Title: And The Wicked

Author: Black_Wingedbird

Rating: R (language)

Notes: Originally posted in the Brotherhood 2 zine, Thanks to Kati and Carikube for beta'ing

Summary: A moment of separation leads to panic

*SN*

They entered the house back to back, palms pressed against the butts of their guns and index fingers wrapped around the triggers. Sam tightened his grip. The Mag-Lites cut brightly through the moonlit darkness, illuminating the muzzle's aim. They moved as one, silently clearing the hallway, the living room, the bathroom.

"I really hate a quiet house," Dean announced.

"It won't be quiet for long," Sam replied, checking the corners of the room. "He's here somewhere."

"I'm just glad there aren't any kids here tonight, trying to get a glimpse of this thing. That's all we need, some pumped-up frat boy on a double-dare."

"Twenty-four people in three months… maybe they finally got the hint."

Dean used the muzzle of his gun to push back the thin yellow drapes. "I thought the victims died of smoke inhalation?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, after they were mutilated."

"I don't see any sign of fire."

Sam looked up, his gun and flashlight pointed at the floor. The ceiling was white, punctuated only by the outdated popcorn texture. He took a deep breath. "Ready to search the kitchen?"

"Bring it on. I got a trunk full of matches and a full can of gas; let's find this bad-ass and toast the sorry bag of bones."

They moved soundlessly across the carpet and into the kitchen. Doe-eyed cows and roosters decorated the walls. A simple wooden table and set of chairs sat in the middle of the linoleum, connected by thick strands of spider webs. The room was heavy with dust and the air tasted stale.

"Guess malicious spirits aren't ones for housekeeping, huh?"

Sam shook his head, aiming his flashlight over each of the cupboards. You just never knew where spirits would hide.

A darkly painted door stood ominously in the corner, beside the old refrigerator. Jackpot. Sam started moving toward it even as a chill spread outward from his chest.

Behind him, Dean sneezed and dropped something. "I mean, seriously. You'd think this guy- what was his name?"

"Tucker Robinson."

"Yeah. You'd think old Tucker could take a few hours off from killing people and run the vacuum or something. I mean, shit."

Sam stiffened, the hair on his arms rising under his jacket. His elbows were locked, aiming the gun and flashlight at the door handle. "Dean."

A second beam of light joined his, and the tarnished gold door handle shone gently. "What's behind door number two?"

"It's made of iron," Sam noted, his flashlight reflecting off the dull surface. He reached out and touched it, the metal cold beneath his fingers. His hand paused over the knob. "Count of three."

Dean was silent as Sam counted. He grabbed the doorknob, twisted and pulled, then jumped back and aimed the gun in one fluid movement. Darkness filled the doorway, mocking them quietly.

"Dude, your door sucks. Next time, let me pick it."

Sam stood in the doorway, searching. The tar-like darkness absorbed the beams of the flashlights, and cool, musty air curled around them. Sam's tensed from the extremely bad vibes. "We have to go in there."

"After you."

Sam rolled his eyes, pushed down his trepidation, and took a step.

Suddenly, he was jerked off his feet, pulled face-first down into the abyss. He flailed, dropping the gun and flashlight, arms out to the sides as he fought to grab hold of something, anything to stop his fall. The darkness swallowed him, completely blinding him, stealing his voice as he shouted for Dean.

He slammed against the floor chest first. Something heavy slammed behind him. Stars exploded in the darkness, neon green and red and yellow…and then…nothing.

~o0O0o~

It was actually darker with his eyes open.

Sam blinked, his eyes sticky and crusted, and rolled onto his back. He raised his head and groaned at the pain that swelled in his skull, stealing his breath. He wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. With a whimper, he collapsed back onto the cold cement floor and stared into the darkness above him.

He remembered entering the house with Dean, opening the door, the fall. Now Dean was somewhere else in the house, probably going into overprotective big brother mode, hacking his way through the walls like a madman while Sam lay there, experiencing the worst headache of his life but otherwise in one piece. Well, for now, anyway.

He tried moving again, this time actually sitting completely upright before the pain attacked. He sagged against the wall behind him, panting heavily through his mouth, a little unnerved by the fact his breathing was the only thing he could hear. The darkness pressed in from all sides, suffocating him. The air was thick, trapping his breath against his face as if the room were no bigger than a closet.

Pushing past the pain, Sam took inventory of his body. Large lump on head, check. Limbs intact? Yes. Blood? He couldn't tell. Weapon? Gone. Sam pushed himself to his feet tentatively, half afraid he might hit his head on the ceiling. He straightened slowly and stated moving along the wall. He'd heard the door slam behind him just before he passed out. Where was it?

"Hello?" he ventured.

Silence, not even an echo.

Sam sighed and continued to feel along the wall. The sandy grit crumbled beneath his fingers; his shoes rasped against the floor as he moved. The air smelled of smoke and death, and the hair on his arms prickled his skin as it rose. He felt naked, blind and defenseless without his weapon or his brother. Was this the room where the spirit took its victims to kill them?

