The Other Was a Star-Shaped Hole

When Sam wakes up, it's dark, and the air is screaming.

Wrong, his mind tells him. This is wrong.

Hands clutch at his chest and Sam shoves them aside. They want his heart. He knows because he can feel it beating inside his chest where it hasn't beat for a long time.

The screams want inside his head, his mind. It's been pieced back together like a jigsaw puzzle with too many corners, but like always he can feel all the places where the edges don't touch.

Something says his name, and that's enough. They know how to break him like it's the highest art form, delicate and visceral and demanding no less than perfection. But when they make him whole like this, when they give him back this small shred of himself, he's just flawed enough to fight them off, if only for a moment.

The hands come again and Sam bites, claws, uses every bit of the animal they've forced him to become. He rages like he hasn't for centuries, because something is different this time.

He lashes out, strikes through the voices, and there's blood. His blood, which he hasn't shed in years. It drips down his hands and wrists, and Sam can feel it in his heart and his eyes and under his skin. He's never gotten this far before. They always stop him after that first taste of something more than them, his destruction all the more exquisitely agonizing when he can remember what it was like to be a living being.

But something is different this time.

Sam gets his hands around bones and his teeth through flesh, and the screaming goes on but he can breathe now, deep heaving breaths with lungs he remembers how to use.

They really must be losing him this time, because they do something new and they and show him a face. It's bloody and mangled and missing pieces, almost to a point past recognition, except there's nothing that could be done to this face that would stop Sam from recognizing it. Its one open eye is terrified and its mouth is desperate, pleading…

But Sam has his own eyes and mouth back where they belong now so he shuts both of them. He will not admit this, will not accept what they want him to see.

And just like that, the air falls silent. The hands disappear. Sam can hear his own breathing and feel his own body. When he opens his eyes, the face that greets him is whole and alive.

There's a name resting on Sam's tongue, heavy and bright like a copper penny. He's kept it inside for years, kept it inside while everything else was cut away and drained out. But Sam has his teeth and tongue and all the pieces back in place and the edges are holding, so after an eternity he lets it out.


"Sammy." Dean is gasping, choking, throat closing around his words like he's dying and being reborn just to say them, and Sam thinks its beautiful. He fills his ears with the sound of his own name, tangled up in love and horror.

He forgets the sound of screams, and he hugs his brother.

Sam isn't surprised when he's finally cognizant enough to realize he's at Bobby's house. It feels right, coming back from the dead to the place that's become something like a home. He tells this to Dean, but it makes Dean's face get pinched and sad. Maybe it's because they're in the panic room, but that too feels right to Sam. It would be nice if it were an actual panic room where they locked the monsters out instead of locking them in. If this were a place where hiding from the world and truly panicking about the dangers beyond the locked door was allowed, Sam thinks he and Dean might have spent most of their lives in here, growing up to the sound of the slowly rotating fan, making games of the patterns pressed into the walls.

Of course, having a place to lock up monsters has come in handy. Sam's not sure who deserves to be here more: himself, who's risen from the dead with the taste of Hell on his tongue, or Dean, who made it happen.

"Don't ask me how," Dean pleads quietly as he wipes Sam down with a warm cloth, fast, efficient strokes. It's like being a little kid again, cleaned up for bedtime, for school, dirt and scrapes vanishing under his big brother's hands. "Please, Sammy, don't ask me."

"I won't," says Sam, and he doesn't. He lies back and lets Dean run the cloth over his hands and between each of his fingers, washing away the invisible blood Sam can still feel burning on his skin. "Don't ask me what I remember from Hell."

"What do you remember from Hell?" Dean says promptly, and Sam smiles, because this is a game he's familiar with, the first time in a long time where he knows all the rules and even gets to touch the dice. After everything, Dean is still Dean and between them they've still got the push-pull down to such a science they might as well be the inventors of tug-o-war.

