Once More With Feeling
K Hanna Korossy
It was like déjà vu all over again, and it was even less fun the second time.
Pretty much everyone and everything was gunning for them these days: Crowley and his merry army of demons, Raphael and his feathered crew, the Mother of every monster and freak out there along with all her babies, and, oh yeah, all the people Sam ticked off, and brushed off, and killed off when he was walking around without a soul. It was enough to make a guy feel a little paranoid. On the other hand, it did simplify things: Sam and Bobby—good; everything else—bad.
Since they weren't being choosy anymore, and Mother was still playing hard to gank, hunting a nest of vampires seemed almost like a vacation. No shades of grey there, no moral dilemmas: vamps were draining a small Oklahoma town dry and had to be stopped. Not to mention that Dean was more than ready to go kill something.
Turned out, the vamps felt the same way. And not just because they were hungry.
"So, Dean, have you been homesick? Does it feel good to be back among your kind? Well, former kind." The vampire looked about twenty, which meant absolutely nothing. Its confidence, its control and obvious experience, suggested it was far, far older than it appeared, the leader of the nest. And probably the one who'd laid this trap.
Dean focused on him, although his eyes kept darting around to take in the three—no, four—bloodsuckers in a loose circle around him. He still had his machete, but there was no way he could get all of them before they got him first. He shoved down the rising panic of memories and dug into his pocket with his free hand. With a grim smile, he pulled out his lighter and flicked it on, one tiny flame against the surrounding wall of threat. "Naw, I prefer my meat a little more well-done. Not that it wasn't fun, cutting off the heads of all your trusting little buddies…"
The vamp narrowed his eyes with a hiss. Great, at least Dean had gotten some kind of a blow in, even if it wasn't the bloody—or actually helpful—kind. Still made him feel better. And distracted the circle of vampires a little bit longer from the fight Sam was noisily waging on the other side of the room. Dean couldn't see him, but as long as the grunts and scuffles and occasional whacks were audible, he knew his brother was still alive and fighting.
Dean wasn't sure how long he could say the same. And then the lead vamp relaxed and friggin' smiled, and Dean knew his time was up.
"I think you protest too much, Dean. It's obvious you missed us. So what can we do but…welcome you back into the fold?" He nodded his head once.
Dean lunged for him, only to find the two fangs on either side closing ranks to shield their leader. One instantly lost his head to Dean's blade, while the other was momentarily distracted beating the flames out of his clothes.
Dean didn't wait to see how he fared. He was already swinging his blade to the left, catching another vamp in the chest—not a lethal blow but enough to buy a little time—and kicking back to get the vamp who was coming up behind him.
It wasn't enough. He and Sam had reconned, thought they were facing a nest of half-a-dozen, fooled into missing the other half of the pack that had hidden themselves in the basement. They were in over their heads, over their necks—
Twin stabs of fire-and-ice slid into his jugular. Dean's body seized up, even as he feebly swung the machete in that direction. The two vamps he'd injured had recovered enough to crowd him, however, disarm him, while the third from behind him had moved in for the kill. Hot, it was hot, and there was roaring in his ears. The room was spinning, sweat breaking out on his forehead, spilling into his eyes. Not again, not… Sam…
The lead vamp stepped forward, his grin filling Dean's tunneled vision. Pointed red teeth, blood dripping off them, not Dean's. A torn, bloody palm rising toward Dean's face. His body was heavy, so…hot and he couldn't…not-not again…
There was a bellow in the background, rage and defiance. A body flying through the air like a struck bowling pin, and then another. Dean's vision swam away from the vamp. Sammy, it was Sammy, and he was…no, not smiling this time. Furious. Horrified. Rushing closer, heedless, eyes only on Dean.
No. He was pretty sure his mouth formed the word. Sam couldn't get killed, not for this.
Then the foul taste of iron and rot hit his tongue and shot heat and nausea and wrong through his body, and he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer.
They released him, letting him fall, mission accomplished.
His hands were tingling. The change was starting.
