SYNOPSIS: H/C tag to Jump the Shark. Dean cares for Sam in the wake of the ghouls' attack, as his brother battles fears and guilt, as well as physical injuries.

DISCLAIMER: Nope, still didn't own Sam, Dean or anything SN related – other than Season 1-5 on DVD. Sigh. As always, I'm playing with Eric Kripke's creations thanks to his largesse, for fun, not profit.

RATED: T

SPOILERS: References to Jump the Shark, Hunted, All Hell Breaks Loose Part II, On the Head of a Pin and I Know What You Did Last Summer

A/N: Written for Summer of Sam Love 2010 fic challenge as a companion piece to my earlier JTS tag In The Blood. Both fill the gap between Dean rescuing Sam and Adam's funeral pyre, but stand independent of each other. The only real carry-over from ITB is a brief reference to the OC Doc Naslund, a hunter/doctor friend of the late Pastor Jim, who treated Sam's ghoul-inflicted injuries at the Milligan house. Art for this piece, and each of my other fics can be found in Photobucket. The link is in my bio if you wish to check it out. Hope you enjoy.

NOT LIKE YOU

Jess lay at Sam's side, her head on his shoulder as she pointed up at the sky. "And that constellation, that's…Orion."

"Yeah." Sam pulled her closer, his eyes already locked on the cluster of stars whose name filled his head with a torrent of memories. "The hunter."

Jess shot him a sideways look. "You're quiet. You okay?"

Sam glanced down at her, surprised he'd been so transparent. But Jess read him pretty well, not something he was used to… at least from anyone other than his family. He cleared his throat. "Yeah. I'm fine."

Jess wrinkled her nose. "Thought maybe you'd dozed off on me – again. A girl could get a complex, you know."

"Oh come on." Sam bit back a smile, doing his best to sound indignant. "It happened once, in the middle of finals – and cramming for Mathematical Foundations of Computing is enough to put anyone into a coma."

Jess laughed, wrapping her arm around his waist. "Okay, you get a pass on that one. I had to fight to stay awake when I was quizzing you."

The two lay on a grassy bluff overlooking the Pacific coastline. The surf thundered against the shore far below them and the cool, ocean breezes carried the scent of salt inland. With the lights of the city behind them, the night sky was clear. They'd shared a couple of beers as they watched the sun slip below the horizon and now lay together, picking out the stars easily visible on the cloudless night.

Jess shivered as an energetic gust of wind pushed past them. Sam pulled out the folded blanket he'd been using as a pillow, shook it out one-handed, and then draped it over them both.

"My hero," Jess murmured, pulling up the blanket and snuggling against Sam as she turned to look upwards. "Now, where are these planets I'm supposed to be able to see?"

"Start at the moon and track north from there." Sam slid his knapsack under his head as a replacement pillow and smiled. Winter semester exams had gone well, he'd got the classes he wanted for spring term and he and Jess…they were good. Really good. To celebrate, he'd brought her to what Brady had called "the most romantic spot in Palo Alto – that hardly anyone knows about."

The early months at Stanford had been rocky at times, the normal life he'd craved not always a good fit for a guy raised on the road to fight monsters. But he'd met Brady, who introduced him to Jess and now... He wished Dean could meet Jess…see the life he was starting to build for himself…be a part of it. His smile widened as he imagined introducing his brother to his girlfriend. "Dude, she is WAY out of your league." Green eyes flashed over a trademark smirk. "But, until she figures that out, go for it."

Sam's smile faded. He and Dean hadn't spoken in over a year. He'd lost track of the number of times he'd hit Cancel instead of Send after dialing Dean's number. He wanted to tell him that school was going well, that he and Jess were living together now. He wanted to know that Dean was okay… that Dad was okay. But each time, as now, his chest tightened as his mind replayed the last angry exchange between them the night he'd left for Stanford.

"Sam?" Jess sounded worried, her hand moving in gentle circles on his chest as if trying to ease the tension she sensed building there. "Come on. What is it?"

"It's nothing." Sam forced a smile, then kissed her forehead. "Honest."

Jess quirked an eyebrow. "You're a lousy liar, you know that?"

Sam's gut twisted. No, he was a damn good liar, a talent honed through years of bending the truth to everyone from teachers to ER staff. He'd tried, really tried, never to lie to Jess but he'd made up his mind early in their relationship that he wouldn't, couldn't, tell her about hunting. And that meant lies and a Swiss cheese family history that Jess accepted with the same look she was giving him now – one that said she knew that there was more to it, but she'd wait until he was ready to share whatever he was holding back.

"Sam." Jess pulled a hand from under the blanket and ran it down his face. "Talk to me."

"It's just…" Sam dropped his head back onto the knapsack and looked up at the sky. "Things have been going so well, lately…with us, with school…I'd love to tell my brother, you know?"

"So do it." Jess shrugged. "Call him. You haven't forgotten his number, have you?"

"No." Although who knew how many times Dean had changed phones since the last time they'd spoken. "But-"

"I know…it's complicated."

