The Walking Wounded

Fandom: Supernatural

Category/Rated: Slash, R

Year/Length: 2007/ ~36,957 words

Pairing: Dean/Sam, others

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, only having fun.

Warning: Language, Wincest, possible mentions of Weecest, gore. Dean-whump.

Summary: Dean's back, but six months in hell can do some strange things to a person. And honestly, not even he's sure what's happened to him. Figuring it out promises to be an experience that he's not completely sure he wants to have. Especially since there's some people very, very angry that he managed to drag himself home.

Series: Hell 'Verse

Author's Notes: I broke them, now I'm putting them back together. Just as soon as I figure out where all the pieces go. Chapter title from Night after Night, by Bob Dylan.

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Part One: There's Never any Mercy, Night after Night

He wakes up to complete darkness, to the smell of smoke and blood in the back of his throat. Just another day in paradise. He can't remember the last time it wasn't dark. He can't remember what air not saturated with pain and death tastes like.

He moves, tries to twist to his feet and feels something cold climb up his spine when he finds himself restrained. There's something strapped across his hips, diagonally across his chest. He's suspended, upside down, held up by the bindings and fuck that shit. He doesn't know how they managed to find him, how they snuck up on him-even sleeping he should have felt them-but it doesn't matter.

They must have confused him for one of the wretched, helpless souls trapped down here. He grins, almost laughs. Bastards are in for a nasty surprise.

He grabs handfuls of the bindings, yanking on them and waiting for them to come apart in his hands the way things here have a tendency of doing for him. They remain frustratingly solid against his skin, but something to his left clicks and just like that he's dropping.

He lands on something cool, slick and smooth. For a half-second he thinks it's glass, which is stupid, because there is no glass here. Ice, probably. God knows there's fucking ice-

-doesn't do a lot to cushion his fall. His back, and the back of his head, slam into the hard, cold surface with enough force to knock him temporally senseless. The pain probably helps with that, too. Waking up isn't pleasant, his whole body hurts, and the ice is drawing his body heat right out. God, it hurts-

-everywhere. It's cracked, in any case, shattered before he fell on it, and one of the jagged edges bites deep into his hand. He curses under his breath, trying to scramble sideways, trying to figure out where he is before the ice finishes shattering and dumps him into what's probably equally freezing water.

Changing positions reveals a soft glow of light he hadn't noticed before. For a long minute he just stares at it, trying to remember what that color is called. Bringing up mental images of where he's seen it before and struggling for a name. Grass under his bare feet at Pastor Jim's house, a Rolling Rock bottle half empty between his fingers, Sam's hair that one St. Patrick's day when they'd had to much time on their hands.

Green.

Remembering is a small victory, and that's what his life is made of now, the small victories that dull the pain of all the big losses. He's half-grinning when he drags himself towards the light, trying to figure out what it is, and what it's doing down here where green doesn't exist.

It's a little rectangle of light, numbers flashing on it. 02:05 blinks up at him. A handful of words that he doesn't comprehend at first. Rewind. Play. Stop. Eject.

Realization hits him like a punch. Stereo. Impala. It knocks the air out of his lungs and sets his heart jack-hammering in his chest. He can hear himself saying, "Fuck. Fuck."His throat hurts and the words drag like sandpaper around in his mouth. "Sammy."Because he's got to be here somewhere, doesn't he? "Sammy, where are you?"

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Sam doesn't answer and thoughts are screaming around Dean's brain to fast for him to follow. He's in the Impala. The Impala is upside down. Something is burning. Someone is bleeding. It's not him. Except for his hand, and goddamnit, wasn't fucking windshield glass supposed to be that shit that shattered safely or whatever.

He steadies himself, tries to remember how cars are laid out.

He's half on the ceiling and half on the windshield, reaching up towards the cassette player. Which is in the middle of the dash. The dash runs horizontal to the seats and he had crawled over from that way which means that... He gropes forward in the blackness, fingers sliding over leather and glass and exposed metal. It's all cold, cold and flat and dead.

And then there's warm soft fabric under his skin, wet with blood. He scrambles forwards, the glass digging into his knees unimportant and disregarded. He's got Sam's arm, follows it to Sam's shoulders, squeezes hard and shakes him. Can hear himself repeating his brother's name, over and over again, shouting as best he can with his uncooperative voice.

Sam's not moving, not responding, but his breath is warm and steady against Dean's wrist, and that's good enough. He's reaching for the seat belt buckle, catching Sam's weight when it releases and gravity does it's job. He's got to get them out of here and that would be so much easier if he could see, or at least remember what the inside of the Impala looked like.

He makes himself stop, wracks his brain trying to remember.

They're in the front seat, there's nothing outside the windshield but dirt and rocks. But there are doors, aren't there? Yeah, four of them, he's almost certain. He leaves Sam sprawled across the ceiling, scrambling around until his fingers close on a handle and he pushes and it swings open sweet and easy as pie.