He managed to blink his eyes open, saw a chaos of motion, blades and blood and bodies.
His stomach contracted, fighting the poison.
Something silky and wet brushed against his fingers. Dean pried his eyes open again to see the lifeless face—and bodiless head—of the head vamp.
His calves cramped, knees tucking in as the change forced its way through him.
He was… Dean retched weakly, body and mind uselessly trying to reject the inevitable. He couldn't…
Something wiped at his mouth. Fingers, then soft cotton. It moved to his neck, pressing against the burning, sluggish leak there, and he twisted away, groaning.
"Dean, hey, just…take it easy. It's gonna be okay, all right? We'll fix this."
Sam always babbled when he was afraid. Dean should've picked up on the lack of that the first time, the calm, the few words.
"God, Dean… You with me, man? Dean?" A cold hand patted his cheek, slid under his head to tilt him up from the floor, prop him up against arm and shoulder.
Sam had picked him up and frog-marched him out of the alley the last time, dumped him in the car. Strong and in charge and…and smiling, delighted with the opportunity to infiltrate the enemy.
Dean pried his eyelids open, blinked at his brother just inches away.
Sam tried to smile. The tremble of his mouth, the devastation in his eyes, however, somehow undermined the effect.
His head felt like it was going to explode. His guts twisted again, adapting to a new diet. There was a frantic beat in his ear, and Dean realized belatedly he was hearing Sam's panicked heart.
His own fear retreated just a little. He tried to reach up to pat Sam's arm, settled more for of a tug of his sleeve. "My journal…cure… S'mmy…"
He let himself shut down completely as he felt Sam gather him up, more than happy to skip the next part.
Again. It had happened on his watch again.
Sam lugged his burden to the car, cursing himself as he went, as well as Lucifer, Samuel, Zachariah, and everyone else he could think of. He gentled his movements as he got Dean settled in the front seat, lolling head propped against the seat back. Sam had paused a minute to find the fading pulse as he dug out Dean's flask. Then he grit his teeth, shut the door, and raced back to the nest.
Sam had been hesitant about hunting vampires from the start. He couldn't remember the last time, and was under strict orders not to even try, but Cas has been pretty blunt with the details of what Sam's soulless self had done. He'd let Dean be attacked and turned, claimed not to have known there was a cure to reassure him with, didn't stop him from threatening Lisa and Ben, and used him to penetrate the vampires' camp. The backup, the cure, the waiting it out in the motel while Dean was miserably sick after, all of that was too little, too late. Even if Sam couldn't remember, Cas's words had played through his head through recon and strategizing this hunt. And he could just imagine what kind of memories it was bringing back for Dean.
Then they'd hit the nest, expecting a half-dozen vamps and finding twice as much, and the next thing Sam knew, Dean was hanging slack and heavy-eyed between two of the monsters, while a third feasted on his neck and another lifted a bloody hand to his mouth. They were trying to turn him, again.
The adrenaline of battle was nothing like the surge of pure rage that shot through him at the sight. Sam lunged with a yell, no longer caring about anything except the creature that was threatening Dean.
But he was too late. He saw Dean's gaze lock on his, just for a second. Then the vampire was smearing blood into his mouth, and Dean's eyes closed in defeat.
His brother was twitching by the time Sam had slashed and stabbed his way to him, shrinking back mindlessly as Sam grabbed him. He retched, fruitlessly trying to reject the vampire blood, and he was pale and clammy. Sam wasn't sure any of his rambling reassurances were getting through, or how aware Dean was as Sam lifted him up, trying to be gentle and oh so scared.
Dean had opened his eyes with what looked like enormous effort, staring into Sam's face. Sam tried to smile at him, even as his vision went blurry. And the jerk, he smiled back, for real.
"My journal…cure… Sammy…"
Sammy. Dean had just started calling him that again, like he had to be sure it fit.
This wasn't like last time. Sam couldn't change what was done—Bristol had showed him that in spades—but he could change what he did with it. He wouldn't let it be like before.