Sam turned back to Jess, smiling as he combed his fingers through her hair. "You see right through me, don't you?"

Jess grinned. "I dunno about that. You, Sam Winchester, are a riddle wrapped in an enigma-"

"…wrapped in a taco." Sam cut her off with a kiss. "Now, come on: enough about my family drama. You found those planets yet?"

Jess's eyebrow quirked again at the deflection before dropping her head onto his shoulder. "Fine. Just north of the moon, that's Venus. Then, to the left, about 10 o'clock, is Mars." She traced the path with her finger. "Keep going on the same track and there's Saturn, then way north of that, past…Gemini?... that's Jupiter."

Sam's dimples deepened with his grin. "Very impressive."

"I'll let you in on a little secret." Jess's breath was warm against his neck as she tucked her head under his chin. "When you said you were taking me to the observatory on – what was it, our third date? – I dusted off my old high school astronomy textbook…you know, to make sure we had something to talk about. Brushed up again this afternoon when you told me we were coming here."

Sam's eyes widened as he looked down at her. "You study for our dates?" He snorted, shaking his head. "And the observatory...good one, Winchester. God, you must think I'm the biggest geek ever. Why the hell are you still with me?"

Jess twisted her head to grin up at him. "Because you just happen to be the hunkiest geek on campus, with a heart as big as this state. Besides…" she pushed herself up, resting her forearms on his chest, her face inches from his, "let's just say I saw a certain…potential in sharing your interest in the stars." She glanced up at the clear night sky and the stars painted on the inky canvas, then out to sea where reflected pin pricks of light danced on the water. "I mean, look where we are? It's like we have the whole world to ourselves."

Sam smiled. "I like your foresight, Ms. Moore." As she turned back to him, he kissed her, this time slowly and deeply. Reluctantly breaking off the kiss, he rested his forehead against hers. "How'd I get so lucky, huh?"

Jess shrugged. "Fate…kismet…" She kissed him again. "Don't question it, just go with it."

But Sam did question it. Most people asked, "Why me?" when things went wrong. Winchesters asked that question when things went right. God, he wished he could just go with it, but that wasn't the way the world worked. Not his world anyway.

A streak of light just over Jess's shoulder caught his attention. "Look, a shooting star."

Jess turned her head in time to see the light plummet to earth, seemingly disappearing into the sea. She grinned back at Sam. "Come on, Mr. Astronomy. That's no star – just a hunk of rock burning up as it passes through the atmosphere."

Sam smiled. "Nice mood killer, Jess." He scanned the stars on display above them. "We should come back this fall when the Orionid shower passes over. It's pretty cool. I think you'd like it."

Jess propped herself up on her elbow, her smile bemused. "Let me guess. You were the nerdy kid with a telescope in his backyard who knew the name of every star, every astronomical event before he was ten."

Sam pushed a strand of hair behind Jess's ear. "I never had a telescope…never really had a backyard but, as a kid, I could identify most of the stars. We, um, went camping a lot, so my dad thought it was important – you know, in case we got lost, so we could navigate by the stars to find our way home." He shifted uncomfortably. Another lie. But at least this one was wrapped in truth.

"My brother and I used to sit on the trunk of the car at night and quiz each other. I earned my first beer by getting all the constellations right."

Jess frowned suspiciously. "How old were you?"

Sam grinned. "Older than Dean was when he had his first beer – and that's all I'll admit to. Anyway, as we got older, we'd just sit there, with a beer, watching the stars – kind of our way of unwinding, you know?" The pressure in Sam's chest returned with the memory.

Jess curled her fingers into the fabric of his shirt. "Your brother – is he as smart as you?"

Sam's smile widened at that. "Yeah – he just doesn't like people to know. Too cool to be a geek."

"Then for two smart guys, you're both acting dumb." Jess shook her head. "Just call him. I mean, it's obvious you miss him."

"I know… but like a very smart woman once said, it's complicated." As much as Sam wanted to talk to Dean, a part of him was terrified that his brother wouldn't answer the call, wouldn't want to talk to him. And that…that would just make things so much worse.

Jess ran her hand down the side of his face. "I won't push… but I don't like seeing you sad. If talking to your brother will make you feel better…" She shrugged.

Sam nodded, then exhaled audibly. "I'll think about it. But, for now…" He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close again, "let's just enjoy the moment, huh?"

Jess smiled, slid a hand under his shirt, then ran her thumb along the waistband of his jeans.

Sam's lips curled into a smile. "Okay. I don't think I need the blanket any more. Suddenly, it's a little warm out here."

Jess's eyes flashed as she leaned closer. "Like you said, I'm just enjoying the moment."

"Then, by all means, carry on." Sam closed his eyes as she stretched up to kiss his neck – but instead of the soft feel of her lips on his skin, pain ripped through him as she savagely bit into him.

"God!" Sam jack-knifed upwards, pushing Jess away as his hand shot to his neck. It was sticky with blood and the skin was jagged and torn.

