Disclaimer: Not mine.

Author's Note: This is an early birthday present for my awesome beta Cheryl (who beta-ed her own present, which shows how awesome she is *g*).

Summary: Dean's acting off. Sam knows it can't really be his brother… can it? Set any season, no real spoilers.


Smoke and Mirrors

The storm that's been threatening all day has finally hit, and if the situation weren't so dire I'd take the time to be relieved. The air's been unbearably hot and heavy all day.

"Dean," I say slowly, carefully, "this isn't you, man. Don't do this."

A sudden flash of lightning lets me see Dean's face. It's so cold even I'm scared. I can't imagine how the girl must be feeling.

"We need to bait the trap," Dean points out, not even turning to look at me as he ties the last knot. "You got a better idea than this? That shifter's been getting busy. We don't have time to worry about the Geneva Convention."

"Dean. She's a kid."

"She's eight," Dean says dismissively. "Some of us were learning how to defend ourselves and our families at that age." He glances over his shoulder at me. "Not everyone gets to be a kid, Sam."

I don't know why Dean's in such a horrible mood, but this isn't the time to worry about that.

"She's got nothing to do with hunting, Dean," I tell him, hoping he'll listen to reason. I have no idea what the hell I'm going to do if he won't. "We can handle this, man. We just have to track it down. It couldn't have gone far. We don't need her."

"Don't we?" Dean snapped, spinning to face me. "She's the best lead we've got, Sam. Her father killed the shifter's buddy and it's out for revenge. It'll come for her."

"Dean –"

"You've been hunched over your laptop for the last week and turned up zero leads. And then you got yourself jumped outside our motel room and I had to waste even more time coming after you."

A suspicion begins to form in my mind.

"Dean –"

"No," Dean growls. "We did this your way, Sam, and it got us freaking nowhere. You know why? Because you don't kill monsters by being a hippie! So now we're going to do this my way. Sometimes you have to take a few risks."

The suspicion grows, but I'm still not sure. And I can't do anything until I'm sure.

There's no way to be sure, though, except –

I let out a breath. One way or another, this is the right thing to do. If I'm right, then I'll know it, and if I'm wrong, it still needs to be done.

"No," I tell Dean, pushing past him. "This is one risk we're not taking. She's a child, Dean."

I start cutting through the ropes holding June Levitt in place.

"Sam," Dean snarls. "Don't. We need to catch the shifter."

"Not like this we don't."

"Sam, I'm going to do this. You can work with me or you can bitch, but it's happening."

The suspicion's turned into almost-certainty, but I need more than almost to act on it.

I slice through the last rope, pulling June to her feet but keeping her firmly behind me. She's shaking, terrified, and I can't blame her, but it means she might panic and do something stupid.

"You're not doing this," I say. "And if you want to, you'll have to go through me."

"Fine." This is where Dean should be sounding angry, but he doesn't, at all. Just… determined.

I sense what he's going to do a moment before he does it, and when he tries to shove me away, I'm ready. I stand my ground, and we end up scuffling. It's only half-serious. I'm not using my full strength, not against Dean, and neither is he.

I'm just starting to relax, thinking I was wrong –

And then there's a sharp pain in my arm. I let go of Dean in shock. Before I can do more than step away, he's pulled the knife out of my arm and he's got me pushed back against the tree with the blade at my neck.

"You insisted on doing this the hard way," he whispers nastily.

He presses, and I feel the bite of steel. Cold green eyes look into mine. There's no emotion in them, only calm satisfaction.

Right. Issue resolved. This isn't Dean.

This is the shifter we've been hunting.

I don't know where Dean is. I hope he's alive. But this isn't the time to worry about that. I need to get myself out of this alive and then I can look for Dean.

"Goodbye, little brother," the shifter croons.

"I don't think so."

I move, forcing my injured hand into action, grabbing my gun, shoving it in the monster's ribs, and shoot. It's loaded with silver bullets. I do it quickly, not giving myself time to think. I can't afford that. Monster or not, it's wearing Dean's face. If I look at it too long, I'll never be able to pull the trigger.

The gunshot is louder than the thunder.

The body falls. For a moment I just stare at it. I can't look away. It's not Dean, but those are Dean's eyes, staring unseeing at the sky, Dean's lips curled up, frozen in one final smirk.

Oh God.

Fighting the urge to be sick, I turn to June. "Everyone's looking for you. Come on, I'll get you out of here."