The comfort of it hits Sam like a blow to the chest and for a moment he feels sick. Little things with too many legs and not enough eyes start scrabbling at the edges of his brain, whispers and poisons dripping from fangs inside gaping mouths. The corners of the room go dark and it flickers into a horror scene, furniture broken, blood smeared across the walls. Dean looks up at Sam's hiss of breath, and even he isn't spared. His gaze is glassy, lifeless, his skin shredded to ribbons with the bone shining blue-white between the gashes, chest cracked open and fluids pooling around his feet.

Sam closes his eyes and takes another breath, forcing the creatures back into the putrid pits and hidden crevasses where they came from.

"I don't remember much," Sam tells Dean when he feels it's safe to open his eyes again. The room swims into view, clean and quiet and safe. Perfect for panicking.

"Okay." Dean's voice shakes but his fingers encircle Sam's wrist, clamping tight and sure over the pulse point. Because of course Winchesters don't panic. They don't abandon each other, they don't stay dead, and they don't talk about the things that try to rip them apart. "That's good, Sammy."

They sit in silence then, and there is nothing to keep track of the time but their steady breaths and the beat of Sam's blood where it pushes his skin into Dean's. It goes on for what could be hours, or days, or the time it takes for Dean to switch ancient cassette tapes while Sam reads travel-worn maps and declares, no this is the smallest town they've even been in.

Sam has a thousand questions, but Dean doesn't look like a man with many answers. His fingertips are stained black and his fingernails are bitten down to the quick— a childhood habit he swears he grew out of but never really did. He has several days scruff on his face, and there are wrinkles next to his eyes. The last observation is what makes Sam stare. Those little lines, those tiny creases in the freckled skin— they mean Dean is growing old.

It's something Sam often pictured but deep down never expected to see, because their kind of life comes with an early expiration date, and despite the number of times they've sidestepped it, their luck can't possibly hold. And yet here they are, in their world of monsters and demons and constant sacrifice, and after all their near-death experiences and post-death experiences and mid-death experiences, Sam is out of Hell, and Dean is growing old.

The thought is enough to make Sam put aside all his questions except the easiest one.

"Dean," he says, and Dean looks up, disbelieving and hopeful and a little bit wild. "Can we go upstairs?"

"Sure, Sammy." The agreeableness with lack of accompanying insult is unusual, but Sam isn't going to question it. As sick as it is they've got a rhythm now for when one of them comes back from the dead, and Sam is pretty sure they're still in the grace period where they're allowed to be extra nice to each other.

Dean leaps to his feet as Sam makes to stand. His hand fluttering anxiously at the level of his chest like he's not sure where to put them, but they clamp instantly to Sam's shoulders the second he beings to sway.

"Um," Sam mumbles inarticulately as the room blurs and spins and he loses track of his feet. "You might have to help me."

It's a stupid thing to say, because Dean has been helping Sam for his whole goddamn life without once being asked, and this time is no exception. He seizes Sam's wrist with one hand and pulls it across his shoulders, putting his other arm around Sam's waist. Together they hobble out of the panic room, the winning entry in the world's most fucked-up three-legged race.

Crossing the raised threshold of the room is a bit of a challenge; Sam's feet catch on the edge but Dean lifts him, clumsy and all the more determined because of it. Sam feels weighed down and exhausted, lingering thoughts of Hell mixing with the growing doubts in his mind. (He had the Devil inside him, you don't just come back from something like that, maybe he shouldn't have come back from that). With every step up the stairs he feels two seconds away from crashing all the way back down.

Only Dean won't let him fall. Sam can feel it in Dean's grip, in the way he holds on a little too tightly and tilts his head just enough to keep his temple brushing Sam's cheek. Sam can hear the words Dean is pressing into his skin as clearly as if Dean were screaming them for the world to hear.

Never again.

They reach the top of the stairs at last and Dean takes Sam to the study. It's exactly as Sam hoped he could remember, right down to Bobby startling awake in his armchair and looking around wildly. Dean tries to steer Sam towards the couch but he pulls away and stumbles until he can catch himself against the side of the desk and put his arms around Bobby's shoulders.