Jess rolled away from him, blonde hair falling forward, obscuring her face. But as she snapped her head up, hair flipping over her shoulders, it wasn't Jess who smirked back at him, licking the blood from her lips.

It was the ghoul. The one who'd tortured him in the guise of Adam's mom, Kate.

"Did that hurt?" So unlike Jess's, the ghoul's smile was cold and cruel as she sat up then leaned toward him. "I hope so, because there's so much more where that came from."

"No." Sam instinctively reached behind him, but there was no gun tucked into the small of his back, hadn't been since he came to Stanford. His legs tangled in the blanket as he pushed himself away from the ghoul. "This is wrong. You can't be here. You-"

An unseen force slammed into him, pushing him onto his back and pinning his arms at his sides. He blinked, and suddenly he wasn't on the cliff top anymore; he was tied to the table in Adam's living room, Kate at his side drawing her thumb along the edge of a large knife.

Her eyes narrowed as she looked down at him. "That's better. Now, where were we?"

xxxXXXxxx

"Sammy?" Dean jolted upright at the choked cry from the adjacent bed. His bleary vision took in his brother tossing restlessly. "Sam. Wake up."

Sam's head rolled toward the sound of Dean's voice but he didn't wake.

"Damn it." Dean swung his legs off the bed with a groan. He hadn't meant to sleep; he'd just sat down on the mattress and leaned back against the headboard. But the events of the previous day – his escape from the crypt, his fight with ghoul Adam and hauling a semi-conscious Sam into and out of the Impala on the way back to their motel – had all taken a physical toll. The minute he sat down, his body shut down. Until Sam cried out, stuck in the middle of another nightmare by the sounds of it.

"Sam." Dean pushed himself up, then sank down on the edge of his brother's bed. Sam's hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat, his cheeks flushed. His eyes darted back and forth behind closed lids as he fought against some unknown threat. Dean pressed the back of his hand to Sam's forehead. He was burning up. "Oh, son of a bitch…"

Dr. Andy Naslund, Pastor Jim's friend who'd treated Sam's injuries back at the Milligan house, had warned Dean that infection and fever were distinct possibilities.

"Slightly elevated." The doc lowered the thermometer he'd just pulled from Sam's ear. "No surprise given what he's been through."

"Sick freaks." Dean's fists clenched involuntarily as he stared down at his unconscious brother who lay, post surgery, on the same table where the ghouls had tortured him. "I wanna rip-"

"Save that anger for another hunt." Doc Naslund wiped his forehead with the back of his wrist and looked up at Dean. "Your focus right now needs to be on Sam. His arms are a mess. I've done what I can but…well, vascular surgery in a living room is a few city blocks from ideal.

"As for his side, I don't think the ghoul did any real internal damage but without x-rays, I can't be sure. He's had fluids and a transfusion, which have stabilized him, but he's weak and wide open to infection. I'll give you some more antibiotics, some painkillers, but keep a close eye on him ..."

"Always do," Dean murmured, shaking his head to bring his focus back to the task at hand. He peeled back the bed covers: the bandage on Sam's right arm was clean but blood stained the wrappings on his left, the dark patch running from elbow to mid-forearm. "Damn. Looks like you popped a few stitches, Frankenstein. Let me check your side, then we'll zip you up again."

Dean peeled off the square bandage covering the injury just below Sam's ribs. The doc's stitches had held but the skin around them was an angry red. Sam groaned, his eyes screwing tight in distress as Dean pressed gently near the wound, checking for signs of internal bleeding.

"It's just me, Sammy. Relax. Don't think there's any new damage but I've gotta be sure." Dean instinctively reverted to the same soothing tone he'd used when a young Sam was sick. He snorted at that realization. "Listen to me, talking to you like you're freaking five. You'd chew my ear off if you were awake." He pulled a face. "Sorry, dude. Crappy choice of words, given the circumstance."

Dean's earlier anger resurfaced as he checked the wound. The ghouls hadn't just wanted to kill anyone connected to John; they'd wanted them to suffer. He'd seen what they'd done to Kate and the real Adam and they were dragging Sam down that same bloody path. Dean's jaw clenched as his head filled with images of Sam tied to that table, arms ripped to shreds and helpless. If he hadn't gotten out of that crypt…

But he had.

"Dude, you should've seen it: Cirque de freaking Soleil has got nothing on me. I was awesome." Dean reached for the first-aid kit, already open on the nightstand, pulling out a pre-filled syringe. He pulled off the cap with his teeth, then jabbed the needle into Sam's side, slowly depressing the plunger to release the antibiotics. Sam gave a soft groan but was too deep in unconsciousness for the momentary discomfort to wake him.

