NOTE: It has been mentioned to us elsewhere that the lenght of the posts make it hard to keep up on a daily basis. Because of this, we are considering drawing out the posting process, giving longer gaps between chapters and new episodes. Before we make such a change, we were just looking for feedback. Does the current posting schedule work for people? Or would you prefer it spaced out? Any feedback would be loved. Thanks!

PART FOUR

Sam moved through the house quietly, saying a silent prayer as he went that this plan worked. The two previous times, he'd run to Dean in a panic. There was no way to know if that was a key to them joining together in Dean's nightmare or not. Bobby had broached the question: was it he or Dean with this odd ability? Sam suspected it was him but had no way to know that for sure either. Maybe it was the both of them together.

Whatever it was, Sam sure hoped it worked now.

Crouching beside the couch, he laid one hand on his brother's arm, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, concentrating and focusing on Dean.

It didn't hit him as a shock and jolt this time, but was more of a slow leaking of electricity starting at his fingers and spiking through his arm to his shoulder and head. At first it was a barely noticeable tingling, but within seconds his entire arm and neck were on fire from the inside out, being stabbed and jolted with sharp sparks that originated somewhere under Sam's skin.

Sucking in a deep breath, he scrunched his eyes shut and Sam tried to remember to breathe. His jaw clenched tight despite his willing it not to. Powerful shocks rolled out from his shoulder. Pulsing in time with his heartbeat, they spread throughout his entire body, forcing muscles to clench and spasm so tightly the pain was excruciating.

Pulling air in through his nose and blowing it back out his mouth, Sam's fingers curled into a fist and gripped Dean's shirt with everything he had in him. Something was trying to push him away, force him to let go. The current rolling through him increased in voltage, the pulsing became a harsher, faster throbbing, then pounding along nerve pathways and causing muscle spasms from his toes up to his skull.

Sam's vision went white. His stomach lurched and he struggled to fill his lungs.

Shouting, he tipped forward, instinct had him throwing both hands out in front of him to break his fall. When his palms hit cold, slimy mud and his knees slid a few inches, Sam opened his eyes fast. He stayed there for a minute, gulping in deep breaths and waiting for the fire that was his body to quiet.

Sliding one leg through the mud, Sam got one foot underneath him and slowly pushed away from the ground, looking around. He didn't really have to pay much attention to the details of the place; he'd been here long enough and returned via Dean's subconscious enough times to know where everything was.

Cold Oak.

He was back in Cold Oak.

"Dean?"

The previous two times he'd appeared in his brother's dreams Dean had known Sam was there with him, sensed if not actually seen him. They'd interacted with one another. It was possible Dean would be actively looking for him now.

A crash made him turn and he got a rather good view of himself being punched in the face by Jake. Punched and flung off the ground into a fence, smashing right on through. A dull throb set up in his jaw and pain lanced through his upper back. Yeah, that had hurt, and he remembered thinking at the time he'd never be able to get off the ground.

Somehow he had. He staggered to his feet and met Jake head on. Sam watched as he and Jake fought, Sam eventually winning out. Except Sam really hadn't won, but lost.

He heard Dean's voice before seeing him. Watched his dream image turn to the sound of his brother's voice, an act as natural and necessary as breathing as far as Sam was concerned. That day, he hadn't really understood the absolute terror in Dean's face as he and Bobby ran at Sam. Sam was so happy to see Dean, to know that Yellow Eyes hadn't killed him while Sam was in the diner, or the expression on Dean's face alone might have been warning enough. The odd quality of Dean's voice ripped at Sam's heart. It was the same quality he'd heard in the voice of a man once trying to stop his toddler from running into traffic. That type of sound in a voice was something Sam never forgot. It made his heart stutter and his gut wrench.

Sam remembered the initial sting along his lower back and how it flared to a burning white pain that wrapped around his entire body. He hadn't seen Jake, of course, but now he watched as Jake came up behind him, saw the glint of the blade and the reason for the terror in Dean's face and voice.

Unable to move, Sam stood and helplessly watched as his dream image was knifed in the back. A dark shadow hovered beside Jake for a few seconds. Pain sliced through Sam's back making him stumble forward a few steps and clamp his lips tightly shut against the sob wanting out. He reached around without thinking and put his hand to his back, pulling it away and looking at it. There was no blood covering his palm. The sharp pain of a few seconds ago evaporated.