"Got it." He shifted Dean up higher, slid an arm under his knees. Sam couldn't bring himself to swing him up into a fireman's carry; the car wasn't that far, and Dean's neck was still bleeding sluggishly. "Hang on, man."
He got Dean to the car. Went back for the blood of the vampire that had turned him, which he remembered reading was needed for the cure. Set fire to the ramshackle building containing the vampire carcasses. Ran back to the car and tore out of there, Dean sliding limply across the seat with every turn. Sam finally hooked an arm around him and reeled him in against his side as they sped back to the motel. With any luck, maybe Dean would remain out through the ordeal of the cure.
They were never that lucky.
His brother started groaning halfway through Sam mixing up the noxious brew. Sam glanced up to see Dean cradling his head, one hand reaching toward the lit lamp beside the bed.
Right, sounds and light: he'd forgotten about that. Sam slammed a palm on the main light switch, then hurried to get the lamp Dean was straining for. Belatedly, he turned off the chugging heater, too. The only sounds left in the room were distant outdoor noises and Dean's muffled pants and groans.
"You with me, dude?" Sam asked quietly, perching on the edge of the bed.
Dean cursed. Kept cursing, curled in on himself.
Sam took that as a yes. He gingerly rested a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I'm just mixing up the cure now—hang in there."
Dean's voice was hoarse and pained and dry. It sounded like he was thirsty, and Sam swallowed his fear yet again. "I know. It'll be over soon."
Dean might've scoffed at that; it was hard to tell.
Sam didn't wait around to figure it out. He got up and, opening the curtain just enough so he could see what he was doing, swiftly returned to his concoction.
It wasn't that complicated, in the end. Dean had apparently made sure they kept a good supply of the rest of the ingredients, and the journal entry had been meticulously clear. Sam refused to let himself scratch at the buried memories and focused on the present. This would fix everything. It had to.
He returned to Dean's bed, and his brother's fetal curl, with the mug of maroon liquid. "Here, c'mon, drink this."
Dean finally turned his head and opened his eyes. Sam tried not to start at the blood-red irises but couldn't help the convulsive swallow. He kept his expression calm, though, as he helped Dean sit up with one arm and offered the cup with the other.
Dean reached for the mug, hesitated. "I can hear her," he whispered.
Sam frowned. "What? Who?"
"Eve. She's, like…communing with all her kids. Calling 'em."
He got it then. This could be their break, the way to find her. Dean was a natural homing beacon now. He just had to stay vamped a little longer.
But Sam wasn't that guy anymore. Not the one who'd taken a demon's word over his brother's, not the one who'd soullessly and pragmatically bartered his brother's life. Maybe he hadn't been able to save Dean from this nightmare again, but he'd be damned if he'd let him suffer any more of it than he had to. Sam shook his head, wry smile tacked in place, and nudged the mug against his brother's lips. "I know it tastes like ass, dude, but you're not getting out of it that easy. Drink up."
Dean looked at him for a long moment, those red eyes coloring the emotion in them into something Sam couldn't read. Then Dean's hand wrapped around his and tilted the mug up.
Trusting him once more.
It was just like he remembered, and totally different.
Dean drained the cup, then sagged back against the headboard, feeling Sam's eyes on him, bracing himself.
If there was more to Sam's question, Dean didn't hear it. Thick liquid suddenly geysered up his throat from his stomach, and he lurched to the side of the bed, heaving.
"Whoa!" Sam caught him in time to keep him from falling off, clamping down on his shoulders as Dean's body began its attempt to turn itself inside-out. Liquid—reddish-black and smelling even worse than Dean remembered—poured out of his mouth onto the floor.
Dean hauled in a ragged gasp, then started gagging again.
Sam was talking in the background, voice trying to be soothing but sounding like barely controlled panic. Dean wanted to tell him it was okay, that this was how it went the last time, but then the second wave came, a white hot pain exploding through his body, obliterating every coherent thought with blind terror.