The night air is warm and moist on his skin. Sweet with wild flowers and grass growing in the summer heat. It's to much for him to take, and he retches involuntarily. He's surprised to taste coffee and tomato sauce in the back of his throat, afterwards. Taste is one more thing he isn't ready to handle, and his stomach seizes up again, determined to empty itself.

When he finally manages to look up there is a little girl standing in front of him, holding a teddy bear. She can't be more than seven or eight, dressed in a little school uniform complete with Mary-Janes, and resolutely sucking on one thumb. She's staring at him like she's never seen anything so fascinating in her life.

There's something off about her, some kind of weird glow on her skin, but he blames it on the moon's reflection.

Kids shouldn't have to see this. Where the hell are her parents, letting her run around car accidents? Not enough time right now to worry about it. He motions to her, "Hey, go get help, okay? Flag someone down from the road."When she doesn't move, just keeps staring, he sharpens his tone. "I ain't asking. Go."

Doesn't wait to see if she listens before he turns back to the Impala, crawling back inside to grab handfuls of Sam's shirt and drag his heavy damn brother out of the car. By the time he's wrestled Sammy out the girl is gone, and he breathes out a little sigh of relief. Tries to get a good look at Sam in the weak starlight.

There's a gash across his forehead, and his ribs don't feel right when Dean presses on them. His right wrist is bent at an awkward angle, but there's no bone sticking through the skin, and his heartbeat is strong against Dean's palm. It's good enough. It has to be.

They're at the bottom of a hill, and he doesn't relish the idea of hauling his heavy, unconscious brother all the way up it, but doesn't see another option. It's simple enough to pull Sam into a fireman's carry, to arrange him and hope that there's not horrible internal injuries that he's aggravating.

He looks up at the hill and grits his teeth.

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Half way up the hill he realizes that he can feel a cool breeze on the left side of his face.

He freezes, stares at nothing for a long moment and listens to the white-noise inside his skull. Tells himself to keep walking, to deal with this later, that there are more important things going on. Can't seem to stop his hand from crawling up his face though, over the thick coarse beard covering his jaw and cheek, pausing right before the bottom eyelid.

He has to take a deep breath before he can push his fingers the rest of the way up and-

-it hurts so bad, oh God, it hurts it hurts it hurts. White hot fire burning all across his face. Centered right above his fingertips, blood everywhere. Soaking his hands and running into his nose and mouth and threatening to suffocate him and it just hurts. Agony. A knife into his skull, and he doesn't want to know. Doesn't want to feel it but he's pushing his fingers up anyway.

Tries not to gag at the warm wet press against his skin. At the way his fingers curl into the emptiness, the vacant place where his eye should be and is not. He jerks his hand away like he burned himself, trying to stop the useless flutter of his eyelid over the empty eye socket. Trying to spit out the blood instead of swallowing it-

-and his eyelashes flutter against his fingertips, and he feels his knees start to give, feels himself sway on his feet. He can see his fingers, vague hazy shapes in the dark, but definitely there. Definitely being seen by his left eye. He presses his fingertips against his iris anyway, needed the proof and reassurance that the pain brings. He checks his right eye, too, just to make sure.

He has two eyes. Goddamn.

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He's only just managed to get himself moving again when the screams of twisting metal hit his ears and he worries that another car is about to fly over this incline and snuff them out. But no vengeful sedan comes flying towards them, and over the sounds of twinkling glass and groaning metal he can hear voices shouting.

They sound more irritated than hurt, and he thinks about how odd it is for there to be two car accidents right here in one night, but can't bring himself to care.

He clears his throat, tries to convince his voice to rise above a shadow of a whisper. He screams for help from the bottom of his lungs-

-involuntarily, when he had pulled himself off the frozen ground. Feeling his skin rip and tear where his blood had frozen tight and solid to the ice. Cementing him to it. Pining him and he couldn't just lay here and wait for whatever was coming to eat him or whatever the fuck else they might be planning.

And so he gets up, and the skin across his shoulder blades stays behind. And he screams, for just a second, before he slams his bloody hands over his mouth and holds the sound inside. He can feel the blood running in hot rivulets down his back. But the pain is not to bad, now that it's over, it's manageable, and not the worst that he's felt since he woke up fifteen minutes ago.

The scream though, the scream is probably going to be a problem. He can hear things scrambling towards him in the surrounding blackness, tiny little clicks and louder thuds. Whispers of a legion of voices, zeroing in on him. He grits his teeth, balls his fists and wonders how much time he has.

He's not sure how he sees them, in the absence of any light at all. But he does. Twisted, gray creatures bobbing and dragging and shambling their way towards him. All sharp edges, curved claws, empty eyes. Ruined, terrible things and he wants to call for help, wants to just scream-

-and for the first time in an eternity, a friendly voice answers him.