After applying a fresh bandage, Dean began unwrapping the dressing on his brother's left arm. His stomach turned at the long, angry gashes punctuated by the black thread of the sutures. Three stitches near the elbow had snapped, the skin pulling apart and leaking fresh blood. A penlight from the first-aid kit helped Dean examine the wound and he nodded in relief. "Looks like it's just the surface stitches were dealing with. Those I can fix. Anything beyond that, we'd be calling the doc back in, and god knows how much more fuel you'd leak before he got here." His jaw clenched as images of a bloody Sam tied the table filled his head, of the bowls collecting his brother's blood. "More than you can afford, that's for damn sure."

Dean swabbed the gashes with antiseptic, cringing as he felt Sam flinch at the sting. "I would've traded places with you in a heartbeat, Sammy." He inhaled and exhaled slowly to steady his hands as he threaded a needle, then pulled a lighter from his pocket and sterilized the needle in its flame. "Course, I doubt those freakish, linebacker shoulders of yours would've fit through that tunnel I had to crawl through. With our luck, you'd have gotten stuck, I'd have been eaten and they wouldn't have found your carcass 'til the next Millsap was interred."

He'd have given anything for a bitch-face or an eye roll right about then. "Yeah, yeah, I know…I'm just a glass-half-empty kinda dude." Dean put aside the lighter and smiled tightly down at his brother. "Now keep still while I put you back together – again."

xxxXXXxxx

"No. This isn't real." Sam strained against the ropes securing his wrists and ankles to the table, glaring up at Kate. "Dean killed you." He screwed his eyes closed as he struggled to free himself.

"Sorry, Sam." Kate's breath was warm against his face as she hissed in his ear. "You're not going anywhere."

"No. You're not. We're just getting started."

Sam forced open his eyes, his head snapping to the left at the new voice.

Ghoul Adam had joined his sibling. "Our dad didn't get to walk away from John Winchester, so why should you get to leave us?"

"My dad only did what he had to do," Sam spat out. "He didn't kill for pleasure."

"Neither did my dad. Most of the bodies he took were already dead, and he only took enough to survive." Adam smiled as he straightened up. "Now this…" He jabbed a finger into Sam's side, opening up the wound he'd inflicted there earlier. "This is pleasure."

Sam gasped as pain radiated through his abdomen. He glared up at the ghoul, whose face twisted into a satisfied smirk. Adam then picked up a straight razor from the table and slashed at his captive's arm, opening up another long cut. Sam had barely bitten back his yell before the ghoul was leaning down and drinking blood from the open wound.

Adam lifted his head and frowned at Kate. "You're right, it does taste different. Like demon." His expression was smug as he turned his attention to Sam. "Looks like we're not the only ones with a taste for blood."

"No. I'm not like you." Sam's stomach churned when he thought about the demon blood, about being physically sick the first time he choked it down. "I'm nothing like you."

Adam's eyebrows peaked in disbelief. "You're in denial, Sam. You call us monsters, but how are you any different?"

The image of the ghoul jumped and flashed, like an electronic signal briefly interrupted. And, in that flash, Sam saw himself: chest heaving, eyes closed, face stained with blood. He knew the look; after drinking the blood, the nausea in his gut was morphing into fire in his veins, the fire that fueled his abilities – the abilities that gave him the power to kill Lilith.

And that's why he did it. Why he had to do it. Dean wasn't strong enough to take on Lilith and, without the blood, neither was he. But that's all it was – a tool in their fight to kill Lilith. As soon as she was gone, he wouldn't need it any more.

"You're fooling yourself, Sam." Kate seemed to read his mind. "Just like the addict you really are." She reached over him, dragged her finger along the cut then sucked off the blood. "Now you have a taste for it, for the power it gives you, you'll never stop."

"That's not true." Sam fought to steady his voice. He'd stopped before, when Dean came back from Hell. Ruby hadn't liked it, had pushed and cajoled, saying he needed to keep up his strength, stay sharp. But he'd kept saying no, right up until the angels had snatched Dean and forced him to torture Alistair. At the church where they'd found Anna, Alistair had tossed Sam down the stairs like he was a toy. To get his brother back, to get rid of Alistair so Dean didn't have to, he needed an edge - and the blood gave it to him. And when he'd found Dean, beaten to within an inch of his life and Cas not far behind, he knew he'd made the right call.

"I can stop." Sam closed his eyes, not sure if was trying to convince the ghouls or himself. "I don't need it. It isn't who I am."

Adam chuckled. "You just keep telling yourself that." He leaned over, whispering in Sam's ear. "But it's not need that drives you, Sam. It's want. You like the power it gives you, the control. And, deep down, you know – you don't ever want to give that up."

Sam screamed, and not just because the ghoul slashed at his arm again.

xxxXXXxxx

"Sam, come on. Snap out of it!" Dean fought to hold down his brother.

The sutures had taken way longer than they should have because Sam had become increasingly combative. He'd smacked away Dean's arms, slammed a fist into his chest then, with one stitch to go, even clocked him in the chin, all while trapped in a nightmare Dean couldn't pull him from.

Violent nightmares were nothing new for Sam, and Dean had learned long ago how to make sure his brother didn't hurt himself while caught in the throes of one. But pinning his arms was a big part of it, and that was next to impossible given the damage the ghouls had inflicted. Ultimately, he tucked Sam's arms under the covers, then pressed down on the bed on either side of his brother, pulling the sheets tight.