"I can't believe you're alive," he mutters into his own shirtsleeve. He hasn't cried yet but there is where he gets close, breathing in the scent of motor oil and cheap whiskey from the neck he felt Lucifer break like it was nothing more than a Popsicle stick.

"No thanks to you," Bobby answers gruffly, and Sam laughs, giddy and desperate. His chest feels like it's going to snap with how much he wants to keep this.

"You should eat something," Dean says, pulling him back from Bobby then crowding in close as though any inch of space between them is an inch too much. "You've gotta be hungry."

"No." Sam hasn't thought of food for decades. He's not sure of the rules of this newly returned body, and though he's pretty positive he could eat right now there's someone else he needs to see first.

Dean says his name, fast and worried, when Sam lurches towards the front door, but he lets him get all the way to the porch before putting a hand on his arm. Sam casts him a slightly desperate look, unable to put this need into reasonable words, doubting the English language even has the right ones. Dean responds with a smile, because he understands, of course he understands.

"Look left," he says.

Sam whips his head around, and there she is, clean and whole, chrome fixtures and black body burnished orange by the setting sun. Sam might even describe her glow as heavenly only he doesn't consider that much of a compliment anymore and the Impala's always had a grace that's all her own.

He plunges down the steps and across the yard, still-uncoordinated feet sending up showers of gravel like tiny hailstorms. Dean trails behind him, ready to help at a second's notice, but letting Sam have this moment. He gets his hands on the Impala's hood first, imagines the heat pouring off it is from the engine, still warm after a cross-continental drive where the sun sticks to Dean's skin and Sam catches the wind in his teeth. He wants to spread himself across the smooth black metal, cover it and sink into it until he is as much a part of the car as it is a part of him.

He does the next best thing and opens the passenger side door and slides inside. He feels like he did the first time he rode in the car after being at Stanford, half-hoping and half-terrified the worn leather would have lost the shape of his body.

The seat curves around him perfectly, like always, like it was made to fit him. Or maybe he was made to fit it. He spent so much of his life in this car he wouldn't be surprised if his body grew to match its curves and angles, like a vine that winds itself around the trunk of a tree.

The driver's side door opens. Dean gets in, and this is the point where Sam loses it. He checked the odometer; he knows she's barely been driven since he leapt into Hell with the Devil inside him. Dean is saying, "I couldn't, Sammy, I just couldn't" and Sam is crying so hard his lungs hurt.

Dean gets his hand on the back of his neck and Sam crashes forward, face colliding with the leather seat and the side of Dean's thigh. He stays that way, tears soaking into faded denim while he sucks in the taste of leather with every broken gasp. Dean keeps his hand on Sam's head, rubbing his neck, running fingers through his hair.

It's awkward and messy and Sam finally feels like he's home.

He falls asleep for the first time since he said yes to Lucifer, and he does it right there in the car. Dean doesn't try to wake him, or move him. In fact, Sam is pretty sure he sleeps too, one hand on Sam and one on the wheel as if he's already driving, moving them through the dark streets and lost plains of the world.

They leave the next morning.

Dean keeps asking if Sam wants to stay, if he's sure he's up to traveling, but Sam insists. There's nothing he wants more right now than to be on the road watching the places they've been fall away in the rearview mirror.

They say good-bye to a weary but understanding Bobby, and Dean gathers up his few possessions that he managed, as usual, to scatter all over the house.

"Guess I'll have to go shopping," Sam muses as he watches Dean retrieve a shirt from beneath the bed.

Dean grunts noncommittally, and mutters, "Might still have a few things of yours" to the dusty floorboards.

Later, when they're packing the weapons into the trunk, Sam spots his old bag in the footwell of the backseat. He opens it to find everything he kept in it before that day in the cemetery still inside, right down to his toiletry bag, shampoo dried and crusting beneath its cap, tiny hairs still clinging to the blades of his razor. He doesn't mention it to Dean, but the sight of it makes him sad.

