When Dean woke, he wasn't met with the pleasant, hazy after effects he'd experienced last time Debbie had touched his forehead. Instead, he was assaulted with a raging throbbing that surrounded his head, with each beat sending blinding pain through his eyes that skewed his vision. He hurt so much he could barely move.
Dean lifted his head despite the pain.
Bobby was asleep. His wheelchair was parked by the window, a book open on the blanket that covered his legs. His head was tilted to the side, nearly touching the windowpane itself. Dean wasn't sure how much the windowpane liked that, but he didn't have time to ask it right now.
He rested his head back on the pillow. He didn't know how long he'd been asleep or if any of the alternative medicine Debbie had given him had started to help. He thought he remembered thinking a little more clearly last time. The ongoing pain kept made it difficult to tell.
Dean did remember that Sam was heading to the docks looking for the encantado.
The docks. That felt like the place he should be.
But where was Debbie? He turned his head from side to side, despite the pain, but didn't see her anywhere. Maybe she had gone after Sam.
He should find Sam.
One at a time, Dean swung his legs over the side of the bed, stopping to test the floor to make sure it hadn't moved. Confident that it was solid, Dean eased his feet onto the surface and slowly stood. The room was a little shaky, and while holding his hands out helped him keep his balance, he couldn't extend them too far in case they detached and ran away.
Getting to the bathroom wasn't so bad as long as he took the bridge. The gators were having a sleepover anyway, so they didn't pay any mind to him.
Dean hit the light in the bathroom. One glance in the mirror and he cringed. He looked like crap.
The circles under his eyes we large and heavy, while the rest of his face seemed hollow and worn. He gave his head a good scrub before he leaned over and splashed water in his face.
When he lifted his head and looked back in the mirror, he frowned, wondering what the heck was all over his shoulders. He took a hand and dusted some of the fluff off before he finally stopped and picked some of it up to examine.
"What the hell?"
His chest tightened with panic. As he felt the top of his head, more and more strands of hair fell off, tumbling onto his back and shoulders.
This wasn't happening. None of it was happening. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing the air to fill his lungs in even intervals. Panicking wouldn't help.
Just as he was struggling to get his wits together, Dean gagged. Something was swimming in his mouth. Disgusted, he spit into the sink.
The panic came back full blown.
Eyes wide with terror, Dean reached into his mouth and slid his fingers over the tops of his teeth. One wiggled at his touch. The moment he took hold of it, it slipped out of its socket, the roots decayed and dead, leaving a trail of pus and blood in its wake.
Dean stared at the tooth. His tooth. The tooth that when squeezed turned to dust in his hand.
He rammed the faucets on full and scooped up mouthfuls of water one after the other. He did his best to wash the bitter taste out of his mouth, but the more he sloshed the water, the looser the teeth became.
He spit. He wouldn't freak. He wasn't an encantado. He wasn't going to let it win.
Determined to get his life back, Dean reached into the sink for his other tooth. When he nabbed it from the edge of the drain, his nail snapped off.
Dean stared at his hand, horrified. There was black goo over the nail bed where the nail had once been.
He shook his head. "No. No!"
The skin along his wrist down his arm had started to peel and blister, leaving a light scaly finish where his veins ran. He stumbled back, away from the sink, still fixated on his extended hands. Other nails were popping up, jagged and rigid.
The scrape of Bobby's wheelchair on the floor broke Dean from his thoughts. He thought he heard Bobby calling out to him, but he couldn't make out the words. It sounded like someone speaking into a bottle, all garbled and low.
He couldn't understand Bobby. He couldn't understand him at all.
When he jumped into the doorway, Bobby was waiting for him. He had already started to wheel towards the bathroom, but stopped when he looked at Dean's face.
The disgust was more than Dean could handle and confirmed his greatest fears. He was changing.
Bobby let out a string of noises that made no sense to Dean. But in his face, Dean saw the fear, the shock, and anger that were mixed with his hopelessness over what was happening. It cut through them both.
Dean knew one thing. He was out of time. He had to get to the docks now. He didn't know why. He didn't know what caused him to feel so strongly, but the impulse was there. That was where he belonged.
But there was no way was Dean was to let the encantado get to him without a fight.
