How is it every time I look around, it's MERISHA'S BIRTHDAY! Hard to believe a year has gone by, bud. Have an awesome day, my friend, and I can't wait to see you IN PERSON in Vancouver in August. Yay! Merisha provided me a prompt for the fic - hope I've done that justice.

A/N: This is set in Season 4 and all that that entails. Two chapters, next one up on Friday.
A/N2: Lightening fast beta provided by the illustrious and ineffable MAD SERVER. Thanks for pulling my you know what out of the campfire.

The fugly was slowing down.

Sam was loping easily after it, teeth bared in a grin, barely winded despite a two mile race through sun-dappled woods and heavy underbrush. He felt powerful. His skin tingled with energy until he thought sparks would fly off him. He could sense the creature ahead, hear the sound of his brother's harsh breathing to his right as Dean paced him, step for step, but without Sam's … advantages. His right hand touched the flask in his pocket reassuringly. Dean would tire soon, while he could run forever feeling like this.

"We got it, Dean! It's slowing down. Heading south." Which he knew meant toward Dean.

He could've have taken this thing solo. He knew it, felt it in the set of his shoulders and in the easy tense and release of muscles, in his heightened senses and physical stamina. He should have left his brother in the room, sleeping or drinking or whatever he did with his time when Sam was out with Ruby. Maybe Cas would come to visit. A flash of jealousy and anger made his face burn. Dean and Cas. Self-righteous bastards, cutting him out of their angelic discussions, telling him to stop saving people when they were either de-winged or too damaged to even - Sam skirted a clump of trees and hurtled over a fallen log. Shit. The fugly had doubled back.

"Dean! It's heading for you!"

"Got it!"

Sam angled off between trees, shouting, "Whad'ya mean, 'Got it'?"

The hollow retort of gunfire peppered the atmosphere. Sam sped up, weaving around trees. He could heard Dean talking but not to him.

"Back off, fugly. Yeah, that's right, back off. See, I happen to be able to read monsters like you…"

Just like Dean to go all mouth when he's in trouble. Without conscious thought, he sped up again, worry starting to make him reckless. He felt responsible for Dean these days, even when he was a complete idiot. Sam jumped a stream, burst into a clearing, and almost ran full tilt into the broad back of the troll. Backpedaling, he shrugged his pack to the ground and brought his gun to bear, eyes skipping over the scene in front of him: Dean on the ground pushed up against a tree, the troll bending down over him, the oily sheen of its skin in the shifting light, the gleam of Dean's gun in the loam. Dean's eyes locked onto Sam's as he spat at the monster, "Forgot I brought a friend, didn't'cha?"

The troll straightened and started to turn, moving far too quickly for something that size. Sam shot it, the wrought iron bullets ripping point blank into its skull and temple, but it wasn't down; the body continued to turn, spinning, and blood fountained toward him. He threw up an arm too late, the blood arcing across his face.

The world pinpointed into pain. Everything was burning, scalding, impossible… He was on fire. The smell of burnt meat filled his nose. His eyes were melting, leaking down his cheeks. He reached for them, felt moisture and skin blistering under his fingers.

He had to get it off. He tore at his seared skin until his hands were pulled roughly back and away. Fighting, he rolled, freeing an arm only for it to be captured again. Someone was screaming. He had lost track of time when he finally made out a voice over the noise, or underneath it, a deep voice talking and talking, almost crooning. It's Dean, Dean's here, and he was. Sam couldn't make out the words, but he didn't need to, he knew Dean, how Dean used to be at least, so he concentrated on his brother's voice, head rolling when something cool touched his face.

The pain ratcheted down a notch. Panting, he took a breath, held it, and the screaming stopped. More cool on his face. Reaching up again, his hand was once again caught.

"Don't touch it, Sam. Don't touch it. I've got it, I'm right here, that's good Sam, breathe for me, come on little brother, you know how to breathe. Sam, can you hear me? It's water, I'm pouring water, it's helping isn't it? Now, leave it alone for just a minute, you have to promise me, Sam, promise me to not touch it, just for a minute, okay, I have to get to your pack for more water. You with me?"

His voice wouldn't work. A trickle of water touched his lips and he drank a few drops. Coughing, he panted, "With you."

"I'll be right back."

Sam nodded, understanding, but when Dean moved away from him, Sam's stomach churned. He tried not to cry. "Dean." Dean's calloused hand circled his wrist firmly.

"Sam, I have to get the pack. I'll be gone a minute tops. Don't touch your face." Dean released Sam's wrist, but he kept talking, giving Sam aural clues on his location. Sam tried ineffectually to force the tense muscles in his shoulders and arms to relax. Then he tried to remember to keep his hands away from his face, but it was hard. The pain was right there, pulsing and throbbing, and the more he thought about it, the more it hurt, until he had to lace his fingers together to keep one hand from straying to his eyes.

A warm hand behind his neck startled him. Sam'd lost track of him somehow but Dean was back, still talking.

"Had to get the holy water, Sammy, get you the good stuff, going to take care of this right now."

More water on his face and it was incredible, like liquid morphine.

"Gotta get this in your eyes. Try to open your eyes, Sam."

But he couldn't. "Eyes—eyes are gone." And then he did cry, reaching for his face again. "Melted, they melted out of my face."

"What? Your eyes are still there, man, still there under the lids." Another slosh, and Sam sputtered and snorted water out of his nose. "Sorry, Sammy, but I've got to do this."

"Sorry?" He sneezed, head bucking forward. "For what?" Dean's hands were on his face, thumbs on his lids. He bucked again, fighting, rolling his head frantically. "No! No, no, just no." There was nothing coordinated, just arms and legs moving, trying to get away, to push Dean away. Sam heard a hiss when his arm lashed into his brother, his other hand clamped over his eyes.