By contrast, Dean starts grinning the moment he turns the key in the ignition. He throws Sam a look of such manic joy he might as well have been the one who was reborn, the one given a second— or in their case ninth or tenth— chance at life.

This is it, Sam thinks. This is what Dean needs to be happy. The car, the road, the limitless sky, and Sam, seated by his side.

The dark corners of Sam's mind surge, broken hands clawing their way out to scratch against the back of his eyeballs and remind him of how many times he's leftDean, turned his back and walked away, sucked demons down his throat and shut his eyes, let the Devil through his skin and jumped into Hell.

Sam pushes the hands away, forcing his stinging eyes to focus on Dean as he looks right this second, hands on wheel, early morning sun brushing the side of his face and dipping into the sliver of a grin that still clings to the corner of his mouth. Sam has the sudden urge to put his fingers there, to push against that little curve until hecan pretend he'sliving in a world where he hasn't seen someone's flesh melt off their bones.

"You always thought it was cool when it happened in Raiders," Sam tells Dean, speaking to drown out the sound of insects buzzing inside his skull. "But it's really not."

"What?" Dean's smile vanishes as he casts Sam a worried look. "Sammy, you feeling alright?"

Sam tries to nod and shake the insects from his head at the same time, and he must look like enough of a freak that Dean slaps a hand to his forehead, asking if he's feeling feverish. Sam rears back with a hiss.

"Jesus, Dean, your hands are freezing!"

Dean ignores him, groping his neck to find a pulse, but Sam shakes him off. So there's a bit of Hell apparently still lodged in his brain. He's not the one about to lose a finger due to poor circulation.

Sam's pretty sure he saw some gloves in the backseat, so he arches up and leans over the back, stretching out his arms and feeling around the floor. The car swerves slightly and an icy hand clamps to Sam's thigh, yanking him back down.

"Knock it off," Dean growls in what Sam used to refer to as his "Dad-voice"— the voice Dean uses when he expects to be obeyed. He gives Sam's thigh a final, sharp squeeze that makes him shiver slightly, no doubt due to the cold from Dean's hand bleeding through his jeans.

"Don't blame me if you can't uncurl your fingers from the wheel later and I have to cut them off with my bowie knife," Sam retaliates in what Dean used to call his "pouty princess" voice— the one he uses when he has no intention of defying Dean but wants to keep up the illusion that he might. His heart isn't really in the taunt however. Leaning into the backseat afforded him with another look of his almost fetishistically preserved duffle, positioned just the way he left it. If he had to guess, he would say it hadn't been moved since Sam last put it there himself.

He lets a few miles pass in silence, then asks quietly, "Did you even try?"

"What?" Dean looks concerned again, and Sam supposes he should start prefacing his thoughts with a little more explanation to seem a little less crazy.

"You said you'd go to Lisa's after—" Dean's hands tighten convulsively around the wheel. Sam hesitates, turns it into a cough. "… After. But she's not here, and I am, so…"

"You want me to apologize for getting you out of Hell?" Dean snaps, and Sam sighs because he should have known Dean would get defensive.

"No, I just wanted you to be happy, Dean. I didn't want you to be obsessed with trying to get me out, I wanted you to be free to live your life—"

"Christ, Sam!" Dean slams on the breaks so hard they're both forced to brace themselves with a hand against the dashboard. Dean rounds on him the second the tires stop screeching, his eyes holding the same wild look they did in the panic room. "When are you going to figure it out? You are my life, you moron. I went to Ben and Lisa, but only because I promised you. And I was there for a year, a whole fucking year."

"Okay." Sam puts his hands up like he's dealing with a wild animal but Dean slaps them aside, seizing a fistful of Sam's shirt and dragging him forward. Sam flinches, almost positive Dean is about to punch him.