"Kind of an improvised straight jacket, huh?" Dean gritted out as Sam fought to free himself. "Look, just wake up, okay? Soon as you do, I'll let you out – scout's honour."

Sam fought him for a few more minutes then went limp. Whether he'd won his nightmare battle or was just too exhausted to continue, Dean didn't know. "I just hope you were on the giving end of that ass-kicking, Sammy, whatever it was."

Dean pulled back the sheets. They were stained with Sam's blood, but the stitches in Sam's arms had held. Working quickly, Dean tied off the last stitch, spread antibiotic cream along the wound then carefully rebandaged the arm. As he fastened the metal clips in place to secure the wrapping, he glanced up at his unconscious brother. Sam was still now, but his eyes seemed to be sending frenetic Morse code signals from behind closed lids.

Dean shook his head. "Seriously, dude, you need to wake up. We both know I'm a fascinating guy but even I'm getting tired of my own voice. I could use a little back-and-forth here. Hell, I'll be happy if you woke up just long enough to tell me to shut up."

Predictably, there was no response. Dean sat back, tossed the ointment into the first-aid kit, then kneaded the stiff muscles in the back of his neck. He hissed as dull pain became sharp, and his fingertips turned sticky with blood. "What the…"

A little exploration discovered a thin, inch-long sliver of glass buried between his shoulder blades. As he pulled it out with a grunt, his mind replayed his fight with Ghoul Adam and the tackle that sent them both through the French doors at the Milligan house. There was also the shower of angel glass from the ceiling window he'd smashed in the crypt.

Whichever was the culprit, the psychological seed was planted. Dean squirmed, his back prickling with other glass slivers, real and imagined. He needed a shower – to wash away the glass, the scent of death and decay that still clung to him after crawling around in the crypt, the gore that smeared his clothes after killing the ghouls and cleaning up the evidence, not to mention his brother's blood which once again stained his hands.

He glanced down at Sam. He wanted to wait until his brother woke up but who knew when that would be. He checked Sam's vitals: his pulse and respiration were fast but within the tolerable range; his temperature was still high but not dangerously so.

Mind made up, he placed Sam's arms at his sides and pulled the covers over him, tucking them under the mattress at each side, in case he became restless again. "I'm gonna take a quick shower, Sammy. I'll leave the door open so just yell if you need anything." He stood up, grimacing as he sniffed his t-shirt. "Trust me, you'll appreciate this as much as me when you do wake up."

He scrubbed a hand down his face and stared at the bathroom door. Suddenly, it seemed miles away, his exhaustion overwhelming. What he really wanted was to tip himself onto his own bed and sleep for a week. But that would have to wait until he knew Sam was okay; a five-minute shower was the next best thing.

Dean swiped at the switch to turn on the bathroom light and stared at the grey, stubbled face in the mirror. Worry, the job, lack of sleep – all were taking a toll. The lines around his eyes and mouth were deeper than he remembered, the shadows under his eyes darker. He shucked off his shirt and pulled his t-shirt over his head, then forced a grin at his reflection. "Bad day, that's all. Just like Scotch, you get better with age."

He finished undressing, turned on the water, glanced back into the room to check on Sam, then stepped under the shower. For once, the water was hot, the pressure good. He ducked his head, letting the water massage the knotted muscles in his neck and back but wincing when it found still tender bruises from his fight with the ghoul.

The ghoul that looked like Adam.

Their brother.

As he lifted his head to let the water pound on his chest, he flashed back to Sam showing Adam how to shoot, much like he'd done with Sam so many years ago. Dean was so pissed at Dad for not telling them about Adam, and at Sam for dragging Adam into their world, that he'd been blind to the most basic fact – Adam was a good kid. If the ghoul's masquerade was accurate, he would have liked him, liked to have had the chance to get to know him.

And Sam would have made a great big brother. The image of the two of them shooting in the woods replayed through his head; that all-too-rare crooked smile of Sam's as Adam's shots hit the target and the, "Good shooting. You're a natural," as he checked the placement. Sam deserved a chance to establish that kind of rapport with the real thing.

Instead, their first official family function would be Adam's funeral. Dean slammed his fist into the tiles, using the pain to numb the anger gnawing at his gut. Sammy had been right. If Adam had known that ghouls were out there, maybe he'd be in their motel room right now, swapping hunt stories with Sam instead of rotting in that crypt.

Dean placed his hands flat on the wall, bent forward and again let the water beat down on his neck and back, but any pleasure he may have felt from its soothing effects was long gone. He watched idly as the water circling the drain briefly turned pink as the overspray washed the blood from his knuckles.

Blood. The sight of it had never bothered him; it was just part of the job. But today, there had been just too much of it, and it turned his stomach.

xxxXXXxxx

Sam screwed his eyes closed, bracing for another assault, but it never came. He flinched when something splashed his face.