He really didn't want to find out. Sam moved faster, navigating around a corner. Twenty steps along the wall, then another corner. Another twenty steps. No door. His worry began to grow, his heart beating a little faster. He grasped along the wall, his fingers moving frantically in search of an escape.

Nothing.

He was in a small, dark room, with no way out and no means to defend himself.

Okay, think. There's a way out of everything, just stay calm. Deep breath. You can do this.

Sam turned towards the wall and started banging against it with his fists. "Dean! Hey! Dean, can you hear me?"

He paused, his heartbeat pulsing in his fingers, and listened. His own heartbeat lub-dubbed in his ears.

Sam bit his lip. Okay, what now? He turned toward the room, sagging back against the concrete.

He didn't have long to wait.

The temperature dropped, pulling a full-body shiver from the center of his spine. Sam wrapped his arms around himself, pressing his back against the wall. Waiting. The air changed, moved and swirled around him. Something was happening.

It was the closest he'd ever really been to an orb this size. It hovered in the air just a few feet in front of him, an internal white light glowing gently as it just… floated. Long, wispy tentacles snaked through the air around it, so faint that Sam had to squeeze his eyes shut and reopen them to ensure they were really there. He stood still, watching. Waiting for it to make the first move.

It came closer, stopping just inches from his face. Sam's eyes widened as he watched, transfixed by the gentle glow from the orb's core. Feather-light tentacles reached out, brushed his face, leaving stinging trails in their wake. He held his breath.

Then, just as silently, it backed off, flickered, then disappeared.

Sam exhaled, peeling himself from the wall. Whatever it was, it couldn't be the spirit responsible for the deaths. It didn't do anything. He was still alive, unharmed.

He rubbed his face and smiled nervously. "Uh… hello?" Any form of companionship would be better than being alone in his cell. There was a green spot in his vision where the orb had been, and he rubbed his eyes. "Can you come back? Do you know how to get out of here?"

A brilliant flash of light blinded him, sent him crashing back against the wall with his eyes squeezed shut. Then something wrapped around his throat, slamming his head back, slinging pinpricks of color against the backs of his eyelids. His lungs burned and itched as he tried to suck in air, made horrible gasping, wheezing sounds in the oppressive silence.

Seconds dragged on; his limbs grew heavy, his mind foggy. Sam cracked his eyes open, ignoring the hot tears that trickled down his face. There was someone holding him, a faceless shape in a hooded cloak, darker than the air around him. Sam felt himself sagging, felt his fingers loosening from their grip on the force around his throat, felt his arms fall heavily to his sides.

His chest was heaving now, trying to relieve the itch of asphyxiation. His fingers grew numb,; his eyes slid closed. Sam was unconscious before he hit the floor.

~o0O0o~

He swallowed gingerly, wincing as his throat scraped against itself. He raised his hand, gently running his fingers over the hot, swollen flesh. With a groan, Sam rolled to his side.

The room was still dark, the concrete beneath his cheek still cold. A shiver rippled through him, and he pushed himself upright, leaning back against the wall. He swallowed again and raised his hand to his head, trying to rub away the migraine between his temples.

That was when he heard the humming. It was a slow tune, the notes deep and rhythmic. Sam blinked, forcing his eyes to dilate faster to accommodate the darkness.

The cloaked figure stood in the corner with its back to Sam, its outline just barely visible in the darkness. Any sudden movement and Sam would lose his focus. He squinted, trying to decipher the figure's movements.

Painting. A silver bucket dangled low on one side of the figure while the other arm raised and lowered, painting a wide, even stripe of mossy green straight up the wall. While it hummed.

"Who are you?" Sam asked, his voice too-loud and raw. "Why am I here?"

The figure paid him no mind, and Sam's courage swelled a little. He pulled up his legs and began struggling to his feet. "Hey. What is this place? What are you doing?"

The figure only continued on, humming, painting. Didn't appear to hear Sam at all.

Sam straightened his legs, keeping one hand on the wall behind him for balance. The smell of paint stained the air, stinging his nostrils and throat. His breathing hitched, caught in his throat, and he doubled over, coughing. What was once a small headache suddenly exploded within his skull, driving spikes of pain through every nerve in his body. Metallic green dots bubbled against the darkness, and Sam squeezed his eyes shut, willing the pain to pass.

Later, when he was once more shivering from the cold—and maybe something more—Sam straightened and searched for his wordless companion. The figure was just as Sam had last seen it: facing the wall and layering on more ugly green paint with every brushstroke. Humming.

Sam pushed away from the wall and moved slowly, his hands out before him in the darkness. "Who are you?" he tried again. "What do you want from me?"

The paintbrush clunked against the metal bucket, and the figure continued painting, never missing a beat in its eerie tune.

Sam crept forward, his fingers like feelers, slicing through the inky blackness without resistance. The paint fumes grew thicker, more concentrated the closer he got, and Sam found himself holding his breath as he approached. He reached out, his fingers itching for a weapon, and aimed for the figure's shoulder. "Hey—"

The figure spun so quickly, its outline was lost in the surrounding darkness. A solid blow to the chest sent Sam sailing backward, crashing against the opposite wall in an explosion of pain. His hips, spine, shoulders, head cracked against the concrete and drove the air from his lungs. He slid to the floor numbly, tingling, gasping for breath.