"You want to know how that perfect little suburban life went without you there, Sammy?" Dean snarls. "On the nights I wasn't balls-deep in the occult and terrifying the shit out of the neighbors, I was drinking myself half to death and trying to make deals with demons so at least I could make it into the cage with you if I ate my own gun."

"Stop, Dean, please," Sam asks, voice shaking. This has always been the most terrifying thing about his brother, the fierceness of his love. Dean's been trained to kill things since his age was a single digit, but he's never more dangerous than when he's fighting for his family.

"I got you out of Hell, Sammy," Dean continues, voice dropping to deadly soft. "Because it was the only thing I could do."

"How? Sam whispers. "How did you do it?" He and Dean are nose-to-nose now, and Sam tries to read the truth in his brother's eyes. He wants to know what price Dean paid. Because there is always a price to be paid. But Dean's eyes go cold and he releases his hold on Sam's shirt, withdrawing back to his side of the car.

"You said you weren't going to ask me that."

"I know, but Dean—"

"No, Sammy." Dean twists the keys and the Impala roars back to life. It makes Sam jump— he's forgotten they were having this conversation while stopped in the middle of a thankfully deserted highway. The world has a tendency to stop when Dean looks at him like that. "You're not in Hell, you're alive, I'm alive. That's enough, you hear me? We're going to be happy with this."

"Sure, yeah." Sam goes quiet for a few minutes, but he can't stop thinking of Dean dreaming of picnics and baseball tournaments, of the way he used to take care of Sam, of his Dad-voice. "But if you wanted, now that I'm alive, if you wanted to go back—"

"Swear to God, Sam." Dean shakes his head, but this time he's almost smiling. "You're like a dog with a fucking bone. Just let it go, okay? I'm right where I want to be."

"Okay." Sam feels suddenly very young, like when he used to annoy Dean until he provoked an outburst that inevitably left Sam stifling hurt tears and Dean apologizing with a wrecked look on his face. Sam used to hug Dean then, to say he was sorry for being such a pest and he forgave Dean for yelling at him. He kind of feels like doing that now, but he's pretty sure Dean would crash the car out of shock if Sam suddenly flung his arms around him. Still, he feels like he's missing something, so he says,

"I'm right where I want to be, too."

"Damn right you are, bitch," Dean counters easily, but his grin returns, and it's brighter than the sun rising in their limitless sky.

By mutual, unspoken agreement, they drive as far as the daylight takes them, then they pull into the parking lot of cheap roadside motel. Dean kills the engine, but neither of them make a move to get out.

"This okay?" Dean asks after several minutes. Sam nods, staring at the neon pink Vacancy sign.

"It's weird but, from what I can remember… I think I missed this, you know?"

"Yeah." Dean is watching the sign too. The garish light flickers over them both, lighting the inside of the Impala like a cheap strip club but somehow managing to look soft and almost romantic where it touches the curves of Dean's face. His voice carries the weight of the year Sam doesn't think he'll be able to ask about again. "I know."

Dean goes to the office to get them a room, and Sam zones out in the passenger seat, taking deep breaths and trying to ignore the tiny hairy things scrabbling at the edges of his consciousness. He's just tired, that's all. The voices in the back of his head chanting in a language that burns cold like liquid nitrogen will stop once he gets some sleep. Sam's sure of it.

Dean raps on his window, startling him from his stupor. He's clumsy and useless climbing from the car, suddenly barely able to lift his bag. The entire way across the parking lot Sam feels like a weight is pushing on his shoulders, making him trip over the curb and practically fall face first into the door of their room.

"I'm just tired," he says in response to Dean's look, and though it's obvious he's lying and it's obvious Dean doesn't believe him, they both pretend otherwise.

The motel room is one of the nicer ones they've ever stayed in, with a kitchenette, a table and four chairs, two queen beds, carpet free of stains, and a television that looks like it might even have cable. To most anyone else, it would have been adequate, but to the two of them it's well past decent and even edging close to 're both checking it out and trying not to smile like idiots, but when they catch each other's gaze they can't help it.