He opened his eyes warily, and frowned. He was no longer tied to the table and the ghouls were nowhere to be seen. Instead, he was standing on the side of a road and it was raining. Fat, intermittent drops fell with increasing intensity until it became a steady downpour.

Blinking against the rain, he looked around. The road was both strange and familiar, just a dark stretch of two-lane road like the thousands he and Dean drove along every year. There were no houses, no lights, nothing to tell him where he was, just the silhouette of trees on either side backlit by the watery moon.

Sam hissed at the sting of the cold rain on his arms, and glanced down. The gashes from the ghouls' attack were still open and bleeding, the blood running down his wrists before dripping off his hands. The rain was relentless; his shirts were soaked through and clinging to his skin, his hair plastered to his head. He shivered. What the hell was he doing here?

"Hey handsome."

Sam whirled around. "Ruby."

Blonde Ruby stood behind him in that arms crossed, hip stuck out, hooker-on-a-street-corner stance she favored. "You look like you could use a friend."

Sam was cold and drenched, his arms hurt and his legs felt like they would give way any moment. His vision blurred and, for just a moment, he was staring at Jess, not Ruby. When his vision cleared and it was the demon again, he turned away from her and stumbled down the road, with no idea where he was going.

"Sam-"

"Stow it, Ruby. You're not who I need right now."

"Hey." The demon appeared suddenly at his side, walking with him. "I think the little fallen angel on your shoulder is exactly who you need. I'm here to help."

Sam's jaw set stubbornly. "Don't need your help."

"Really?" Ruby shook her head. "No offense, but you look like gust a wind could knock you over."

Sam shivered again. He felt like crap and wasn't thinking clearly, and that was never a good combination around a demon. The weeks after Dean's death had taught him that. "Just…go away."

"Sam." Ruby stepped in front of him, forcing him to stop. Her gaze dropped to his bleeding arms. "You're running on empty, and it's not just your blood you've lost. You need me."

"No." Sam turned his back on Ruby and closed his eyes as he realized what she was saying. It wasn't just the injuries that were making him feel lousy. His body was craving demon blood, craving its ability to heal him, strengthen him.

Ghoul Adam's voice echoed through his head. "You like the power it gives you, the control. And, deep down, you know – you don't ever want to give that up." Sam shook his head. No. He wasn't like the ghouls. He didn't need the blood. He'd be fine without it until it came time to face Lilith. "No."

"Sam."

"I said no!" Sam swiped a hand across his face to clear the rain from his eyes as he spun around to glare at the demon. "Just-" Blonde Ruby was gone, replaced by brunette Ruby. "What-"

"We both know you like this meatsuit more, so maybe you'll listen better." Ruby reached up and ran a hand down his face. "You need me." Pulling a small dagger from her pocket, she dragged the blade across her wrist, opening the vein. "And you need this. Now, or things are gonna get rough."

The smell of the blood made Sam's heart pump faster. He back-pedaled, shaking his head. "No. Not now."

Ruby's expression softened. "You wanna protect Dean, right? Send Lilith back to Hell?" She offered her bleeding wrist to him. "Then this is a good thing, Sam. You know what this can do for you."

He did. And that was the problem. The high that came with the blood was like nothing he had ever experienced. He crackled with energy. And his powers…What had Ava said? "If you stop fighting it…the switches that just flip in your brain…" If he looked past his disgust at the means, a part of him loved the control it gave him in a life that routinely spun off the track. With the blood, when it came to all the supernatural crap they dealt with, he was the one throwing punches instead of playing the punching bag.

"See." Ruby ran her hand along his jaw, the blood tantalizingly close to his mouth. "You're only doing what you have to do. This was never about pleasure."

"But you do like it, don't you, Sam? You can't stop thinking about it." The ghoul Kate appeared suddenly, walking towards him from his left, licking blood from her fingers. "You're not so different from us, after all."

"No." Sam was dizzy now, fighting just to stay standing. At the sound of Adam's voice, he spun to his right.

"You choose to drink." The ghoul's eyes burned with hatred. "That's so much worse than anything we do."

"No." Sam stumbled backwards, colliding with someone. He turned quickly; it was Jess, a crushed expression on her face.

"I want you to be happy, Sam. But how can you be with a demon," Jess's hand slid across her stomach and came away bloody from the growing stain on her nightgown, "when it was a demon who did this to me?"

Sam felt sick, and took an unsteady step towards her. "Jess…no…I-" He blinked and Jess was gone.

In her place stood Dean, the Colt in his right hand, anger, disgust and disappointment etched deeply in his face. "Remember what Dad said, Sammy? That I might have to kill you? You're sleeping with a demon; drinking her blood…I think that's just cause, don't you?"

Sam's knees gave way.

"We hunt monsters, Sammy...and that's what you are."

Sam sank back on his heels, his head falling forward, emotionally crushed.