Pushing down the throbbing and dizziness in his head, Dean ran over the bridge and bolted for the door. He could hear Bobby's feverish pursuit behind him, the wheels spinning, his gibberish voice calling after him. Dean slammed the door.
As he ran into the wet parking lot, he saw Debbie pulling in with her truck. He considered yanking her out and hijacking the truck, but his body had the urge to keep moving, to head to the dock on foot. The idea seemed insane, with the wind snapping trees like twigs and the rain pouring down. But Dean's feet had never been wrong before, and he knew to trust them.
He turned away from the truck and started down the street.
The run wasn't easy, not with the rain screaming at him or the sidewalk purposefully trying to trip him. The lights that lined the street gave him some encouragement, each one winking at him or cheering with support. The mailboxes were another story, but he didn't have the time to deal with their protests.
The dockyard was just ahead.
Although he was just moments away from reaching the main dock, a part of Dean that seemed forgotten snapped to life. It told him how insane he was, how he couldn't trust anything he saw, heard, or even touched. That part of him wanted to believe that Sam would come through for him, and that his nightmare would soon be over.
That part of him cried along with the rain.
He slowed as he reached the dock. Like the night before, it was battered from the driving rain, and beaten by the waves that crashed the shoreline. Ahead, Dean could hear the boats rock back and forth on the choppy waves, while the lanterns swayed above. Most of the docks were quartered off by police tape. That wouldn't matter. The encantado was here somewhere, he could feel it, and it was watching him, waiting for him, calling somewhere beyond the dark waters.
But instead of finding the encantado, he found Sam.
Sam was propped up against one of the posts, one leg tucked under him with the other jutting out on the wooden planks. As Dean ran through the rest of the police tape to Sam, he saw the straight leg had a serious gash that erupted from his upper thigh all the way down to his ankle. The rain washed most of the blood through the cracks between the wood, but the wound was still open and fresh.
Dean crouched by Sam's side and tapped his cheek to try to rouse him. Sam gasped and coughed. When he looked up at Dean, he offered him a hopeful smile.
"I knew you'd come."
"Yeah, well, I wasn't going to let you do it alone." Dean said. At this point, he was just happy he could understand Sam.
"I broke the link, Dean."
Dean stopped. "What?"
"I broke the link. I stabbed him between the eyes, but he still managed to attack me. He's over there." Sam pointed to the shadows at the edge of the dock. "All we need to do is dump him in the water and it'll be over."
"I'll do it. You stay put."
Dean marched down the dock. The landscape still dipped and churned, much like the sea itself, but none of it seemed so bad anymore. Not only could he understand Sam, but Sam could also understand him. The link was broken.
Now to gank the son of a bitch.
He was halfway across when a flicker of movement caught his eye. Dean turned and peered into the dark. A pause, one, two…the monster lurched and pulled him backwards.
Obviously, it wasn't as dead as Sam had thought.
The thing hissed and clicked, burbling a mouthful of garbled words. As he struggled, he caught flashes of its true form: snakelike skin, rubbery fingers, and a hint of what smelled like tuna.
Dean fought to tug it forward, but it kept pulling him back. The edge of the dock was only two feet away. If only he could turn it around, drive that knife in deeper, and toss it in the water…
"You are dead, you hear me?" Dean yelled. He fumbled to grab the encantado's slippery hands in the rain, but the jerk had him locked in a vice grip from behind. Every time Dean tried to grab it to pull it over his head, the encantado would shift back again, dragging Dean another few inches away from the nearest post.
What was it doing? Not only was the encantado keeping Dean away from the water's edge, but it was also making sure Dean wasn't even two feet within range.
Dean frowned as an idea struck him. Maybe he was truly crazy, and it was just the encantado's influence affecting him, but he could almost swear that the monster was protecting him from something.
Dean forced his weight forward. Again, the encantado hauled his ass back.
Knowing it was probably a stupid move, Dean relaxed his grip. The encantado did the same. This gave Dean the opportunity to twist its arms long enough to see its face.
Most of it was obscured by the dark and the rim of its hat, but within that darkness, Dean could see its eyes. In those eyes, there was pleading beyond anything he'd ever seen in a creature before. It was begging to be trusted.