He heard the scratch of a match against a striker, saw the flare of a bright orange flame. Their eyes met; bloodshot brown irises stared straight into Sam's soul, paralyzing him. The man's face was broad, shiny with sweat and oil, hairless. Grime smudged his cheeks, his forehead, deepened the wrinkles of his face and dusted his fat nose. The man smiled then, revealing crooked, broken, discolored teeth that were caked in grey feculence.

Sam watched as the match was lowered to the bottom of the dull green stripe. It ignited instantly, the flames roaring to life, shooting up the wall, making their way across the ceiling, racing toward him with frightening speed. Sam ducked, watched in breathless horror as the ceiling lit up. The flames continued to swallow the painted course, quickly reaching the end of the ceiling and diving toward the floor next to Sam. He rolled away just as the fire grabbed the floor.

His palms slapped the concrete as he scuttled away on all fours. The stripe of fire was burning brightly above him, slowly bleeding outward, growing wider and hotter. A primitive part of Sam screamed in panic. He had to get away, had to get out of this room. The flames were bearing down from all sides, choking and suffocating.

He was going to be burned alive.

Ice hardened his veins, froze his muscles, made every movement seem sluggish and sloppy. He tried to push to his feet and tripped, crashing to his knees and palms, grit stinging his skin. The figure stepped closer then, his robe brushing over Sam's knuckles, breezing against his hair and nose. The fabric was thick and smelled of blood, metal, and fear.

A heavy boot on the small of his back sent him crashing to the floor, the base of his spine screaming in protest. Once more, he couldn't breathe, gasping noisily for stale air as the fire howled above him. Sam bucked and writhed, adrenaline pumping hot and hard in his chest, urging him to move, move now. Get away. Escape. His life depended on it.

Out of the corner of his eye, he recognized the glint of a long, curved blade. He knew the shape instinctually, the way a rabbit knows the shape of a hawk. Sam froze for a split second, giving in to the heavy weight crushing his solar plexus.

The figure raised the knife high enough for it to reflect the rolling flames, then brought it down with such speed that it took Sam a second to feel the pain.

He threw back his head and screamed. Searing pain ignited in his hamstrings, and his mind locked onto it, unable to feel anything but the bone-deep sting of sliced muscle. Sam drew in a ragged breath, his body struggling to stay alive as his mind overloaded, threatened to shut down. He couldn't move. The backs of his legs instantly grew wet and warm as blood soaked his jeans and pooled on the floor.

The weight lifted from his back but Sam stayed. Hot tears dripped off his nose and chin, onto the backs of his hands. His hair fell over his eyes, but through his bangs he watched the cloaked figure walk away. There was a door, an outside, an escape, and his captor turned and stood on the threshold, a victorious smile bending his face. Sam reached out with one trembling hand, his fingers bumping together mid-air, his mouth open in a silent plea.

The figure started humming again, the same slow, deep tune as before, and closed the door behind him.

~o0O0o~

"SAM!" Dean threw himself against the iron door, his entire body absorbing the jolt of his boot against iron. He stumbled backward, caught himself, then kicked the door again.

He had been inches from the door when it slammed shut, sealing his brother behind two inches of cold metal, effectively separating them. The house was darker now, colder, and the silence was oppressive. All his bullets had done nothing to weaken the door, neither had beating his fists bloody. Only one thing mattered to Dean: rescuing Sam from the malicious spirit that prowled this house. He panted, his gasps loud and harsh in the silence of the kitchen.

A muffled scream nearly stopped his heart. Sam didn't scare easily, didn't admit to pain easily, either. Hearing Sam's tortured voice ripped at Dean's heart and sent ice through his blood. He doubled his efforts- bulldozing the door with his shoulder this time- his entire skeleton reverberating as he crashed against the iron again.

Wait! his brain screamed and Dean paused, gasping for breath, clutching his shoulder. Wait. The door—it's hot.

Dean approached slowly, the fingers of his injured arm tingling. He reached out, jaw clenched, breathing loudly through his nose, and pressed his fingertips to the door. Pain nipped at him and he drew back, making a fist to dull the sting. "What the fuck," he muttered, looking the door up and down.

Anxiety swept through him. Fire? It would have to be large in order to heat a door of this thickness. Sam was in there, probably hurt, maybe unconscious, hopefully not dead. Heat rolled off the door in waves now, and Dean shuddered at how hot it must be inside. If Sam wasn't dead already, he would be unless Dean could break down the door.