The rain was still driving down on him, water droplets falling in slow motion from the hair hanging in front of his eyes, his breath clouding with each exhale as the voices of loved ones and enemies echoed around him, their taunts cutting deeper than any knife wielded by a ghoul.

"You're no different from us."

"Monsters? You use that word a lot."

"Take the blood, Sam. You know you want it."

"She's a demon... How? How could you be with her?"

"You're a monster, Sammy. I have no choice."

Sam lifted his head at the sound of the Colt being cocked. His brother stood in front of him, gun raised, pointed right at Sam.

The crack of the gunshot drowned out all other sounds.

"NO!" Sam jack-knifed upwards, chest heaving, his injured arms curled protectively against his torso. He blinked to clear his vision. He was in bed, in a motel room. The light was on in the bathroom opposite him and the sound of water was the shower running, not rain.

There was a thud from the bathroom, followed by a loud, "Son of a bitch." The shower shut off suddenly, the curtain was yanked back and Dean came stumbling into the room, dripping wet and clumsily fastening a towel around his waist. "Sammy?"

Sam screwed his eyes closed and opened them again, blinking at Dean. His head was spinning, his mouth dry. He winced as he lifted his hand to his heart where the gunshot had hit.

The fog of sleep cleared suddenly. It wasn't real.

"Hey." Dean sounded worried. "You okay?"

Sam looked up at his brother and nodded, not quite trusting his voice.

Dean flopped on the bed beside him, water still running down his face and bare chest. "Bout time you woke up, Sleeping Beauty, but your timing sucks." He grabbed a bottle of water from the nightstand and unscrewed the lid. "You couldn't have waited one more minute 'til I was out of the shower? I slipped when I heard you yell, almost knocked myself out."

"Sorry." Sam frowned at the weak croak and cleared his throat.

Dean held up the bottle of water. Sam nodded, trying to take it from his brother, but Dean shook his head. "I just finished putting you back together. Let's leave your arms out of this for now. You drink, I'll hold."

Sam had no energy to protest. He drank gratefully as Dean held the bottle for him, sinking back against the pillows when he was done. He inhaled slowly and deeply, willing his lungs to relax and his heart to slow down.

Dean watched him worriedly. "Looked like some nightmare you were caught up in."

Sam gave a brief nod, closing his eyes when the room started spinning again.

"About?" Dean pressed his fingers against Sam's neck to check his pulse.

Sam kept his eyes closed. "Ghouls." He swallowed. "I was ... back on that table. They said they weren't done."

"Oh, they're done – like Marge Simpson's Sunday dinner: salted and burned. You don't need to worry about them." Dean waited until Sam opened his eyes. "How's the pain?"

Sam shrugged. Physical pain he could handle. It was the kaleidoscope of images spinning through his head, especially the devastated look on Dean's face as he pulled the trigger, that were threatening to empty his stomach. "It's fine."

"Liar." Dean reached for the first-aid kit on the nightstand, pulling out an amber pill bottle. He shook out two painkillers, dropped them in Sam's mouth, then held the water bottle as Sam drank to wash them down.

This was the brother Sam had known all his life, who had his back no matter what. They could butt heads six ways from Sunday, but when the shit hit the fan, as it invariably did, they were there for each other. Dean had saved him from ghouls because "that's what family's for."

But what if he knew about the demon blood? Dean knew he was still sleeping with Ruby, Sam was sure about that. They didn't talk about it, not since his 'too much information' confession any way, but his brother had made enough cracks to let Sam know the jig was up. Dean hated it, that was clear, but it hadn't come between them. Not yet anyway. But the demon blood... that... that would be the proverbial straw.

"Hey." Dean flicked his finger against Sam's chest to get his attention. "You zoning out on me again?"

"No." Sam cleared his throat again. "Thanks, you know, for-"

"Yeah, yeah…" Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "Anything else while I'm still wearing my white hat?" He glanced down. "Or a white towel, at least."

Sam tried for a smile. "You could get off my bed. You're making it all wet."

"Bitch." Dean pushed himself up. "Sure you don't need to pee? Puke? 'Cause, trust me, I'd much rather haul your sorry ass to the bathroom now than clean up a mess later."

Sam shook his head. "I'm good."

Dean snorted as he walked back into the bathroom and grabbed a hand towel. He rubbed it over his face then his hair as he crossed to his duffel, pulled out clean clothes, and then disappeared back into the bathroom. "Anything else about your nightmare you wanna tell me? You used to sleep better when you talked about them."

Sam shifted uncomfortably. Yeah, a demon blood confession would guarantee a good night sleep for both of them. "It, um, wasn't all a nightmare. Started out as a dream about me and Jess." He smiled at the memory before the ghoul had spoiled it. "Pretty good one, too."

"Oh. … Oh!"

Sam glared at his unseen brother. "Not that kind of good."

Dean stuck his head in the doorway, his mouth curling in an exaggerated grin. "Sorry. Forgot who was telling this story."

