother's bruised, bandaged, and battered body. Shifting on the bed so that his hip rested against the middle of Sam's back, Dean reached up with gentle, practiced hands and deftly removed the gauzed taped over the wound on Sam's right shoulder. The muscles beneath the adhesive rippled reflexively but otherwise Sam showed no reaction.
Dean huffed through his nose as he lightly traced the pale red lines radiating out from the chupacabra's claw marks on his brother's shoulder. The wounds themselves weren't all that bad – the longest of the three gashes was only a little more than two inches long, and one of the cuts hadn't even required stitches.
Yet here they were – Sam unconscious, fading away, with Dean panicking and trying to figure out just what was wrong with his brother.
The hunt hadn't even been that big of a deal, either. Dean had been the one to find it – a simple, "normal" hunt to help ease some of the tension that had been building before – and because of – the Jack Montgomery deal two weeks before. Not that anything could erase the steadily growing gap between the pair, short of erasing the last year and a half of their life, but that didn't mean Dean couldn't try.
So off the pair had headed – small town in Texas, pretty straight-forward hunt. There were rumors of a chupacabra in the area, and for reasons unknown, it had moved higher up the food chain – from livestock to humans. They'd done their research, interviewed the witnesses, and tracked down the monster. They'd never actually hunted a chupacabra before, the lore was conflicting, and there was no mention of how to kill one in their father's journal. So they went in prepared for anything: silver bullets, consecrated knives with iron blades, holy water, rock salt, and a wooden stake – pretty much anything and everything in the trunk. Turns out any of the above (except maybe the rock salt and holy water) would work in annihilating the thing (although the rock salt and holy water did help slow it down).
The only hitch had been in the middle of trying to kill the chupacabra. Sam was trying to divert its attention so Dean could get a clear shot (they quickly found out chupacabras were fast), and he had tripped over a tree root and landed right on top of a log. Despite bruising most of his ribs and cracking one, they'd counted it as a blessing at the time because the chupacabra had been about ready to slice the back of Sam's long neck wide open and had clipped his shoulder instead. Better to have a cracked rib and a cut shoulder than a severed spine.
All in all, they'd thought it was a pretty good hunt, and they'd even manage to make jokes at the other's expense as Dean had wrapped Sam's ribs and cleaned and stitched the wounds. Everything was looking good, and for the first time in a while, Dean felt like things were finally getting back to normal.
That is, until he came back from getting some food and supplies for the first aid kit to find Sam passed out on the bed, his temperature already at 101.
Dean pulled the flask out of his mouth and unscrewed the cap, wrinkling his nose slightly as his saliva smeared onto his finger tips. He let the cap drop onto the bed, wiped his fingers on his jeans, then grabbed a towel and wedged it between Sam's left shoulder and the bed to catch the excess water that would be dribbling down. The action was more out of habit than need – the sheets were already wet from Sam's sweaty body.
"Stay still, okay?" Bracing his right hand on Sam's right upper arm, Dean tipped the flask forward. Sam's body stiffened and he groaned as the wounds sizzled softly. Dean chewed his lip and flushed the wound again. "Easy, Sammy," he murmured, his right thumb unconsciously rubbing circles into his brother's arm. "You're gonna be fine, I gotcha. I gotcha."
The soft plea was muffled by the pillow Sam's face was resting on, but Dean leaned forward instinctively at the needy tone. "Sammy?" he called softly, peering at his brother's face.
Sam's eyes remained squeezed shut, but he flinched noticeably and burrowed his face deeper into the pillow. "D'n, 'm sorry," he breathed, his words barely discernable through the pillow.
Dean frowned in confusion. "For what?"
He gasped as his pursuer pressed on his right shoulder, forcing his bullet wound into the gravel. "Dean, I'm sorry," he groaned, his face stinging as his salty tears and sweat trickled into his raw and bloody cheek.
"You're sorry?" Dean ground out angrily, leaning his weight onto the shoulder with a growl. Sam bucked and cried out weakly, his feet scraping against the roof as he tried to get away from the pain. "You kill Mom, Dad, me, and you expect me to believe you're sorry?"
Sam swallowed the bile that rose in his throat and felt a new wave of moisture surging to his eyes. "Please – I didn't –"
"Don't feed me that crap!" His head was forced back, gravel digging into his scalp as Dean shoved the barrel of his favorite Colt into Sam's chin. "We all died trying to protect you from your destiny! And then you turn right around and walked into it with open arms! You aren't even human anymore!"
Do you even know how far off the reservation you've gone? How far from normal? How far from human?
Sam forced his eyes open and stared up at his brother. Something inside twisted at the fire and anger burning in Dean's gaze. "'M still human, De," he gasped.
Dean swallowed as Sam whimpered again, but continued to mix some crushed sage leaves with the chamomile paste they had in their first aid kit. "Hang on, Sammy. I'm right here, okay?" he murmured, using his fingers to spread the mixture over the stitched wounds. "I'm gonna fix you up an' you're gonna be just fine."