Think, think, think. He had no explosives, nothing to force the door open with. They hadn't been expecting this; what the hell kind of house has a torture chamber in the kitchen? Dean pressed his fingers to his forehead, rubbing his skin over his skull. He turned slowly, cataloging the room's contents. A kitchen table, a refrigerator, empty cupboards, old china mounted on the wall and—

An axe! Dean snatched it from the hook by the back door and raised it over his shoulders, swinging it at the door with all his might. The first half-inch of the blade sank into the iron with a loud clang, then refused to budge. Dean propped his foot on the door and yanked twice before stumbling backward, axe in hand. He caught his balance and swung again, and again, and again. The axe caused little damage, leaving only kitten-like scratches against the iron. Dean threw the axe to the side, disgusted, exhausted, and heartbroken.

There had to be another way. The door wasn't budging and neither was the brick around it. His entire body ached from his efforts. He sank to the cold tile floor and slumped against the wall just next to the door. Heartache engulfed him; he couldn't breathe. Sam was just on the other side of the door, alone and possibly dying, and Dean couldn't do a damn thing about it, but he couldn't bring himself to leave, either.

Think, dammit! Think... His heart splintered under the weight of his panic. It all came down to this right now, an entire lifetime of sacrifice and love stolen from him, untouchable. And for what? For an evil spirit like any other, only this time they hadn't found the body fast enough. It was hidden somewhere within the walls, or floor, or, fuck, maybe even the ceiling. But it didn't matter now. Sam needed him, and Sam came before everything else.

I'm sorry, I'msorrysorrysorry.

He couldn't think. Dean's bottom lip trembled so he bit down hard, sniffing as the tears began to fall. This wasn't the end- it couldn't be. There had to be something else, something he didn't try yet. His throat constricted, his face felt hot. He raised a trembling hand and balled it into a fist. "Sam…" he whispered, striking the door weakly.

Suddenly, something exploded from the door, a large black blur that passed right through Dean, stealing the breath from his lungs. Incredible coldness froze his heart, his spine, a cold so bitter it burned. He jerked, plastering himself against the door, but the blur disappeared around the corner. The kitchen was still once more.

The wall began to shake. A loud, rough grinding sound filled the air, and dirt billowed from the bottom of the door. Dean jerked upright, watching with wide, disbelieving eyes as the heavy door slowly slid open.

Any relief the action might have sparked was short-lived. A wall of flames rushed at Dean, sending him to his belly on the tile. The heat singed the back of his head, his hands, his shoulders and calves. When the flames receded, Dean scrambled to his feet and charged inside.

The entire room was ablaze. The walls, the ceiling. An ocean of fire rippled all around him, breathing and burning. The heat choked him, stung his eyes and throat. It was everything he imagined Hell to be.

"Sam!" he bellowed, charging into the inferno, shielding his face with one arm. "Sam, where are you?"

Seconds after crossing the threshold, the door slammed shut.

Trapped.

But a long, dark shape stood out from the florescent flames, and Dean ran toward it.

Sam lay prone, still and unmoving on the floor, face down in a dark puddle. As Dean approached, he could see the fire's reflection dancing over the smooth surface of congealed fell to his knees and pulled Sam into his lap. Limp limbs dragged over the floor, Sam's head thunking against his chest as he rolled.

Slowly, Dean pressed trembling fingers to Sam's neck. A slow, weak lub-dub surged beneath the skin.

"Oh, thank you." Dean crushed Sam to his chest, lowering his chin to Sam's scalp. He breathed in deeply, sparing a moment to flood his senses with what he feared he had lost.

The fire crackled and spit. Dean hunched his shoulders, leaning over Sam's still body. He looked around, searched for an exit, a window, a fucking crack in the wall: anything that might provide an escape. The fire was everywhere, seeming to press in from all sides. If they stayed here much longer, it would consume them.

Just think, dammit! Think think think…

Dean lowered his right hand, combing his fingers through Sam's damp, tangled hair. "Hang on, Sam. Just hang on, okay? We're gonna make it."

Sam tossed his head against Dean's ribs and a gurgling groan bubbled up from his throat.

"Sam? You awake?"

Sam gasped. "Oh, God," he whimpered, "Legs… my legs."

The blood. Dean grabbed Sam's shoulder tightly, his eyes going to his brother's knees. "Sam, calm down. It's okay, I'm here. What's wrong?"

Sam writhed in his hold, the deep lines of pain made even more dark by the firelight as he sobbed. "My legs… cut… can't move…"

The words were sharp and cold in Dean's chest. He laid Sam on the floor gently, hovering over him to shield him from the fire. "Stay with me. Breathe through it. Come on, Sammy." Dean ran his hands down the sides of Sam's legs, afraid of finding the wounds that had caused so much carnage. "Where does it hurt?"

Sam threw his head back against the concrete, reaching out with bloody fingers to the sides of his thighs. "Back… legs. Dean, I can't move them!"

"I'm rolling you over," Dean said with more authority than he felt. "I gotta see." It was an explanation, and an apology.

Sam rolled with all the grace of a log. Dean held him tightly, keeping him from smashing his face into the floor. With the other hand, Dean probed the torn denim, trying to see skin through all the dark, jellied blood. Sam's shoulder's jerked, and Dean knew he was close.

But when his fingers sank into Sam's flesh all the way up to the second knuckle, they both screamed.