Sharp shards erupted from his gums, filling his mouth with blood. Dean threw his head back, maybe heard Sam gasp. His shoulders were released, and Dean tried to roll himself into a ball again, making sounds he couldn't help as every cell in his body whiplashed between monster and human, undead and alive.
Wasn't this bad last time, couldn't be, not worth it, hurt, dying, hurthurthurt oh GOD.
Arms wrapped tight around him, keeping him from shaking apart.
He flung out a hand, desperate to avoid getting sucked into the maelstrom of agony. Finding something solid, he gripped hard and held on.
Eventually, eventually, the all-encompassing pain began to ease, each wave a little less, the agonizing knots slowly loosening. He took a breath that felt like the first in a really long time.
Something brushed his face, something that didn't hurt. "Dean? Can you hear me?"
Sam sounded far away and kind of echo-y. Weird, since Dean could feel his brother pressed up against him. Dean swallowed, his throat scraped raw, and tried to pry his hands free of whatever they were clamped on in order to give Sam a pat.
Oh. That would be Sam's arm he was strangling.
Dean squeezed a little in wordless response and focused again on breathing.
When his body seemed finally under his control again, he made himself let go, hand sliding slackly down to Sam's wrist. It felt wrong, like pulling up anchor.
Sam wasn't going anywhere, though. He did loosen those octopus arms a little, pulling back to peer at Dean, but he didn't let go completely. Dean was pretty sure he'd fall over if Sam did. "Hey. You back?"
Dean avoided his gaze, thumping his head tiredly back against the headboard. He ran a tongue over his gums, feeling ragged and bloody tissue but no pointy canines. Noises were back to their normal level, too, and the light didn't feel like an icepick in his brain. His stomach was still curdled and his muscles quivered like jelly, but that was normal. Human.
"I'll get you some water," Sam said quietly, and shoved a pillow against Dean's side before he rose. Dean listened with eyes closed as Sam moved around the room and bathroom. Maybe even dozed a little, because he was startled by the feel of something cold and wet pressing against his lips.
Dean hazily stared at Sam's shirt pocket as his brother fed him the water, then wiped his face and hands. Next thing he knew, Sam was taking off the handkerchief he'd tied loosely around Dean's neck and the bite mark there. He watched through heavy-lidded eyes as Sam's nose wrinkled, just like when he'd been a kid. Then his eyes darted over to Dean's for a second, and there was such…sorrow in them that Dean's throat ached a whole different way.
One thing soulless Sam had never been able to fake was the eyes.
"I'm gonna finish cleaning the bite, then you can get some sleep." Sam poured some liquid over the wound, and it stung but didn't fizz like holy water would on a tainted injury. "Sorry, dude, you reek, but I'm pretty sure you'd faceplant if you tried to take a shower now. I promise not to make fun of you tomorrow, all right?"
"…lef' me on'a floor," Dean mumbled, too tired to think about whether he should say what he was thinking.
Sam stopped moving. "What?"
"He din' care. Jus' wanted…" Dean shook his head. He should've known even without the flashbacks; that Sam had said some of the right things, but there'd been no action, no feeling backing it up. None of the empathy that made Dean feel like he wasn't doing this alone, not the hanging on and being hung on to that gave him something else to focus on, none of the emo looks this Sam was throwing him. He'd been like a completely different person. Maybe he really had been one. Dean sighed and pushed weakly at Sam's hands. "'M okay."
Sam was giving him another of those looks, his voice soft as he countered, "You've got two holes in your neck, bro—I'm sewing you up. Deal with it."
Dean grumbled a little, not really arguing. Sleepily, he watched the blur of his brother's hands a minute. "Coulda found Eve."
"We'll find her," Sam promised, patting the wound dry. Those huge paws of his helped Dean inch down flat on the bed and pulled a blanket up over him before nimbly threading a needle. "We'll figure out another way."
Dean huffed, his head rolling against the pillow even as his gaze stayed steady on Sam. "'Like you better as'a girl."
Sam just rolled his eyes and continued stitching up his brother's wounds. "You're a jackass," he answered mildly.
By which, of course, Dean knew he meant I missed you, too.