Sam's bitchface was wasted as Dean ducked back out of sight, but he was grateful for the familiar banter, for the way the gentle teasing helped calm his stomach and stopped his heart from racing. "Anyway, Jess morphed into the ghoul, said they weren't done with me…"

"And you relived all the crap they put you through before I got there." Dean, now dressed in t-shirt and boxers, flicked off the bathroom light and came back into the room.

"Yeah." His brother's summary had saved Sam from figuring out what to tell him, what to leave out. He wasn't gonna lie, not about this. But when the hell was a good time to tell your brother the only way to defeat Lilith was chugging demon blood?

Dean grabbed a bottle of water and flopped on his bed. "Need anything?"

Sam shook his head. "Adam ... the real Adam ... he's dead, right?"

Dean nodded. "Found him in the crypt. His mom, too." He took a long pull on his bottle of water. "Damn, I wish this was something stronger."

Sam swallowed. "We can't leave them there."

"We won't." Dean took another drink. "Police are gonna get a tip. They'll find Kate and Joe Barton, or what's left of them, anyway."

"And Adam?"

Dean looked over at Sam. "Adam's a Winchester. Deserves to go out like one." He emptied the last of his water, three-pointed the empty bottle into the trash can in the corner, and climbed into bed. "I'll take care of it tomorrow."

Sam frowned. "We'll take care of it."

Dean shook his head and lay down. "Nope. I will. Doc Naslund told me a good place, but it's out in the bush. You're in no shape to-"

"I'm coming."

"Damn it." Dean sat up, scowling at his brother. "Look at you – you're a mess. I doubt you can hike to the bathroom under your own steam, never mind into the middle of nowhere hauling a body."

Sam's jaw set stubbornly. "I'm coming – even if I have to boost a car and follow you."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Oh, good one, Sam. Bring a stolen car to an illegal burial. That'll keep us off the radar."

Sam locked glares with Dean, but his voice was quiet. "He was our brother."

Dean's face softened and his shoulders sagged. "Yeah ... I know." He turned off the bedside lamp and lay down again. "But we've gotta do it tomorrow. Things are gonna get hot around here when the cops find the bodies in the crypt, so get some sleep. Real sleep. You need it."

Sam slid down in the bed, the numbness of the painkillers starting to take hold. He glanced over at his brother's bed. "You okay?"

"What?"

"Sounded like some fight between you and the ghoul."

Dean yawned. "I'm a Timex, Sammy. Take a licking, keep on ticking and all that crap. Now go to sleep. And no more nightmares." The last words were mumbled. Even breathing soon told Sam his brother was out.

Sam closed his eyes, images of Dean pointing the gun at him and smiling Jess turning into smirking Ruby filling his head. But as the sedative effects of the drugs pulled him under, it was Ghoul Adam's laughter he heard.

"We're not the only ones with a taste for blood are we, Sam?"

xxxXXXxxx

Dean grabbed Sam's duffel, gave the room one last look over to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything, then turned his attention to his brother. "You sure you're up for this? I can always pick you up after-"

"I'm sure." Sam sat on the end of his bed. He'd washed up, with Dean's help; gotten dressed with Dean's help; and then he'd sat on the bed, trying to stop himself from physically shaking while Dean loaded the car and cleaned up all evidence of the first-aid that had taken place the night before. Now he just needed to make it to the car without face-planting in the parking lot.

Dean stood in the doorway, jangling his keys as he studied his brother. "No offense, Sammy, but right now, roadkill is prettier than you. This is a bad idea. You-"

"I'm coming."

Dean's jaw clenched. "Then get a move on." He turned and strode out to the car.

Sam blew out a breath and pushed himself up. His gait was slow but steady, at least until he reached the door. Light from the setting sun hit him in the face, fueling a wave of vertigo that almost landed him on his ass. Only a desperate grab for the door jamb saved him. He winced at the pain that shot up his arm and squeezed his eyes closed, waiting for the dizziness to pass.

He heard the trunk of the Impala slam shut. "Sam. Get the lead out." His brother's impatience told him Dean hadn't seen his stumble. That was something, at least.

But something was wrong. Very wrong. It ripped Sam apart to admit it, but he knew exactly what it was: his body was going into withdrawal. Now it was Ruby's voice that filled his head. "You're running on empty, Sam. You're gonna need my help – and soon."

In his mind's eye, he saw her slice open her arm and offer it to him. "Take it, as much as you want."

Ghoul Adam appeared suddenly behind her, smiling smugly. "You don't ever wanna give it up, do you?"

Sam's knuckles whitened as he squeezed the doorframe. "You're wrong. Both of you. I'm not a monster."

He stepped out of the room, closed the door behind him, then shoved his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking as he walked to the car. "I'm not like you."

Finis

A/N: We were given hints about Sam's need vs. want struggle with his addiction (his conversation with Chuck in Monster at the End of this Book, for example) but I always thought those struggles must have intensified after the ghouls' attack – until, of course, the withdrawal symptoms really started to take hold in The Rapture. That's what I tried to play with here. As always, I'd love to know what you think. Cheers, and thanks for reading.