Butchery. Someone—something—had fucking butchered his little brother, severed his hamstrings clear down to the bone. Dean withdrew his fingers and stared at them, the fire glinting brightly off the slick gore.

Dean's vision blurred and turned red. Sam was panting harshly, twisting on the floor like a dying insect while his legs remained motionless. Tears leaked from his tightly closed eyes as fresh blood pooled in the wounds before spilling to the floor.

Bile scorched Dean's throat. He inhaled a shot of hot, rancid air and surged to his feet.

"Show yourself, you sick fuck!" he screamed, his hands balled into fists at his sides. "Get in here so I can kick the shit out of you!"

Only the fire replied, hissing and spitting as it devoured the walls and ceiling, steadily growing wider and brighter.

Dean ran to the door—or where he thought the door was—and kicked at it, flailing his arms for balance. The flames parted and swallowed his foot before he pulled back and kicked again. Harder. Harder. Again. Again.

Rabid anger stole his balance, and he hobbled backward, catching himself. How did he open it last time? What was the trick, the password? Or was it just luck?

No, there was no such thing as luck. Dean lurched forward and pounded on the door with his fists, ignoring the fire's sting. Adrenaline dulled the pain and he pounded again, his heart thundering against his chest in hysteria.

The iron door didn't budge, didn't even grace him with a quiver.

Dean backed up slowly, his hands and feet aching, his skin stretched tight.

What now, what now…

Sam had fallen still, and Dean returned to his side. "Sam?" he said, holding him, leaning over him to block out the fire. He pressed his palms to the wounds to staunch the blood flow and was discouraged by the lack of response. "Sam, you gotta tell me what happened. Did you see anything? Did the spirit talk to you?"

Sam was pale, his skin slick with sweat. His eyes were still closed but the lines of pain had faded and Dean knew his little brother was close to unconsciousness. He shook Sam gently, just enough to elicit a small groan.

"Come on, Sam. Stay with me. Help me find a way out of here."

Sam looked up at him briefly with tired, bloodshot eyes. "Door."

"I know there's a door," Dean said. "But it's shut and I can't open it. Did you see anything else? Do you know how to open the door?"

Sam's ribs pushed gently against Dean's knee as he breathed. He didn't speak, only shook his head and pinched his eyes shut once more.

"Sammy, stay awake. I know it hurts." The fire was spreading across the floor now, approaching with the stealth of a hungry wolf. The air was hot and acrid, smelling of greed and death. Dean tightened his grip on Sam. "I know this isn't the end of the road, little brother," he said, smiling to hide his pain. "Tell me you've got some kick-ass trick up your sleeve."

Sam struggled for breath, his every inhalation the tortured sound of a body shutting down. Far too much blood had pooled around them. It sculpted Sam's hair, stained his skin, soaked his clothes. Dean ignored the spatter on his own hand and reached out, pulling free a strand of hair that stuck to the side of Sam's face.

Sam didn't even acknowledge the touch.

Dean straightened and glared at the flames before him. "You want to kill somebody, kill me!" he spat. "I'm right here—free for the taking. A trade, my life for his. Just let him go."

The flames laughed, flickering and dancing, crackling.

"Show yourself!"

"Dean."

Sam's voice tickled his ear, and Dean looked down. Sam lay completely flat, completely relaxed. His eyes, twin pools of stormy seas, were fixed on Dean with unwavering accuracy. His skin held no color, porcelain-like and lifeless.

Dean felt himself collapsing. His chest ached, his throat tightened. "What, Sam?" His voice was small, squeaky.

Sam blinked, his pupils never changing size. "You… tried."

Oh, Jesus. "What's that mean, huh?" Dean asked, his upper lip trembling as he smiled. His nose was dripping. "I'll get us out of here."

Sam's eyes closed. "Sorry."

"No. No, you're not sorry because there's nothing to be sorry for. You're going to be fine, Sam, you hear me? Just relax. I'm going to get us out—"

Sam went completely still, suddenly very heavy.

The fire evaporated.

Sam was dead.

Dean shivered in the sudden darkness, the hair rising on his skin. "No. Sam, you open your eyes right now. Come on, don't do this to me. Sam, open your eyes. You can't leave me. Not now, I'm not ready. Do you hear me? Wake up, dammit!"

His voice bounced off the walls around him, resonating his pain and despair. His solitude. Tears slid from his nose unnoticed, the hollowness in his chest all-encompassing. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Sam was supposed to outlive him, to grow old and start a family and be normal. This wasn't right. The depths of Dean's soul screamed it, his brain recited it over and over.

He's not dead. He's not dead. He's not dead.

Because if Sam was dead, it meant Dean had lost it all.

He was alone.

Grief swallowed him, and he allowed it to crash down, drowning his soul. He had failed. Sam was gone. It was all his fault. He was alone now. Sam was dead. Dean wanted to die, too. Where was his gun? When had he lost it? Maybe he could bash his head against the wall a few times. Really hard.