He was compromised. He knew better than to trust a monster.
But the simple fact remained. Not once had it attacked him.
And it wouldn't.
Dean let go and stopped fighting the encantado. He let his body slide down to the deck and leaned against the post in defeat.
"No!" Sam yelled. "Don't give up, Dean. Don't. We've come too far."
The monster hovered over him, silent and waiting, though Dean could see the glint of silver tucked under its wrist. He was waiting. Waiting for permission.
It was respecting Dean's thoughts and feelings, and more so, his guidance.
Dean felt his heart tear inside. He couldn't see straight. He couldn't think straight.
He didn't want to see this.
"Okay," Dean said, his voice cracking. He couldn't believe he'd said it.
The encantado didn't understand him, and there was no way it could, since it wasn't an encantado.
It never was.
But the lack of communication wouldn't stop it. It knew just by the quiver in Dean's nonsensical sounds that it had been granted what it had wanted for so long: trust.
"Kill it!" Sam shouted. "Dean, get up!"
The monster flicked its wrist, bringing the silver dagger into full view. Without a word, it turned toward Sam.
Dean couldn't watch. He turned his head and stared into the black waters, knowing that with every breath he took, the monster stepped closer and closer to Sam. It stepped closer to that moment which could drive Dean over the edge.
Sam's screams echoed through the night.
Dean groaned and wiped the tears from his eyes, only to find a hand on his shoulder. "Don't move," Sam said. "Relax. It's over."
He moved anyway. When Dean looked up at Sam, he was still holding the silver dagger, only this time it was bloody. In the distance, back where Dean had left it, the real encantado's corpse lay flat against the post, its gash still fresh and open.
"Let me help you up," Sam said. "You're right at the edge."
He was. The illusion vanished, leaving Dean feeling cold and shaken. The two feet of deck he had so desperately wanted to cross had never existed. Dean could have easily walked to his death without ever knowing it.
The idea left him frozen. Then his thoughts turned to other important issues.
He ran his tongue over his teeth, checked his hands and even patted the top of his head. Dean let out of a sigh of relief. Everything was where it should be. The change had been in his head.
Dean swallowed hard, and with a forced grin, he turned to Sam. "Can you hear me now?"
"Loud and clear."
"Good because the gibberish thing was getting old."
"Tell me about it."
The two of them fell silent. They were both soaked head to toe, but they were alive and that was all that mattered.
Sam's face looked pained, as if he was searching for the right words to say. Dean had the sneaking suspicion he was on the verge of an emotional monologue, one that they both would rather avoid.
Dean clapped his hand on Sam's shoulder. "You did good."
His brother's eyes lit up, and that same pleading he'd seen just moments ago vanished completely. At least for now. Some days were good. Some days were bad. Getting to know each other again wouldn't happen over night, as much as they both liked to pretend it would. Dean couldn't guarantee he'd always remember in the future, or that he wouldn't mess up from time to time, but at least today was another step in the right direction.
Sam knew it as well.
And somewhere, Dean hoped that Sam knew just how much he'd appreciated Sam respecting him, having faith in his personal input. All he wanted was for Sam to see something worthwhile in him, and maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. But today was enough for now. Dean supposed he could just tell Sam outright, but then he'd have a monologue of his own. That question, mixed with doubt and hope, would have to remain hidden. Maybe he'd never know.
"Come on," Dean said. "Let's dump this sucker and get back. Bobby's gonna have my head, and I want to get it over with."
* * *
The next day, after they were packed and ready to hit the road, and many apologies were had between Bobby, Debbie, and himself, Dean found the answer to his question.
On the counter rested a box. In that box, were halves of two different pies, apple and cherry. His favorites.
And more importantly, the note on the box had a simple message that meant more than the pies themselves:
To My Big Brother.
Dean smiled. They had a long road ahead, but if apple and cherry could get along in such a small box, then maybe, even if just for a short while, they could find a way to respect each other.
End Note: Thank you for reading. This would have likely been longer, but it was a response to a challenge and I try to keep those short. I have appreciated the feedback and I'm glad that many of you enjoyed the story. I always appreciate that you've taken the time to read one of my stories. Thanks again!