Dean's voice was staccato, barking out orders the same way Dad did. "Stop this right now, Sam! Hold still. Now, Sam."

And he did. He stopped. Arms at his side, fingers digging into the soil, he held still.

"Unsqueeze your eyelids." Fingertips brushed over his upper lids. "C'mon, Sam, try to relax. The holy water's gonna stop the pain."

Sam took a deep breath and tried to sink back into the ground, raising his eyebrows and working his mouth until his facial muscles began to relax. "'Kay. Now."

There was an instant of blinding pain and then it was gone, flushing out with the water. He felt limp with relief. Dean was right, Sam thought when his brain was working again. Dean used to always be right when they were kids. And even when Dean was a kid, Dean's orders had always made sense. He never once gave Sam inexplicable directions and the 'need to know' crap Dad did. His lips quirked up. No wonder he still followed his brother's orders the way he never would with his dad's.

"What's the smile for, Bozo?"

"Nothing. Just… nothing. Thanks." The hand was back on his neck, lifting him up, then allowing his head to settle on something warm and soft, smelling of oil and sweat and Dean. He sighed, barely noticing when his feet were raised and settled on a pack. A shiver ran up from his toes, making his teeth chatter. "Dean…"

"Steady. I've got a blanket. Gonna put it over you."

He was puzzled until he heard the crinkle of a space blanket and a towel was rubbed over his face and hair. "You brought camping gear?" Sam smiled again, through a yawn. "Thought you… hated camping."

"Still do." Dean was rustling about him. "It's just every time we go outside, we always end up in front of a goddamn fire." He was silent for a minute. "Speaking of fire, I need to burn the fugly. Gotta drag it first or we'll both go up with it. You gonna be okay for a few minutes?"

"Yeah." Dean hissed getting up, and Sam remembered that noise from before. "Hey, you okay? I didn't hurt you, did I?"

Dean's voice was strained. "No, Sam. You didn't hurt me." Another pause, and Sam was sure Dean was breathing heavily. "When I'm done roasting the troll, I'll build a fire here 'cause I love going all Boy Scout in the middle of the fucking woods."

Sam got an arm beneath himself, and struggled up. "There's nothing wrong with my legs. We can leave anytime."

"Lie down." He was pushed back, a rustling noise proof that Dean was resituating the blanket. "You have to rest or you could go into shock. I can handle a lot of things but not… not that and everything else."

Another shudder ran through him, as if to prove Dean's point. He nodded, licked his lips. "I'm fine, Dean. It's just my eyes."

"Yeah, right. Hold still anyway, tough guy." His brother grunted before the sound of something large being slowly dragged reached his ears. Dean didn't sound right. Sam settled back on Dean's jacket, rubbing leaves between his fingers. He brought one hand up to rub his forehead, then scrubbed his face with both hands. He'd figure out what was wrong with Dean later.

The skin on the back of his neck was starting to tingle and he shivered again. Maybe it wasn't shock, maybe he was running low. He needed a sip, just a sip to get him through this, make him strong again. Sam snuck his right hand under the blanket. His flask should be…he couldn't feel it. It had to be in his pocket. It was always in his right front pocket. Face flushed, he pushed down his panic, slowed his breathing and dug deeper until his fingertips touched the cool metal.

The sense of relief was tantamount to the holy water over his eyes. He snorted softly at the comparison. Hearing a muffled curse in the distance, he breathed deeply. No smoke. Dean couldn't be on his way back yet. Fumbling the cap in his haste, Sam took a long swig, holding it in his mouth, until the flask was safely stashed. Ruby's blood was vile, grotesque, clotted, thick with a rancid coppery taste. It smelled like puke and piss and crap and sulfur…and it was the most incredible thing he'd ever put in his mouth. He let the gritty, clumpy liquid run down his throat, sucking saliva greedily to swallow every molecule.

He woke to the sound of Dean's voice muttering something in Latin. He was warm and satisfied in a way that only the blood provided. Sam pulled his eyes open to see blurry shadows, the fire he could hear crackling to one side just a dim blur of light. Relaxing back into the soft folds of ancient leather he called out, "Dean, it's ad abigendos dæmones morbosque pellendos, not "more Bosco pellendos."

A quiet "Screw you, I like chocolate milk" followed him into sleep.

He wasn't sure what woke him the next time. It was quiet, no sound out of place. Something dripped into his eyes… He reached up tentatively, feeling the skin of his face and eyes, and found sweat beading on his forehead. He was really hot.

"Dean? Switch places with me."

Movement and a pressure along his side he'd barely noticed shifted. "Sam? Y'okay?" The voice was rough with sleep.

"Move. I'm too close to the fire." Sam rolled to one side and got up on his knees, shifting away from the dull glow of the flames. A slight breeze brushed his forehead. He wondered what time it was and why they were still in the woods. They should be out of here by now. Suddenly angry, he glared at the dark shape of his brother. "Good job keeping watch, dude. Really." Moving closer, Sam reached out blindly, rested a hand on Dean's arm and shook it. "Come on, man, I still can't see…" he drew his hand up carefully to Dean's shoulder, then to his forehead. "What the hell, Dean? You're burning up."

He shook Dean's shoulder, eliciting a groan. Dean rolled toward him and Sam had to hustle back on his knees to give him some room.

"Whas' a matter? You okay?"

He reached forward and found Dean's chest under his hand. "What's wrong with you?"

"Got it," a huge yawn, "under control. Plenty of, of time." The next breath was an exhale, Dean's muscles going slack under Sam's hand at the same time.

"Dean?" He pressed down gently, felt the rise and fall of Dean's chest. Pulling back his hand, he rubbed his fingertips together. They were wet, and the slight copper tang confirmed that the liquid was blood.

"Shit, Dean."