A glowing orb caught his attention, and he looked up casually, too raw to be surprised or scared. His vision was blurry, so he blinked. What was in the room with him? It floated in place, glowing gently, giving off enough light to fill the room almost to the edges. Long, thin tentacles wavered in the air around it, moving slowly.

"I can heal him."

Dean stiffened. "What?"

"You must do something for me first. There isn't much time; you must hurry."

Dean sniffed loudly, his nostrils stinging. He scrubbed at his face and swallowed. "Anything."

"Set me free. I cannot watch this pain and suffering any longer."

"Who are you? How do I set you free?"

"My name is Marie. Tucker was my husband, a long time ago."

Dean blinked at her. "You were married to the son of a bitch who did this to my brother?" His hand tightened around Sam's wrist.

"Please." The orb moved closer. "There isn't much time. You must send Tucker on. We are linked somehow; I have been trapped here with him, forced to watch his horrible wrongdoings. I am sick of it. You must break the tie that binds us to the world."

The instruction offered hope, a plan of action, and Dean latched on to it. "Tell me where the body is and it's as good as done."

"Outside. There is a well at the edge of the property. Tucker's murderers hid the body there after slitting his throat."

Dean glanced at the door and then looked at Sam. "Heal him first."

"I will restore his life. But only after you've set me free will I heal his injuries."

He wasn't in a position to argue. "Deal. Do it."

The orb moved closer, gliding down to the floor. "I must warn you—the healing process will not be pleasant. I will have to be fast, for once you break the bond, my time in this world will be limited."

"But it'll work."

"It will work."

Dean couldn't help but tighten his grip as the orb floated closer, casting a soft light over Sam's faded, lax face. "You'll keep him alive until I burn the bones?"

"You have my word."

"I don't trust the word of a spirit."

"I will keep him alive until you return. We must hurry."

Dean ran a hand through Sam's hair and took a deep breath. The room smelled of urine, blood, and smoke.

"Do it, please."

Dozens of whisper-thin tentacles swirled about the orb as it pressed against Sam's face, covering his nose and mouth. The orb gleamed brightly, bleaching Sam's skin and forcing Dean to blink and shift his gaze. The air began to warm. Dean watched silently out of the corner of his eye, cradling Sam's head in the crease between his legs, his thumb nervously swirling over the knobby bone in Sam's wrist.

Please, God, let this work. Bring him back. I need him.

As soon as the orb backed away, Sam's pale lips parted and a ragged gasp filled the air. It was the most beautiful sound Dean had ever heard. He grinned the biggest, stupidest, widest grin he'd ever worn. "Easy," he murmured, placing a palm on Sam's chest to keep him from sitting up. "Just breathe. Slow and deep. You okay?"

Sam's chest heaved as he dragged in gulp after gulp of the warm, sweetly scented air. His head was tilted back, exposing his throat, and Dean could see arteries throbbing, Sam swallowing convulsively.

Thank God.

Dean muttered nonsense until Sam had gotten himself somewhat under control. Dean couldn't hear the words over the screaming thankfulness within his skull. Sam was breathing; that was all that mattered. He was alive. When recognition finally flared in his eyes, Dean grinned at him. "Welcome back."

Sam winced and swallowed, his tongue making a clicking noise. "Legs…"

"I'm gonna fix that," Dean said, his gaze flickering to the blood-drenched denim over Sam's knees. "I gotta leave you here for a few minutes, okay? You're safe. Just lie here and be a good boy while I burn the fucker that did this."

Sam seized, his cold fingers clamping down around Dean's forearm. "No… stay…"

"I have to," Dean said, glancing at the orb floating near the door. "I'm going to get us out of here, Sam."

Sam's near-black eyes darted blindly across the ceiling. Sweat beaded across his forehead. "Fire…"

This shit has seriously fucked him up. Dean settled Sam on the floor and squeezed his shoulder. "You're safe, I promise you. I'll be back. Just be still."

Dean stood up and Sam grabbed at the leg of his jeans. "Can't move."

He would've traded his soul for a shotgun loaded with rock salt—any kind of protection to leave with Sam. Sam was a sitting duck without the use of his legs, but Dean had no choice. He had to trust the benevolent spirit would keep Sam safe.

Dean reached down and threaded his fingers with Sam's, squeezing briefly. "You're safe. This'll be over soon, and we'll stop at the first motel outside the city, got it? Hell, I'll even spring for one of those Asian-chick porno movies you like."

Sam forced a smile across his thin lips. Creases of pain were the only evidence of his quiet suffering. "Hurry."

Dean nodded. He straightened, squared his shoulders, then headed toward the slowly opening iron door.

~o0O0o~

The door shut behind Dean with an ominous ka-thunk. Sam shivered—it was so damn cold in here—and stared at the glowing, tentacled orb. The backs of his thighs throbbed dully from the slices above his knees. He couldn't tell if he was still bleeding or not, but he didn't think so. He'd lost too much already. Shock was setting in, weighing him down. He couldn't move, couldn't lift himself from the cold concrete. Sam continued to watch the orb, waiting for it to make a move.