"There aren't even fish or trees or dolls painted on the wall," Dean says as dumps his stuff on the closest bed then flops down beside it. "In fact, I think the fleur-de-lis add a bit of class."

"Fleur-de-lis?" Sam takes another look at the pattern on the wallpaper, surprised as always by the extent and unpredictability of Dean's trivia-like knowledge base. "Really, Dean?"

"What? That's what they're called." Dean grabs the remote from the nightstand and flicks on the television, crowing in delight when he discovers it goes past four channels. He surfs enthusiastically for a while before settling on a Jack Nicholson movie, then looks at up Sam who realizes he's still standing like an idiot by the door, just watching his brother.

"Oh, sorry. Did you want to go to sleep?"

"No, it's okay." Sam shakes himself and moves across the room to the other bed, thankful that Dean doesn't seem like he's going to tease him about his newly developed stalker tendencies. He kicks off his boots then lays down fully clothed. He wants to watch the movie with Dean, but he can't seem to focus. He keeps telling himself this is good, this is right, this is why he jumped into the Pit and stopped the Apocalypse, so he could watch cable movies in a motel room with his brother.

But something feels off, and Sam can't settle. The voices in his head are bubbling like acid, some of it leaking into his eyes and making his vision go hazy. He stops trying to watch the screen and watches Dean instead, stalkerness be damned. He focuses on Dean's relaxed posture— ankles crossed, hands folded, back to the headboard— and the small smile playing around his mouth. Dean looks content, happy, and Sam wants nothing more than to close his eyes and let that be the last thing he sees before he sleeps. But it's in between blinks that the acid in his mind shows him Dean looking mangled, looking dead.

Sam can't fall asleep when he can see Dean with a hole blasted through his chest and his mouth leaking blood. He can't even lie here, can hardly stay in his own skin. He sits up and swings his legs to the floor, scooting forward until his knees are almost touching Dean's bed.

"Dean," he says, and some of his urgency must be in his voice because Dean immediately sits up straight and shuts off the television.

"Sammy, what is it? What's wrong?"

"I don't… I can't…" Sam has no idea how to put into words the churning sensation in his stomach that makes him want to grab a hold of something before he flies apart. "I need…"

"What, Sammy?"

That something becomes Dean when he slides to the edge of his bed, legs slotting between Sam's as Dean mirrors his position. Sam seizes his arms, digs his fingers in to feels Dean's skin, his warmth, his blood rushing strong and sure through his veins.

"Tell me you're okay," Sam rasps. "Tell me I'm okay. Tell me—"

A blinding, stabbing pain rockets through Sam's head from temple to temple and he falls forward like a stone, forehead crashing into Dean's shoulder. Dean shouts his name and tries to get his hands on Sam, and that's when someone bangs on their window.

"What the hell?" Dean jerks back, one hand going automatically to the firearm stashed beneath his pillow. Sam pulls himself up as well, the pain in his head suppressed by his confusion. Silhouetted against the dim light filtering in from the parking lot is a man, one arm bent at the elbow and resting on their window. As they stare at him, he raises his arm and lets it fall back down, hard enough to rattle the glass.

"Jesus." Dean gets to his feet, bracing one hand on Sam's shoulder until he's sure Sam can sit on his own, then moving away towards the window. "Listen, pal, I think you've got the wrong room, so why don't you just—"

This time the man's arm shatters the window and his entire upper body, propelled by the momentum, flops over into their room. Dean swears again as he dodges the spray of glass, then again as he stares down at the weakly struggling man lying half inside their room.

"Is he drunk?" Sam asks.

"Fuck if I know." Dean leans forward and prods the guy's arm with his pistol. "Hey. Hey, get up, come on man."

The guy groans and finally gets his hands under himself enough to start climbing to his feet. Sam chokes on a shout as the broken glass still clinging to the windowsill goes into the guy's palms. He must be blitzed out of his mind on something Sam decides, because he apparently doesn't even feel the pain as one particularly sharp piece of glass goes all the way through his hand and comes out the other side.