Mesmerized, Sam watched as Dean slid to the ground, catching him before he fell, face first, into the mud. Sam remembered trying so desperately to look at Dean. He remembered how his legs became cold in a matter of seconds, the cold spreading up to numb his brain. He heard Dean's words begging Sam not to give up, to stay with him and not leave him alone. The memory of how desperately Sam wanted to oblige his brother flooded his brain.

Grief so strong it was paralyzing washed over Sam as he watched the scene between his brother and himself. In here, in Dean's dream, Sam watched as the shadow that had been near Jake slithered along and circled them. Sam could almost see the sheer desolation rolling off Dean. He certainly felt it, felt how his brother was broken in those few seconds, felt how everything that mattered to Dean was gone. Worst of all, Sam felt how Dean closed up and retreated into himself, nothing of Dean's drive or caring survived. Dean's body may have lived, but his soul died right along with Sam.

A shudder ran through Sam. Jerking forward on stiff legs that didn't want to listen to the commands his brain sent, Sam staggered to where Dean knelt in the mud holding his lifeless brother in his arms. Legs folding, Sam hit hard on his knees, bits of mud splattering up to pelt his hands and face.

"Dean, I'm not dead. I'm here. We have to—" Reaching out Sam tried grasping Dean's shoulder and getting his attention. Instead of being able to actually feel his brother's solid muscle beneath his hand, his fingers skimmed right through.

Sam stared at his hand. In the previous two dream encounters when he and Dean were together they were able to communicate and touch each other. Sam had grabbed Dean's hand and literally pulled him out of the first nightmare.

This wasn't Dean. It was truly his nightmare and Sam was a spectator as if he was watching a movie. He needed to find Dean and find him fast. The shadow that was near dream Dean flitted away. Sam watched it until it almost melted into the horizon before he got himself up and moving, jogging after the shadow. Lengthening his stride, Sam started running, trying to keep up somehow, knowing this path would eventually lead him to Dean.

The muddy street of Cold Oak melted away and Sam found himself standing at a crossroads. His back ached and his head felt as if it was encased in some fuzzy haze as he stepped carefully along the roadside to the very center.

Dean was with a woman, begging her, pleading with her. Sam barely recognized his voice it was sad and desperate, his eyes rimmed red and puffy. His face was heavy with stubble and still streaked with tear stains. Smudges of dirt outlined Dean's cheeks. Dark purple blotches were skin deep smears under his eyes. He obviously hadn't slept or showered. Sam doubted he'd eaten and by the slight sway in his gait decided Dean had probably been drinking more whiskey than anyone should.

Unable to hear their words, simply the sound of Dean's voice, how it cracked, Sam watched his brother's body language. Broken, sad, out of options: all those came across loud and clear to Sam.

The deserted country roads near Cold Oak melted away, morphing into a forest. The trees were only beginning to bud so the dingy gray overcast sky was easily seen through spindly branches. A slight breeze still damp from earlier rains, Sam supposed, ruffled through the branches. Sam's boots crunched over dead grass and leaves left over from the autumn before.

Crackling filtered through the forest, drawing Sam to it, even though he was pretty sure he knew what it was already. His feet wouldn't stop; barely slowed down. He didn't want to see what he knew was ahead, yet was powerless to stop himself.

Forging ahead, Sam pushed through the branches, shoving them away from his face only to have some snag on the sleeve of his jacket. He stopped and stared; wanting desperately to avert his eyes, to run away, but was unable to do so. This was possibly even worse than seeing himself as a baby with Azazel dripping blood into his mouth or watching his mother slip up the wall to the ceiling.

Dean stood beside a pyre staring down at the wrapped body laid on top. He reached out with one shaking hand and let it rest lovingly against where a cheek would be under the material. Dean's face shimmered in the dim light; his free hand reached up and brushed away the moisture coursing in rivulets down his cheeks. Sam watched as Dean stood there, not knowing how much time passed until Dean finally put flame to the pyre and took a few steps back.

As the flames lapped higher, Dean sank to his knees, hands covering his face, entire frame shaking as he openly and unabashedly wept.