"Do not be afraid. I will not harm you."

Sam closed his eyes. The cold seeped straight into his bones, sapping his strength. The adrenaline wave was over. "Where's the thing that did this to me?" He spoke slowly, forcing his tongue to get out of its own way.

"Gone."

"Gone where?"

"I do not know. Not far. Never far."

Sam shivered and pried open his eyes, staring up at the charred ceiling. "I don't understand. The fire, my legs…" He would never walk again. That is, if he survived.

"The fire was to scare you, nothing more. Tucker was tortured before he was killed, and now his spirit has turned cold. He enjoys maiming others as he has been maimed. I fear I have lost him forever."

"Then why are you here?"

"I was killed, too, after I was forced to watch my husband's death. I have walked this house ever since, waiting for someone to help us."

The sadness in the soft, musical voice squeezed his heart and Sam rolled his head to the side, studying the shape as it hovered. "Why are you helping us? What happened before I woke up?"

"I brought you back so that you could set things right. Tucker is a good man; I believe that once you set us free, we can be happy together once more."

Sam frowned, shivering as a drop of cold sweat rolled into his ear. "You brought me back?"

"Yes."

"I was dead?"

"Yes."

Coldness swept through his veins, but he lacked the strength to keep his eyes open. "What was the cost?"

"There was no cost."

"Bullshit," Sam snorted, frowning. He forced himself to keep still; even turning his head nauseated him now. "You can't get something for nothing. Especially not a life."

"My reward will be my freedom."

"You'll cross over."

"The suffering will stop."

He couldn't argue that. They were two spirits of opposite dispositions, trapped in the same hell, neither of them deserving to be here. Yin and Yang, both caught here because of an injustice done to them years ago. Cursed. Cursing.

~o0O0o~

Dean ran to the Impala, gravel crunching under his feet. He slid to a stop next to the trunk and rammed his knuckles against the metal as he shoved the key in the lock. He twisted the key and the trunk popped open. Dean pushing it open the rest of the way and snatched the bright red gas can and a handful of matchbooks.

Then he turned and ran.

~o0O0o~

Sam couldn't catch his breath. He lay on his back, panting shallowly, eyes open and staring dully at the dark ceiling. A crack ran down the far wall, jagged and sharp like a lightening bolt. Where was Dean? How long had he been gone? What state were they even in? Why was he so confused?

"I am sorry," said the soft, feminine voice.

He stared at the orb. "What's your name?"

"Marie."

Something about the name warmed him, and Sam offered a faint smile.

"Your brother is brave, but it may not be enough." The voice sounded worried.

"Why?"

"He returns. He must sense your brother's disturbance."

"Who? Where's Dean?"

"Tucker. He returns, and he does not want to leave this world."

Sam licked his lips, trying to wet them. "Who's—"

A low humming filled the air and Sam's blood frosted, his heart stopping.

~o0O0o~

Dean stood, his chest heaving and nostrils flaring, searching the open field. Grass. Nothing but tall grass, everywhere. Beyond that, some trees. No well.

No well.

"Fuck," Dean panted, his fist clenching around the handle of the gas can. He turned in a circle, slowly, searching the grass, the dilapidated barn, the house, the Impala, the septic tank…

There was no well. What the hell?

He blinked, squeezing his eyes shut before opening them. It had to be here. He just couldn't see it. Hell, the buildings were crumbling from years of neglect; maybe the well's housing had already met the same demise.

Dean took a deep breath and started jogging. It was here… somewhere.

It had to be.

~o0O0o~

"Be still. There is nothing I can do to protect you."

Sam watched the heavy iron door slide open, winced at the thundering screech of nails on a chalkboard. His body was frozen in fear, his head held just inches above the floor. A tall shape filled the doorway, and Sam shivered.

The low melody grew louder now as the figure moved into the room, an axe swinging from one hand.

Sam let his head fall back to the floor. He was going to die.

The door was wide open, but he couldn't move. He was helpless, like a fucking cow in a slaughter house. No means to protect himself. Staring his death in the face.

Waiting for the inevitable.

~o0O0o~

He fell, his left foot sinking into the ground without any resistance. He dropped the gas can and managed to catch himself just as his chin smacked against the bricks. Stars swirled around inside his skull like snow in a snow globe.

Dean pushed himself up slowly. He had found the well.

He crawled over the bricks, pulling his leg up and out of the hole with no minimal effort. Bits of rock and dirt clumps plummeted down into the well as he struggled, and it wasn't until six seconds later that he heard the splash of water.

Dean twisted as he hauled himself completely free so that he was facing the dark hole from his perch on the pile of moldy, crumbling bricks. He gently touched his fingertips to his chin, not surprised when they came away bloody.

Then he saw the gas can and lunged for it, grabbing it before any more gas could leak out. It dripped over his fingers, stinging as it leeched into the small cuts and hangnail wounds. The fumes burned his nose and the back of his throat.

"Okay, bastard. Time to say goodnight."

Dean held his arm out and watched as the stream of clear liquid fell into the darkness.