Then the guy lifts his head and Sam shouts for real. He's seen enough week-old corpses in his lifetime to know this guy looks exactly like one. His skin is grey-green and sagging on his bones, little cuts from the glass flapping open and bloodless. One of his eyes is missing, leaving behind a dark socket gaping like a second mouth; the other is milked over and sightless.

"Is that… is that what I think it is?" Dean asks as the corpse climbs unsteadily over the windowsill, heedless of the strips of skin it's leaving behind caught in the shards of glass.

"Shoot it!" Sam yells as the thing cocks its head and takes a jerky step forward. "Fucking shoot it!"

He dives for his own bag while Dean fires off three neat shots, two to its chest and one directly in the middle of its forehead. The thing hardly slows down, raising glass-studded hands towards Dean.

"Bullets are useless!" Dean chucks his gun on the bed, hastily retreating across the room. "Please tell me you got some rock salt ready Sammy!"

"Coming right up." Sam cocks the shotgun and blasts a round straight into the thing's ribcage. It reels backwards, hands flailing wildly for a moment, before righting itself and stumbling another few feet in their direction.

"Silver?" Dean bellows, ducking away from its grasping hands and aiming a kick to its knee. The sound of a kneecap shattering is the same for a living person as it is for a dead person, but with a living person the sound is usually accompanied by a chorus of screams. The thing still heading inexorably towards Dean merely lets out a groan that sounds more frustrated than anything.

Sam finally gets his hand on a silver knife and hurls it with all the accuracy his Dad ever taught him, lodging it deep in the thing's back right where its heart should be.

"Okay, so silver does jack shit too!" Dean shouts, adding, "Fuck!" when the punch he lands on the thing's jaw only succeeds in knocking the bone sideways and leaving it dangling there like a broken marionette. "Any other ideas?"

Sam considers suggesting they lead the thing out into the parking lot and try out every weapon in their arsenal, and if that fails run the thing over until all its bones are broken and it can't do anything but lie in a big fleshy puddle on the pavement— but then Dean is yelling as the thing wraps a glass-spiked hand around his forearm, and all of Sam's capacity for rational thought flies right out their broken window.

He lunges forward and seizes the thing by his shoulders. Huge chunks of rotting skin and muscle come off beneath his hands but Sam ignores them, digging in until his fingers hit bone. He hauls the thing off Dean and throws it into the wall. It hits with a thick, wet sound but remarkably manages to stay on its feet. Moving with surprising agility, it gets its hands around Sam's throat. Sam chokes, both from the glass pricking his skin and the suddenly immense pressure on his windpipe. He grasps at the thing's forearms, but his hands slip in the disintegrating skin and this time he can't manage a firm grip. His vision starts to black, his headache ratcheting back up, and something hot pulses behind his eyes. Sam's not sure if he's about to black out or explode like a nuclear reactor.

Apparently it's the former because his knees choose that moment to give out, and he's left starting up into a rotting, sightless face as it descends towards him, mouth and empty eye socket open and black like they're ready to swallow him whole.

There's a whistling sound, and the face disappears. The hands follow, falling away from his neck as the body topples backward, hits the dresser, and lies still, its head lying several feet away.

Sam sucks in a desperate breath and looks up to find Dean standing above him like some sort of heroic statue, machete clutched between his outstretched hands.

"Decapitation," he says with a strangely aborted shrug. "Always works in Romero movies." Then he's laughing breathlessly and dropping to his knees among the bits of skin and innards scattered on the floor, hands going immediately to check the wounds on Sam's neck.

Sam doesn't know whether to laugh with him or burst into tears over the fact that it's his second night being back from Hell and already they've both almost been killed by some creature they've never seen before. So he drops his head onto Dean's shoulder where his headache is a little less intense and lets Dean trace gentle patterns around his throat.

"Holy shit, Sammy," Dean mutters in his ear, voice still sparking with laughter and adrenaline. "Did we just kill a zombie?"