Sam swallowed, trying to force his throat clear, but it was impossible. Staggering backwards, Sam's spine connected with a tree. It was difficult to breathe, his lungs feeling hot and closed, his throat constricted around what felt like liquid fire instead of flesh and spit.

Dried grass and dead, decaying leaves smoldered, ignited and turned to flames shooting up in front of him. Gasping, he jerked to the side, trying to get away from the fire. The odor of burning cotton and flesh reached his nose. Popping and snapping from the flames hitting moisture filled his ears along with the harsh sounds of Dean's sobs.

The hem of his jeans burst into flames, fire climbed his legs, searing heat enveloping his legs then hips. Chest heaving, lungs fighting through the heat for air, Sam battled for every breath he drew. Tears from the pain of breathing pooled in his eyes and spilled over. The flames from the pyre reached higher, curled over the body and flowed along its length.

Sam jumped to the side, shaking his arms furiously in a futile attempt to quell the blaze shooting along his arms and about to cover and consume his face. Stumbling, he fell and tried to roll to put the flames out. His back burned white hot from the inside, his spine singed from a killer's knife and now the rest of him was burning from the outside.

Getting to his knees, Sam swatted at the flames but that only fueled them and made them grow. He was on fire. The air around him was too hot to breathe, his throat charred, his heart a hard, hot ember firing the rest of his chest from the inside. Pitching forward onto his hands, Sam coughed, choked. He tried calling out in hopes that Dean would hear him this time but his voice dissolved into hacks and rib-splitting coughs. Moving one arm in a vain effort to shove away from the ground, Sam watched as the flames skimmed over the land, following him.

His jacket was tugged on, pulling it away from his body enough he could get his knees more steadily under him and strong fingers wrapped around his shoulders, levering him farther away from the ground. The hands on his shoulders shifted quickly to under his shoulders and hefted him to his feet. One hand released him and beat away the flames on his back. Cussing and swearing accompanied the actions.

An arm wrapped around his chest and yanked back, pulling him away from the pyre. "Christ, Sam, you weren't supposed to catch on fire."

Sam turned and stumbled into Dean, grabbing his arms to steady himself. The flames vanished leaving Sam's clothes whole, his skin un-burnt and his lungs able to draw in a breath.

"You all right?" Dean brushed off Sam's shoulders and looked him up and down.

Sam nodded. "The fire? That was…"

"My worst nightmare, remember?" Dean's gaze shifted to the scene of himself beside Sam's funeral pyre. "And that's all it is now, a bad, bad memory." He patted Sam's shoulder. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah. I am now."

Dean smirked. "Let's find that little bastard and smoke his ass."

"Sounds good to me."

When Sam turned, he and Dean were back in the streets of Cold Oak, watching as Jake loomed up behind Sam, knife slicing through the air in front of him about to connect with Sam's spinal cord. Turning, Sam looked behind them where he knew Dean would be coming from. "There." He pointed to a dark splotch careening behind the image of Dean in this nightmare.

"This is freaky." Dean stared at himself and Bobby racing to Sam, and as always, getting there too late.

Before Sam could answer, they were standing near the Hell's Gate. A dark patch crept around their feet then darted away.

"Howdy, boys." A voice literally boomed through the air.

Glancing at one another, Sam realized Dean knew as well as he did what was coming next. They turned to face their father. Thrown off balance when the ground heaved and bucked, Sam threw one arm out and pressed against Dean's shoulder to steady himself. Dean glared at the thing wearing their father's familiar face, all except the glowing yellow eyes.

Just as he'd done the night they'd actually witnessed the opening of the Gate and what came out, Dean slid in front of Sam. When John cocked his head to one side and chuckled, walking casually to the right, Dean again sidestepped, putting himself between Sam and John. It was the same always, Dean standing between Sam and a threat. One of the clearest memories Sam had of that night was Dean's automatic and unconditional acceptance that Sam was indeed Sam. He'd stood solid between Sam and everyone, keeping his confused and disoriented brother clear of anyone or anything bent on harming him.

"Gotcha!" Dean snarled and in two long strides went right by John. He pounced on the dark spot as it hovered near the Gate, flattening it between himself and the ground with a loud oommfffff. "Sammy, I got it. Now!"