~o0O0o~

Sam grunted as the hooded figure kicked him again, the blow driving the air from Sam's lungs permanently. He curled around the pain, gasping, knowing how to breathe but unable to do so. The axe blade rested on the floor in front of his face, spinning slowly as the figure leaned on the handle, chuckling.

Just get it over with. It hurts—just make it stop, please.

It was all he could think about. His body no longer responded to his own commands, only reacted to what was done to it. He just wanted it to stop. Just stop.

Then, mercifully, the figure raised his weapon. Sam watched the orb's light reflect off the sharpened silver edge, and he cursed her, the useless, glowing spirit that had lied to Dean, that had separated them in the first place.

Sam closed his eyes and thought of his brother.

~o0O0o~

The match flared to life instantly. Dean stared at it, always, always respecting the flames, then dropped it into the well.

~o0O0o~

Sam felt the breeze. He actually felt the breeze of the axe as it slid through his neck, nothing more than harmless vapor.

He would've pissed himself if his bladder weren't already empty.

Every muscle in his body liquefied. Sam exhaled slowly, blinking, then sucked in the sweetest tasting air he'd ever breathed.

Holy shit.

"Your brother returns."

Moments later, Dean barreled through the door, red-faced, sweating, covered in dirt and bleeding from his chin. Blood spots stained his shirt. What the hell?

"Sam! You okay?"

Okay? Sam giggled. He was alive, did that count?

"Jesus." Dean knelt by Sam, running a hand over his neck, chest. Then he lifted his head and stared at the orb. "Well? I torched the son of a bitch. Now it's your turn. Fix him."

"I will." The orb moved closer, flickering. "Turn him over and hold him still. I am fading quickly."

Sam tried to help, tried to roll with Dean's maneuvering, but ended up face down before he really knew what was happening. "Dean?"

"It's okay, Sam. She's going to fix your legs."

Trepidation darkened his soul and Sam frowned. "I—"

"I must move quickly," she said, and Sam craned his neck to see the orb, flickering quickly, hovering over his legs. "Thank you both for freeing me."

Then the tentacles touched down upon his legs, snaking around him, holding him tightly. It burned worse than the flames that had taken Jessica, and Sam couldn't stop the scream that escaped him. Dean was pressing him down, saying something in his ear, but Sam couldn't hear over the rush of blood in his ears. His face was wet and he ground his forehead into the blood-soaked concrete. The warmth of Dean's hands faded away as the cold heat of fire enveloped him.

Hot, sour bile surged up his throat, and everything went black.

~o0O0o~

Sam shot into awareness, jackknifing before his eyes were even open.

"Hey, it's okay. Calm down. We're in the motel, remember? It's over."

A drop of cold sweat trickled down his spine, and a shiver caused the hair on his arms to stand up. Sam blinked away the shadows and let his eyes adjust. Sunlight streamed in through a window to his right. To his left, an empty bed, the covers thrown back. The bathroom door was open, and Sam could see the bloody towels and clothes littering the floor.

"Sam? You in there?"

He looked at Dean, took in his brother's tired eyes, bruised chin, the small patch of stubble surrounding a deep gash below his mouth. He leaned to the side, putting all his weight on his right leg.

Legs.

Sam jumped to his feet and grabbed the backs of his thighs. Later, he would realize the fact he was standing should have been proof enough.

Dean laughed quietly. "You're fine, dude. Marie healed you, just like she said she would."

The skin on the back of his legs was smooth, whole. Nothing hurt. No blood, no tears, no dirt or piss or puke. A wave of heat spread through him; Dean must have cleaned him up, must have hauled his unconscious body into the motel room and then stripped him, bathed him, dressed him. He turned to face Dean, unable to meet his gaze. "Dean… what happened?"

"Uh… at what point?"

Sam glanced at him and sank back down, perching on the edge of the bed. "Marie, how did she…"

Dean shrugged and Sam felt the movement through the cheap bedsprings. "I've been trying to figure that out. Best I can say is she transferred her energy to you before she crossed. Does anything hurt?"

Sam shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, pulling at the greasy roots. The implications of what Marie's spirit had done threatened to pull him down, so he shoved those thoughts aside. "No. How long has it been?"

"Just a day. You were pretty out of it."

He still was. He rubbed his eyes and asked, "So the house is clean?"

"As a whistle."

Sam nodded. He hadn't expected anything less. He looked over his shoulder at Dean, who offered a small smile. Sam gave his own in return. "Thanks."

There was a pause, a moment as they looked at each other, realizing how close they had come to losing one another. Then Dean rolled his eyes and groaned. "Man, you've only been awake a few minutes and already you're starting with the girl-talk? I'm going to get us some lunch. You stay here and watch the Lifetime channel."

Sam's smile grew bigger as Dean went to the door. He'd find out the whole story in bits and pieces over the next few days. It always happened like that; Dean dishing it out slowly, embellishing the heroic moments, toning down moments of pure fear. It would be up to Sam to decide what really happened and what should have happened.

But for now, it was enough they both were alive.

END