I'll get her out, and then I'll find Dean.

But June, June who a moment ago was trembling in fear, is giving me a contemptuous smile as she gets to her feet.

"So stupid, Sam."

She stretches, pulls off her skin, and –

"No," I whisper.

June is suddenly about twice as tall as she was and not a girl anymore. Her hair is short and spiky and green eyes, glimmering with malicious glee, are looking into mine.

"Looks like someone made a mistake," Dean's voice singsongs.

"NO!"

"This is why your kind shouldn't hunt shifters. You get emotional, you make mistakes…" The shifter casts a sidelong glance at Dean's body – Dean's body, God, I killed Dean – and adds, "You can never figure out who's human and who's… one of us."

"No."

No no no no no. This can't be happening. Please let it not be happening.

I stumble to Dean's body and shake him. "Dean." I shake him harder. "Dean!"

"It's over, Sammy," the shifter hisses. "You killed your brother. You know, he always knew you would. He always knew there was something in your soul. Fratricide runs in the blood, Sam."

"Shut up."

I get to my feet, fingers closing around my knife. I can't use the gun, not now. Maybe never again.

There's a red mist descending on my vision. Dean's dead, and yes it's my fault but it's also because of this – this – thing that we've been hunting.

There's no scuffle this time. I don't need to scuffle. It might have supernatural strength, but I'm standing over my brother's body.

When the shifter's down, silver knife to the heart, I turn back to Dean, and it hits me.

I'm standing over my brother's body.

It's still raining. I've barely been aware of it all this time, but suddenly I am. Every drop is like a needle on my skin. It's raining, plastering my hair to my forehead. Dean would laugh at me and say I look like a girl in a chick-flick.

Dean would smile at the sight of the dead shifter, that tiny quirk of his lips that means he's proud of me.

Dean's dead.

I drop to my knees next to him and close his eyes.

Dean's dead.

I can't stop saying it in my head.

Dean's dead. Dean's dead. DEAN'S DEAD.

I try to lift his body, but it's awkward in my arms. That's… unexpected. It's not like I make a habit of carrying Dean, but I've had to do it once or twice when he's been too badly hurt to walk.

It's never felt as unwieldy as it does now.

Maybe that's because Dean's dead, which means he isn't gripping the front of my shirt or resting his head on my shoulder or doing anything else that he'll warn me under pain of death never to mention again.

The next flash of lightning illuminates Dean's still face, and I can't do it. I can't do it. There's something wrong about it, about this, about the way it's a struggle to heave him into my arms.

Dean.

And suddenly I'm on my feet, running. I have to get away. I'll go back, I'll go back with the salt and gasoline and do what I have to, but first I need a few minutes to get myself together. A few minutes isn't going to be nearly enough to get used to a world without my brother in it, but it's all I have.

I run all-out, tripping and stumbling through the undergrowth. It's been more than a few minutes.

And then there's light, bright, artificial light, and gravel under my boots, and I realize I've actually run all the way back to our cabin in the little motel that marks the dividing line between the town and the forest.

Our cabin. Our cabin, where just a couple of hours ago Dean brought me salad and smiled indulgently over his burger while I ate.

Dean.

And that was just before it all went to hell. Because I finished the salad and said I was going to speak to the motel manager. Andy Levitt – June's father, and, God, June, I still haven't found her, I have no idea where she is or if she's even still alive. I'd completely forgotten about her. That probably makes me a horrible person, but I can't find room in my heart for any more guilt than the horrible crushing weight of Dean's death.

"Dean."

I sob the word, collapsing onto the cabin's front steps. It's dry here, under the overhang, but I'm already soaked through so it really doesn't make much difference. Everything that mattered is gone.

This was where the shifter jumped me, and when I woke up I was alone in the forest and nothing's been the same since. I went looking for Dean, and found him tying up June Levitt, and…

I can't hold back the tears anymore.

I curl in on myself, supporting myself on the railing. For once I don't care if anyone sees. There was only ever one person whose opinion I really cared about, and he's –

He's –

"Sammy?" Awesome. Now I'm hallucinating. "Sammy, thank God. I've been going out of my mind."

I shake my head, burying it in my arms to try and block out the hallucination. Stupid. The hallucination's in my head. I can't block it by covering my ears.