Making sure to keep John in his sights, Sam began reciting the incantation.

The cemetery dissipated and in its place was a dark, dank cave. Words faltering, Sam looked around. He was alone. Moisture trickled along the walls of the cave and light from somewhere flickered along the floor and ceiling. Footsteps, two sets, one sounded like Dean's and a second set from something big, came at him through the darkness.

Dean burst into the cave, on his heels a Wendigo. Sam had exactly a second to suck in a breath and try to move before the thing lunged forward, snatched Dean off the ground and threw him into the wall hard enough he bounced when he hit the ground.

How or why Dean was even able to move after the attack was beyond Sam, but he was. Blowing out large puffs of air, Dean's face scrunched up, his neck corded tight and his jaw line went white when he rolled over. Grunting, he pulled his arms and legs under him and stood on wobbly feet, facing the monster bearing down on him.

"NO!" Sam's shrieks were too late.

Snatching Dean off the ground and holding him above his head, the Wendigo threw him to the rocky cave floor, Dean's body flopping like a rag doll. Sam rushed forward, trying to reach his brother, only to be shoved back and to the hard ground. Scrambling to his feet, he charged again, but it was too late.

Long, thin claws ripped through Dean's middle like a hot knife through butter. Back arching, Dean screamed then was silenced when another swipe of the massive talons opened his chest. Blood spurted out, forced out high and fast, covering Dean's face as well as Sam's. It bubbled up from his chest, pumping dark and turning sluggish before oozing down his sides and running in two lines on either side of Dean's body.

Half-running and half-falling across the cave, Sam dropped down beside Dean. "This can't…no…this never happened." He tried convincing himself Dean was alive and well and asleep on Bobby's couch. This was a dream, not reality. The despair and grief that welled up and filled every bit of Sam's being simply wouldn't listen. He bit back a sob, shook his head and angrily wiped tears from his eyes. The second he tried to take hold of his brother, his hands slipped right through.

Cackling off to the right made Sam turn and look. The Nachtalb jumped up and down near the cave entrance, clapping its hands together and chattering all while its tail whooshed around in big circles.

When it turned and danced closer to the entrance, Dean appeared, blocking its way. "Not so fast. This ain't gonna work."

The Nachtalb scampered away from Dean and closer to Sam, cackling and chirping, it looked absolutely delighted. Running after it, Dean jumped at it when it started climbing one wall, curled his body around it, dropped to the ground and bellowed, "Sam, start talking!"

Again, Sam began speaking the ritual words he'd memorized earlier that day. He'd barely gotten off a few lines when the Nachtalb wriggled partially loose from Dean's grasp, pulled back far enough from him it could take a few swings and hissed.

Sam nearly choked on the words and had to swallow down a laugh watching Dean try to wrangle the thing. The Nachtalb morphed into a huge wolf, fangs dripping, eyes glowing, its stance upright. Not a wolf—a werewolf. It dropped down on Dean, teeth snapping inches from his face. Dean's hands latched onto the thick fur around its neck, shouting wordlessly as he fought to keep his arms straight and the fangs away from his head.

"I don't think so." Sam shouted and charged, hitting the werewolf with his shoulder and full force of his body weight. It swayed for a few seconds then tumbled clear of Dean.

Hand banging against Sam's leg, Dean groaned, "Help me up."

Reaching down, Sam grabbed Dean's hand and hauled him to his feet. "It's gone again," he grumbled.

"Yeah, I don't—" Dean huffed a sigh when they once again stood in the streets of Cold Oak. "No offence, Sammy, but watching you die is getting old."

"No kidding." Sam glanced sideways at his brother. "Time to quit being nice."

"Damn straight." Holding his hand over his eyebrows, Dean turned a complete three sixty and scanned the area. "Well, you and Jake are about to appear right over there, so I say let's stop chasing the little weasel and let him come to us."

A second later, as predicted, Sam and Jake appeared. Jake swung, connecting with dream Sam's jaw with a loud thud sending dream Sam flying into and then through a wooden fence. Again.

Dean winced. "Oh, dude, that hurts."