Sam curled inwards slightly, a move that was quickly halted by Dean's firm hand on his shoulder and the bandages wrapped around his ribs. "Please," the younger Winchester gasped. Tears were leaking out of his eyes and mixing in with his sweat, something that was really freaking Dean out. Whatever nightmare he was seeing was bad. Dean continued to smear the paste onto Sam's skin as his brother whimpered, "I didn't –"
Sam's body stiffened again, his hands fisting the thin sheets on his bed in a white-knuckle grip. "Come on, Sammy, don't do this," Dean pleaded softly, setting the bowl aside and picking up the cool washcloth again. Dipping it in the bowl of water, he wiped it across Sam's face. He continued murmuring softly, letting desperation he wouldn't normally show slip into his voice, hoping to jolt Sam out of his feverish nightmare. "Wake up, Sam. Please."
Sam tossed his head and moaned again. "'M still h'man, De," he breathed.
Dean froze, his eyes widening with sudden insight. "Oh, shit."
His brother snarled, twisting the barrel of the gun into Sam's skin as he leaned in close. "How, Sam? How can you be human now?" he hissed, his hot breath skating over Sam's bloodied cheek. Sam squeezed his eyes shut again. "You're just another monster now. You gave everything up when you used your powers."
"Mom and Dad died for you! I went to hell for you, you ungrateful bastard!" Dean bellowed, slamming the butt of his gun into the middle Sam's chest. "I sold my soul, and you turn around and give yours to the things we've been fighting our entire lives!"
Sam gasped for air, trying to curl in around his ribs but failing because of Dean's weight on his wounded shoulder. "I didn't know," he choked.
Dean chuckled humorlessly. "Don't give me that crap. You knew exactly what you were walking into when you went down that path. I got yanked out of hell to stop you, Sam," he finished, rising up to his feet. He aimed the gun between Sam's eyes, the younger Winchester unable to move because of the physical and overwhelming emotional pain. "And I'm gonna stop you."
Sam sucked in a breath as Dean pulled the hammer back. "Dean, please –"
"Sammy, listen to me," Dean barked roughly, loosely fisting one hand in Sam's sweaty hair. "You have to snap out of it. It's not real. I'm right here, and I'm sure as hell not going to hunt you, okay? You gotta wake up, dude."
He continued barking orders at his brother, trying to ignore Sam's broken pleas as best as he could. His mind was racing, his shoulders tense with worry and guilt.
Do you even know how far off the reservation you've gone? How far from normal? How far from human?
If I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you.
Words said in anger, in panic, in fear, and now they were coming back to bite him in the ass big time. He'd said them to try and snap some sense into Sam, make him see reason – never to make him afraid of his brother. Dean wanted to make Sam scared of what other people would do, never of what Dean would do.
His father had told him a long time ago he might have to kill Sam. Castiel told him if Dean didn't take care Sam, the angels would. Common sense told him Sam should be killed if the world were to be saved.
But Dean couldn't do it. Even with his father's orders, with a freakin' angel's orders, even with his stint downstairs and Sam's growing powers, Dean still knew he'd never be able to kill his brother. It went against everything in him. His entire life had been – and still was – dedicated to protecting Sam.
Apparently Sam wasn't on the same page.
If I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you. And so would other hunters.
Dean knew if word got out about his brother's powers – as it was bound to in their business – someone like Gordon Walker would come after him. Someone who didn't know Sam's true nature, someone who didn't know what Dean and Bobby and precious few others in the world knew – someone who never saw Sam's compassionate side, the part of him that agonized over killing an innocent. That part of him was still buried somewhere under this cold, hard stranger his brother had transformed into while he was gone. (And it was still there – Dean had seen it again when they talked about what needed to be done with Jack.)
But Dean knew all those sides. Dean knew his brother better than anyone. And because Dean knew, he would never hunt Sam – not while that Sam was still in there.
Dean's full attention shot back to his brother at the broken cry. Without another thought, he yanked Sam's upper body up and into his arms, tilting his shaggy, sweat-soaked head onto his shoulder and cupping it with one hand. "I'm right here, Sam. I'm right here, and I'm gonna save you, okay? You gotta wake up, little brother. Sammy, come on," he murmured in Sam's ear.
Dean closed his eyes as Sam whimpered again. "I'm right here, Sammy, I'm right here, I gotcha…"
He couldn't stop the sob that slipped past the lump in his throat as Dean tightened the grip on his gun. "I warned you," his brother hissed, eyes narrowing to darkened slits. "I begged you not to do this, and you did it anyway, you selfish –"
"I'm right here, Sam. I'm right here, and I'm gonna save you, okay?"
Sam blinked in confusion as Dean's tone suddenly switched from murderous to soft and concerned. His head tilted a little when he noticed the movement of his brother's lips weren't lining up with the words.
"You gotta wake up, little brother."
Sam flinched as a bullet slammed into the roof next to him, spraying him with bits of gravel and concrete. "Pay attention!" Dean shouted, cocking the hammer back again and re-aiming the gun.
Sam frowned. "Wh-what?"