Something touches my back. I jerk automatically, but I really don't care what it is and whether it's here to kill me. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. Nothing's ever going to matter again now that –

"Sammy. Talk to me. What's wrong?"

That's Dean's voice, and it isn't fair. It isn't fair for my mind to play tricks on me like this when –

"Sammy."

I'm being forced to sit up. Not a hallucination, then. Maybe it's another shifter.

"Hey, hey, don't. Come on. Come here." There's something firm under my cheek, and a steady, familiar thumping. Huh. Who knew a shifter would be able to mimic Dean's heartbeat? "We need to get you warm and dry. You're going to catch pneumonia and they don't even have a hospital in this town."

"What are you?" I whisper.

I barely even hear myself over the thunder, but it, whatever it is, hears me. A hand brushes my hair.

"Sammy? Hey, it's me. What's wrong?"

"You – you're dead. I saw you die."

"I don't know what you saw, kiddo, but I'm fine. Look. Look at me." I peek up through my hair. Dean's concerned gaze meets mine. "It's me. It's really me, Sammy."

I shouldn't believe him – I should at least cut him with silver first – but something in me responds instinctively to my big brother and before I know what I'm doing I'm hugging him with all my strength. He laughs breathlessly.

"Dean."

"Yeah?"

"I thought – God – I thought – but – how?"

I should let go. I should let go and let Dean breathe and have this conversation like an adult.

I hug him tighter.

"Sam!" he gasps. "I'm happy to see you too, but do you have any idea how strong you are? Ease up." I loosen my grip fractionally. Dean sighs and pushes me off him. But then he pulls me back down, and I can smell the gun oil on his skin and he's strong and reassuring and there. I shut my eyes before more tears can slip out. "I've got you. Now how about you tell me what has you so freaked out?"

"I thought I'd killed you," I mumble.

"What?" Dean's suddenly stiff. "Why would you kill me?"

"It was – oh, God. There were two shifters." I look up. "I knew it wasn't you. It was trying to use June Levitt as bait – well, it wasn't June Levitt, but I thought it was – and then it stabbed me –"

"What?"

"In the arm," I say. At some level I know it's still bleeding and it hurts, but I barely notice it. Dean's alive. "You can look at it later."

"OK." Dean's relaxed again, rubbing my back. "OK, so the thing stabbed you and – anything else?"

"Threatened to cut my throat if I didn't let it use June as bait," I offer.

"Uh-huh." Dean sounds pissed now, but not at me. "Right, so it did all that, and you obviously knew it wasn't me." As though to emphasize his point, he gives me a light squeeze. "And you killed it?" I nod against his shoulder. "That's my boy. Right, so why the freak-out?"

"June – it wasn't June. That was a shifter too. And I thought – well –"

"All along we've been thinking there was only one," Dean says softly.

I nod, unable to hold back another sob at the memory of Dean's lifeless eyes. It's stupid – I don't know why I'm upset, Dean's right here

"I thought I'd killed you," I choke.

Dean hushes me. "You knew it wasn't me, Sammy. You may have gotten a bit confused when the kid turned out to be a shifter, but you knew it wasn't me. You didn't hurt me." His hand is in my hair. "Andy Levitt called after you disappeared. He found June – they roughed her up a bit, but no serious injury. She told him there were two shifters. God, Sammy, I've been so scared. I looked everywhere I could think of. Where were you?"

"In the forest."

"The forest? Shifters?"

"I know, it's weird. I think they must've been planning to move on. Probably wanted to make sure we didn't follow."

Dean laughs. It sounds brittle. "Andy's going to be pissed he didn't have a chance to kill them himself. He's been after them for weeks."

A gust of wind blows some rain in towards us. I shiver, pushing myself closer to Dean. He laughs again, for real this time, and the sound of it finally melts the cold lump in my chest.

"I'm glad you're OK," I mumble.

There's no response. I look up, expecting Dean to bitch me out about having unnecessary chick-flick moments, but he's watching me with soft eyes and a softer smile.

"There's no point going for the bodies now," he says. "We can do the salt-and-burn after the rain's stopped."

"OK."

"Come on. It's going to be raining for a while. Let's get you warmed up, you're shaking. Then I'll take a look at your arm."

"Yeah."

I start to sit up, but Dean holds me in place. Before I can ask what he wants, he murmurs, "I'm glad you're OK, too, Sammy."

His cheeks are scarlet, but he's smiling. I can't help smiling back.


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