"Tell me about it." Sam rubbed his jaw, memory of the superhuman hit and accompanying pain still fresh and clear. A few minutes later Jake was down and appeared to be out, Sam turning to the sound of Dean's voice.

"Nice moves."

"Thanks," Sam grinned then nudged Dean's side and pointed. "There it is."

"You ready?"

Sam nodded, turning away when Jake crept up behind Sam's dream image, knife in hand. The Nachtalb bounced around in the area between Sam's dream image and those of Dean and Bobby.

"Got him." Dean growled low and dangerous and sprinted away from Sam, this time tackling the Nachtalb with such force they slid a few feet along the muddy ground.

Sam hooked his fingers through the herb and hair strands around his neck and began reciting. Jake slammed the knife into Sam's dream image's back. Sam didn't have to see it to know it happened. He felt the skin along his back tear, muscles and tendons ripped from bone igniting a liquid fire in his veins that spread down his legs, up his back and along his arms.

Bitterness rose up his throat and filled his mouth making him gag on his words. He was dimly aware of Dean and the Nachtalb wrestling a few feet away. The Nachtalb nearly got away but Dean rolled, pinning it to the ground.

Sam's ears rang and the sound of rushing blood and his own heartbeat filled his skull. Legs losing all power, his knees folded and Sam dropped to the ground, pitching forward on both hands. Burning, paralyzing cold coursed down from the small of his back, filling his legs. His lungs expanded, trying to get more air, but at once, Sam felt as if there was water rushing into them.

He watched with a morbid fascination as thin threads of spit dripped to the ground. Something foul smelling crawled through his nose coming up from somewhere in his chest, stinging the sensitive tissue. His entire body felt like it was shutting down, vision graying out, his upper half consumed with white-hot sparks of pain rolling through in steady waves. Below the waist was a block of ice. Vomit rose up, burning a slow path from his stomach, igniting every bit of his throat before dribbling out.

Dean was shouting, but Sam couldn't make out if there were words being spoken or not. The Nachtalb, now unable to break free of Dean's grip, had worked its tail loose and was slamming it repeatedly into Dean's neck and shoulders. Small slices opened with each strike and Sam saw enough to see how the cuts bubbled with something thick, brown and putrid then welted to dark angry, red gashes.

Pushing up on one hand, Sam used the other to wipe spit and vomit from his mouth. He looked up through stringy, dangling bangs but didn't bother brushing them aside. He didn't have to shout the words to the incantation. He simply had to say them.

His voice didn't want to work; his throat felt wooden and splintered. Agony laced the movements of his lips as he began again. Mouthing each word carefully, Sam forced the whispered words over his tongue and out his lips.

Getting to his feet, taking the Nachtalb with him, Dean got both arms under its shoulders and lifted up. Hollering, he ran them at the closest tree and smashed the Nachtalb into it. Through graying, swimming vision, Sam watched the Nachtalb slide down the tree and sprawl on the ground. It got to its feet, swaying forward, claws out and aimed at Dean's knees.

Taking a step back, Dean kicked out, catching the Nachtalb's middle. Following it, he reached down and hauled it to its feet with his left hand, cranking back his right and delivering one fast, sure punch.

Sam's throat unlocked, his voice getting stronger. The words came out louder and he was able to straighten the upper half of his body.

Dean hit the Nachtalb again. This time it was the one flying and landing hard on the ground.

Feeling rushed back to Sam's legs. His knees and feet were no longer colder than ice but tingled with thousands of pinpricks. A test wiggle of his toes gave him the confidence to try standing. Easing off the ground, Sam kept talking, his voice getting louder and stronger with every breath.

Each inhale came easier. The Nachtalb grew thinner and thinner, skin fading from solid to translucent. Dean stepped forward and kicked, sending it spiraling away to land sprawled on the ground.

Shaking his arms, Sam straightened to his full height and rolled his shoulders. The fire flying through him extinguished leaving him as quickly as it'd begun. Moving fast, Sam made his way to his brother's side. Speaking the final words of the incantation, he took the strand of herbs and hair and pulled it off, tossing it onto the downed Nachtalb.

The small creature faded away to nothing.

They looked around. Other than them, the place was deserted.

"We're still in Cold Oak." Dean observed.

