Dean slammed out of oblivion like a man falling from a cliff. Shocky and disoriented, he blinked at the hazy stars overhead. His head pounded like a jackhammer was drilling through his skull. What happened? He tried to make his murky brain work. The last thing he remembered . . . the monster appeared behind Sam. His chest clenched tightly, painfully.
Sam needed him. Dean tried to get up, barely managed to lift his head an inch. Sweat broke across his forehead and his vision blurred. Great gasps of breath expanded his chest. He had to fight this, had to help Sam. The monster appeared behind Sam. A . . . a . . . what were they hunting? He couldn't think, fought to hold the image, had to remember what it was that hurt Sam so he could fight it. The monster appeared behind Sam. Hag, bleeding cheeks, green, ugly bitch . . . He felt himself drift again, forced himself to focus. The monster, the hag, Akhlys . . . they hunted an Akhlys . . . tear-stained eyes, overgrown fingernails . . . appeared behind Sam.
"Dean." Sam's voice echoed hollowly like he called from a great great distance. The hag appeared behind Sam.
"Sam?" Dean turned his head, gritted his teeth against the pain. Sam's face swam shakily into his view, vaporous around the edges. The kerosene lantern flickered around the kid's lean features as his body curled over on himself. Sam's eyes were huge, tight with pain. Blood ran down his face.
"How bad?" Dean asked, expecting Sam to downplay it.
"Bad. Venom, Dean."
Dean jolted, his heart skipped a beat. Venom. Think, think. What had Sam told him about the Akhlys? Fingernails. Venomous. The hag appeared behind Sam. Oh, God, Sam, no. Okay, okay. They knew what to do in case that happened. He just had to remember. He wasn't going to let some old hag's venom take his brother. He rolled, trying to get closer to Sam, take care of him, which was a huge mistake as his head exploded and his vision went black.
Stilling, he fought through it until his sight returned, hazier than before. Breathing heavily, he worked through it, panic settling within his chest. Whenever he moved . . . God, if he blacked out . . . the venom . . . Sam . . . the next time he came to, it might be too late. He would wake up to Sam beside him . . . dea—no. No.
"Sam." He reached out, floundering for his brother's hand. He felt the clammy flesh latch onto his wrist, circling tight.
"Can't think too clearly," Dean rasped. "Need your help."
"Kay." Sam's voice was small, edged with fear. Dean's protective instincts kicked up a notch.
"What do we do?"
Sam didn't respond.
"Sammy? Sam?" Come on, don't do this. Talk to me. His vision was drifting again, darkness filling in all the holes like a bucket of ink spilled across the floor. "Sam!" he screamed for all he was worth, desperate to make his brother hold on so he could fix him.
"Dean," Sam finally answered, panting, his tone fraught with distress. The venom was acting fast, too fast and Dean couldn't even move his gawd-damn head without passing out. Sam whimpered. "Don't leave me."
And Dean's heart shattered at the fear in his brother's voice. How could the dumb kid ever think he'd leave him, especially when Sam was hurt and afraid? "Not- not going anywhere. I won't leave you."
Sam leaned close over his brother. Come on, Dean, fight this thing. Damn Akhlys had come out of nowhere and before Sam even turned at his brother's warning, Dean had run headlong into the hag, throwing them all to the ground. Ignoring the sudden pain in his head, Sam quickly plunged the copper blade dusted with kelp into her side and ding dong the bitch was dead.
Thank God, Dean was rousing, his eyelids fluttering.
After Sam had first rolled the hag off Dean and extended his hand and helped his brother to his feet, Dean grinned down at the hideous woman-thing and then simply dropped. Swearing, Sam dropped beside him, cringing at the thin red tracks across Dean's neck. Shit. Nail marks. Shit. Get close enough to get the copper blade in, but avoid the fingernails. They're venomous. Deadly. And now that venom was pulsing through Dean's veins.
Dean tried to get up, barely managed to lift his head an inch. Sweat broke across his forehead and his eyes darted around, unfocused. Great gasps of breath expanded Dean's chest. Come on Dean, you have to fight this, there's only one way to counter an Akhlys venom. Only one way through it.
"Sam?" Dean turned his head, gritted his teeth against the pain. Sam leaned closer, studying Dean's features in the light flickering off the kerosene lantern. His brother was fighting, doing exactly what he needed to. Unlike most venoms where it was better to lay still and calm to keep the poison from spreading, the opposite was true for the Akhlys's nastiness. The quicker the heart could push it through the victim's system, spreading it out almost like a diluting factor, the venom's potency failed. He had to somehow keep Dean's heart rate up, keep him fighting, but his sibling was barely conscious.
Dean's gaze finally appeared to settle on him. Come on, Dean, Sam willed him. Grimacing, he wiped away the blood that was running down his face. Not important right now. Dean needed him.
"How bad?" Dean asked.
"Bad," Sam told him, hoping the truth would spur Dean to fight. "Venom, Dean."
Dean jolted at that. Good, movement was good, except Dean rolled closer to Sam, pain flaring across his face and Dean went instantly still, fighting through it. He blinked rapidly, his eyes liquid, unseeing and Sam's own pulse banged to life. He'd do anything not to have to see his strong brother like this.
"Sam." Dean reached out, floundering . Sam latched onto his wrist, circling tight, feeling the rapid heartbeat beneath his flesh. Dean's pulse was unsteady, rising and falling like a runner jumping hurdles. Sam didn't know if that was good or bad, hoping with everything that was in him that it was pushing the venom out.
"Can't think too clearly," Dean rasped. "Need your help."
"Kay." Sam's voice was small, so choked up with fear he could barely speak.
"What do we do?" Dean seemed to be drifting away. No, he had to stay awake, had to fight.
Sam shook Dean, but Dean didn't respond. "Dean! Dean! Stay awake, man. Fight this. Get angry, get something! Just . . . oh God, just stay awake. Come back!"
But Dean wasn't hearing him. Sam was shouting himself hoarse and Dean was slipping away. Sam shook him harder. "Dean!"
Suddenly Dean's eyes snapped open again. "Sammy? Sam? Sam!" he screamed for all he was worth, desperation smeared across his raw vocal cords.
"Dean." Sam was panting, his tone fraught with distress. The venom was acting fast, too fast and Dean couldn't even move his gawd-damn head without passing out. Sam whimpered. "Don't leave me."
"Not, not going anywhere. I won't leave you Sam."
Tears poured down Sam's face. "Oh, God, Dean. You scared the crap out of me. I thought I lost you." Carefully, not wanting to jar Dean, Sam lifted Dean's head into his lap.
Dean seemed to be breathing easier, his gaze more focused. He'd done it, his brother had pulled through and won the struggle with the venom. He just knew it.
"You okay?" Dean asked, his voice steadier.
"Yeah." Sam sniffed. "Yeah. I'm fine."
"We got the ugly?"
Sam nodded. "She's dead."
Dean lifted his hand toward the blood running down Sam's cheek. "You hurt?"
"I told you. I'm fine. Just a scratch."
Dean nodded. His arm fell back to the ground and he closed his eyes.
Sam stared at him, his brows drawing together, relief pulling deep inside his chest. Sam didn't know what it was that always gave Dean that extra reserve, that extra bit of strength to fight, but whatever it was, Sam hoped his brother never lost it.