VERY IMPORTANT A/N (possibly more relevant on LJ, but I'll say it here, too): I was planning not to write any Season 8 fic, at least not until we get more of the missing pieces regarding what on earth is going on with each brother's headspace, especially Sam's. This plotbunny by nwspapertaxis bit hard enough that the story needed to be written. It is not intended to bash either brother, and I ask that your reviews refrain from both character bashing and ad hominem attacks against other fans. I appreciate your reading, but if you have hateful things to say, say them elsewhere.

This story could be viewed as a gapfiller between 8.06 and 8.07 but doesn't have to be. It's likely to be Jossed but hasn't been yet.


Not This Time

No. Nonononono this can't be happening. Not now. Not again. Sam can't lose Dean to death again, he can't hecan'thecan'thecan't. Last time was once too often. Hell, once was once too often, but he might maybe could have lived with it if it hadn't been for stupid Gabriel and his stupid Mystery Spot, even though it didn't take. The first one that took devastated him. Last time all but destroyed him. He can't take it again.

Stop. Breathe. Dean's right here. It's just a fever. Sam knows what to do for fevers. He knows how to keep a fever from cooking Dean's brain. Breathe. Get him in the car. Get him to the cabin. Floor the damn accelerator and pray no cops come along.

Okay. They've made it to the cabin. Breathe. Haul Dean out of the Impala and get him inside. Ice bath. Cold, clear liquids. Advil. Pajamas. Bed. Cold compress. Chair for Sam—he's not leaving. He's not letting Dean go, not like this. He can let Dean do his own thing if he's not with the vampire, if Hell's gates are closed, if he's happy and safe and doesn't need Sam so Sam can try normal again and maybe, maybe make it work for real. He can't let him die.

He misses Riot. Dean would like Riot. Riot's a good dog.

Dean's eyes are half open, fever glazed, watching something Sam can't see as he starts rambling under his breath. "Find the angel... gotta fi... 's the deal, Benny, take..." He starts coughing. "None o' y'r damn... 's a long sto..." Another coughing fit, this one worse. When he catches his breath, he picks up in the middle of a growled string of curses ending with "... stupid angel, I... know y're okay, Cas... get you home... no' leavin... w'outchoo..." His eyes slip closed, and his voice dies away, but his lips keep moving a little even now.

Sam checks the compress; it's already hot. He swaps it for a cold one and washes Dean's face while he's at it. The water evaporates fast—too fast.

Dean is not gonna die. He's not. He can't. Sam won't let him.

Things stay this way for a few hours. Sam swaps out the compresses, gives Dean more Advil, takes his temperature, helps him to the bathroom, coaxes tea and chicken broth into him. Sometimes Dean rouses enough to recognize Sam; mostly he dozes fitfully and mumbles at his hallucinations. It's hard to piece much together from the snatches of one-sided conversation Sam can catch, though one particular groan makes him think Cas and Benny must be sniping at each other about something. He'd heard that groan a lot when he and Dad used to fight about stupid stuff.

The fever's up to 104°. And it won't budge.

He's not gonna die, dammit. It's just a virus. It may take a few days to burn through. Dean will be okay. He has to be.

"... Leviathans?" Dean suddenly says warily. "Run."

And the battle hallucinations start. Sam has to hold Dean down to keep him from thrashing his way off the bed and just misses getting a black eye for his trouble. When the first bout lets up, Sam races down to the basement for some kind of restraint that won't hurt Dean, but he barely gets them in place before Dean starts struggling again, this time with horrified screams. He doesn't want to watch, but he can't let Dean hurt himself, and what if Dean comes around enough to see that Sam's not there? Would he hold that over Sam's head, too?

Two more miserable days go by. Dean screams himself hoarse, and it sounds like Hell memories are merging with Purgatory. Sam breaks down and cries more than once. He goes so far as to open the window and let the damn snow in. And the fever still won't budge.

Finally, in desperation, Sam goes to Rufus' cabinet of rare herbs. He took inventory one time; he knows there's dream root in there somewhere. If Dean can't fight his way back, Sam's just gonna have to go in and get him.

"Saaam," Dean's calling weakly when he gets back up to the bedroom, but the way Dean's head is rolling back and forth on his pillow, he's still locked in his memories. "Saaaaaam..." He chokes out a sob. "Saaaaaaaaam..."

"Hang on, Dean," Sam replies brokenly as he pulls a couple of hairs from Dean's head and drops them in a clean glass of water with the dream root. "Hang on. I'm coming."

"Saaaaaaaaaaaam..."

Sam tosses back the potion and swallows it in one gulp.

Dean's dreamscape is almost indescribably horrible. The sulfurous fires of Hell keep shifting in and out, alternating with a washed-out forest that Sam assumes must be the way Dean perceived Purgatory. Every so often a tree spontaneously combusts. But it doesn't seem to matter to the liquid black creatures raining down around him, turning humanoid and lunging at him, Leviathan-mouthed. He's got Dean's obsidian axe in his hand, though, which makes short work of them and lets him keep running. There are demons in here, too, in their true form—a couple he even recognizes from having seen them through Lucifer's eyes—and werewolves and rugarus and vampires and all kinds of other monsters. And hellhounds.

They've got Dean, Cas, and Benny backed against a tree. None of the three are in very good shape. And the tree keeps threatening to turn into a lava flow, or a rack.

"SAAAAAAAM!"

"DEAN!"

Sam's bellow catches the attention of the rest of the horde, and pretty soon he's practically fighting Florentine to slash his way to his brother, axe in one hand and machete in the other. It feels like it takes forever, but he finally dispatches the last monster and looks up at Dean, whose legs give out as he stares at Sam in disbelief. Beside him, Cas is barely conscious and doesn't even stir.

Benny's chuckle turns into a cough. "Looks like your brother's as stupid as you are, buddy," he drawls weakly, but there's a level of fondness in the statement that surprises Sam.

"Sammy?" Dean says. "What... you shouldn't be here..."

Sam can't stop the tears from rolling down his face, washing off the grime. "You're sick, Dean. You've got a really bad fever. And... you weren't resting. Because of all this. I... I had to."

"Wait—you're really here? This is you? You're dreamwalking?"

"I had to, Dean! I lost my mind when you were gone. I can't lose you again."

The emotional wall Dean's been hiding behind comes down a little way as those huge green eyes just stare at him, raw and aching. And then suddenly Sam's got his arms full of big brother, and he hugs back for all he's worth.

When he comes to, the fever's broken, and Dean's sound asleep with a smile on his face. And Sam weeps in relief.