"You need to wake up." As soon as the words left Sam's mouth, Dean vanished. "Dean? What the—"

The ground beneath him turned from slippery mud to old Oriental rug. The streets of Cold Oak swayed and shimmered for a few seconds then gave way to the walls and books of Bobby's library.

Hands gripped either side of Sam's face and turned him. "You okay?" Dean peered at him.

"Ye-yeah, yes, I think so." He grabbed hold of Dean's shoulders. "Your neck, you were all cut up and something brown was coming out of the wounds." He turned Dean to one side then the other. Nowhere was his skin so much as bruised, let alone opened and oozing goo.

"Distractions." Dean yawned once then yawned again. "Shit, Sam, I can't keep my eyes—"

Sam swayed and stumbled after Dean when he stepped away from the couch. "Me too…" Vaguely Sam registered the fact his words slurred out and that the floor was coming up fast while the room grew fainter, going from colors to grays to completely black.

-o-

Bobby took the front steps to his house two at a time and shoved open the front door, shouting Dean's and Sam's names as he went. He tripped over a lamp lying across the floor. "Damn, what the hell? Nearly broke a leg." When his foot crunched over glass, he stopped and took a good look around.

The house was in shambles. Nothing remained on the shelves or in closets or cupboards. Furniture was upturned and thrown about, some upended and some pieces broken completely in two. "Damn kid must have needed another paper bag."

Shoving a clear path with the side of his foot, Bobby went for the library. The couch was empty. Inside the fireplace, the fire still crackled and burned, sending cheery laps of light flickering over the entire room and emitting a pleasant scent from the incense. Bobby sucked in a breath when he saw a booted foot sticking out from between the fireplace wall and a set of shelves. Afraid to look and needing to rush there faster than he could, Bobby finally got to that part of the room, pulled up short and stood with hands on hips staring down. "Well, I'll be damned."

Dean's shoulders and head leaned against the wall, his legs stretched in front of him in a V; head turned to one side and slightly dipped toward his shoulder. One arm was across Sam's shoulders and the other lay on the floor beside his thigh. Sam was sprawled on his stomach, head resting on Dean's chest, one arm slung over his brother's middle.

They were breathing softly and steadily. One of them was snoring quietly.

Bobby knelt beside them, gently shaking Dean's shoulder. "Boys. You sleep here, you're both going to be sore as hell when you wake up."

His only response was Dean snuffling and Sam's foot jerking side to side.

"Well I sure as hell am not carrying either of your asses to a bed. Stay there then, if you want to so damn badly." He turned to face the kitchen. The only thing left on the counters was the coffee machine. It might have been the only thing besides him left standing in the entire house. Pointing at it, he stalked over the mess, "I'm coming in there and making coffee and if you so much as twitch I'll shoot you."

A couple of hours later, Bobby was still picking up the kitchen. It'd taken him that long to find the coffee filters. Standing in the middle of the room, he held a filter near his hip, faced down the coffee machine and snarled out, "Draw!"

Chuckling behind him made him turn.

"Well, aren't you proud, beating a coffee machine with your fast draw of—" Dean leaned to one side, "a paper filter."

"How you feeling, boy?"

Dean smiled and nodded, rubbing at the back of his neck. "I feel good. Really good in fact. How long have you been back?"

"A few hours. You two were sound asleep when I got here."

"I feel like I slept for about a day. And I mean really slept."

"No nightmares?"

"Nope."

"None at all?" Sam appeared behind Dean. He looked around the room and offered Bobby a sheepish smile. "There's a few busted windows upstairs. We'll…uh…"

"Oh, you're damn straight you will. And you'll both get this house put back together." Bobby snorted and dumped beans into the coffee machine. "What are these stupid little packets for?"

Dean elbowed him aside, "I'll make the coffee. Sammy, how about you get us some take out…and garbage bags."

"On it." Sam headed toward the door, stopped and turned back to them. "Hey, Bobby, thanks."

"Git." Bobby snapped and ducked his head before Sam saw his lips curling into a smile. He twisted around and pointed at Dean, "And you, hurry up with that."

Sam jogged to the door, and Dean busied himself with the coffee machine, whistling low under his breath.

Bobby righted the kitchen table and pulled a chair over and settled into it, for once able to simply enjoy having his boys around and underfoot.

End