Dean's mouth moved forcefully as he started ranting again, but Sam couldn't hear what he was staying.
"Sammy, come on."
Sam's sluggish mind started racing. Two different Deans? Had he really lost it? Despite the voice denying this possibility, this realm where Dean was hunting him, everything had seemed so real – the running, the ground beneath him, the fear, the bullet, Dean…
But Dean wouldn't, he thought, and suddenly everything went a little hazy. In front of him, Dean was still yelling, the gun quivering slightly in his hands. But he couldn't hear anything Dean was saying… at least not this Dean…
"Dean?" he breathed, wincing as pain flared through his shoulder.
Dean cocked his head, his jaw snapping shut. Sam took a bracing breath as he saw his brother's trigger finger tighten, and he let his eyes slide close and his body go limp, a silent chant of It's not Dean, it's not Dean resounding through his head. The sound of the gunshot was nearly silent beneath the voice echoing around him.
"I'm right here, Sammy, I'm right here, I gotcha…"
Sam took a deep, hitching breath before his entire body went limp in Dean's grasp, and Dean felt his heart thud in panic. "Sam? Sammy?" he called, adjusting the hand cupping the side of Sam's head so that he could feel Sam's pulse. It beat beneath his fingers at a quick pace, but as he waited, it slowed a bit.
Then Sam groaned, turning his head deeper into Dean's shoulder. "You with me, Sammy?" Dean asked softly, gently shaking Sam's shoulder, taking care not to jar the gashes or the cracked rib.
Sam groaned again and tilted his head up slightly, his face still buried in Dean's t-shirt. "D'n?"
Dean breathed silently in relief. "Yeah. I gotcha, Sammy. You're safe."
He felt a tug on the back of his t-shirt. A moment later Sam's fist rested loosely against his back, some of the fabric clenched in his fingers – something he'd done since childhood. "Dr'm?" the younger breathed finally.
"More like a nightmare," Dean affirmed, shifting slightly so Sam could breathe a little easier. "But you're safe now, okay?"
The hand resting lightly on Sam's neck squeezed affectionately before moving up to ruffle Sam's sweaty hair, and Dean let his head hang forward so his cheek rested on the top of Sam's head. "Positive."
Dean glanced up from the newspaper he was reading as the bathroom door opened. Sam staggered out in a cloud of steam, his bare shoulders slumped as he tugged his sweatpants a little higher on his hips. His eyelids were drooping slightly and he moved like an arthritic eighty-year-old, but his skin was a healthier tone, his fever had dropped significantly, and he was able to move and wash up under his own power, even if it did take him twice as long. "Better?"
Tired eyes flickered up to meet his for a moment before Sam dropped to the end of his bed. "Yeah," he replied croakily.
Dean reached forward and extended a water bottle as Sam rubbed at his throat as if trying to massage the hoarseness out of it. "Thanks," the younger hunter murmured gratefully, the corner of his lips twitching up into a faint smile as he accepted the drink.
"Let me check your shoulder, and then you're going back to bed," Dean declared as he stood from the hard-backed chair. Sam rolled his eyes but didn't respond, choosing instead to take small sips from the bottle.
Dean snatched a roll of bandages and some medical tape from the first aid kit resting on the table next to his newspaper. He settled on the end of Sam's bed so that he could see his brother's back. The red lines snaking from the wounds had retreated, leaving just the red gashes and the spectacular array of bruises. After checking to make sure Sam hadn't done anything to jostle his cracked rib out of place, Dean silently and efficiently rewrapped his chest.
For a moment, Dean didn't say anything as Sam tensed beneath his touch as he fingered the wounds again. Sam hadn't mentioned what his fever-dreams were about, but Dean had a pretty damn good idea what they were, and he was pretty sure Sam remembered them, too. He chewed his lower lip as he lightly pressed a bandage over the chupacabra wounds.
"I'd never hunt you, you know."
Sam didn't say anything, but Dean saw the muscles between his shoulders flex. He ripped off some medical tape and secured the bandage over the wounds. "You're still my brother, Sam. It won't ever come to that."
"But – but you said –"
"I said if I didn't know you, I'd want to hunt you," Dean cut in gently, letting his hand rest on Sam's uninjured shoulder. Sam kept his head bowed, wet hair covering his eyes. "But I know you, Sam. Other hunters don't. Get it?"
Sam raised his head and peered at Dean through his bangs, large eyes searching his brother's face. Finally his lips twitched as the questions in the eyes gave way to relief. "Yeah. I get it."
Dean squeezed Sam's uninjured shoulder before standing. "Good. Glad to hear it."
He gathered up his supplies and put them back into the first aid kit. Behind him, he heard the rustle of bedcovers as Sam slipped beneath the fresh sheets Dean had put on the bed while he'd been showering.
Dean glanced over his shoulder. Sam was already sprawled on his stomach, his head twisted to one side so he could glance at Dean through barely cracked eyelids. Dean smiled faintly. "Go to sleep, bitch."
Sam snorted softly, letting his eyes close fully. "Jerk."