The silhouettes at the top of the hill are fuzzy at best, three people staring down at him. Two of them sprint towards him and the third turns aside, and he can hear a woman's voice saying, "-no I don't remember what mile marker we were at, we're right outside town and you've got to hurry-"

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They've got Sam laid out flat on the ground by the time Dean realizes what's going on. Got his legs elevated and the strangers spread their coats over him, trying to keep him from going into shock. They leave their own cars intertwined in the middle of the road, and Dean thinks about telling them to move them before they cause another accident.

But they're all concentrated on Sam, and making sure he's okay, and so Dean doesn't interrupt. Lets himself fade into the background while they fuss over Sam, watches them argue over what else they can do to take care of him before the professionals get there.

Dean concentrates on breathing, on trying to keep his hands away from his eyes. There's other things off, different here than they were where he was before. Sometimes he catches a quicksilver shine on his hands, a ripple of light not caused by the moon, but most of the time it is curiously absent. The skin on the back of his hands is leather-smooth when he traces his fingers over it, and for a long moment he doesn't understand.

And then he does.

Burns. His arms are covered with scar tissue all the way up to his elbows, and he can feel the pull of it almost to his shoulders now that he's looking for it. He flexes his fists experimentally, hisses at the tug of skin over his knuckles, the deep throb of pain in his palms. Half closes his eyes, and there, there's the flash of light dancing over his skin.

A noise from the wrecked cars makes him look up, away from the mystery of his hands, and he scowls. The little girl is sitting on the hood of the suv, swinging her legs, waving at him. She's smiling, looks pleased with herself, and yes, there is definitely some kind of faint light bleeding off her skin.

He takes a step towards her, a gut-jerk reaction. It's always been fight or flight with him. And the time spent in the blackness has burnt the flight option out of his soul. Confrontation is all he remembers.

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Sam jerks bolt upright on the side of the road, comes up swinging and screaming at the top of his lungs.

He catches Concerned Motorist # 1 in the jaw with a left hook that leaves the other man dropping like a rock. Smashing his elbow into the chest of Concerned Motorist # 2 and trying to jerk himself to his feet. His initial wordless cry of agony is fading off into something vaguely resembling words, changing to "Oh, God, I ran into a goddamn tree, I hit the fucking tree, with the car. I hit-Dean? Where's Dean? Fuck, Dean? Dean? Where the fuck is-"

Dean's not conscious of closing the distance between them, but there is he. Dropping to his knees beside his brother. Catching the punch that Sam telegraphs so badly Dean sees it coming a mile away and winding his other hand into Sam's hair, forcing him to look at him. "Calm down. I'm right here."

Sam gapes at him. Opens and closes his mouth and stares with eyes that are just slightly unfocused. Dean thinks, concussion. Thinks that he needs to get Sam laying down again till they know what he might have damaged in the accident. Thinks that Concerned Motorist # 1 must be okay if he's groaning and rocking himself slowly back and forth on the ground.

"Am I awake?"

He hates how small Sam's voice is, how uncertain and soft. But he's also relieved, just a little bit. Because he knows how to fix scared Sam. He knows how to make that better, which is more than he can say about unconscious, possibly dying Sam. He tightens his hand in Sam's curls just enough that he knows the pressure has got to hurt, and then releases.

"Feel awake?"He doesn't expect Sam to laugh, but it's okay that he does. There's been so many times that he thought he'd never get to hear Sam laughing again and it hits him low in the gut, squeezes things in his chest with no mercy.

And then Sam is crawling into his lap, crazy long limbs wrapping around him in tandem and locking in place. Sam's kiss is wet and messy and uncoordinated. That whole concussion thing, Dean can only assume. It's still probably the best thing ever, and Dean opens his mouth and doesn't even feel to irritated when Sam forgets basic kissing etiquette and manages to shove a whole mouthful of bloody spit into Dean's mouth.

He's just glad he didn't tell any of the Concerned Motorists that they were brothers.

Cause, you know, awkward.

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When the sirens cut through the early morning air thirty seconds later Sam makes no move to disentangle himself. He does slide his mouth sideways, dragging sloppy kisses across half of Dean's face, making little desperate, needy sounds in the back of his throat.

Concerned Motorist # 3, the woman, is staring at them with something akin to fascination on her face, and Dean winks at her out of some half-forgotten reflex. She blushes and looks away and Sam closes his teeth on Dean's collar bone and bites and sucks and yeah, that's gonna leave a mark, without a doubt.

The girl peeks around the woman's legs, her skin almost noticeably translucent compared with the woman's. Dean scowls, tries to push Sam off, which would be next to impossible in normal circumstances, and completely futile with Sam channeling his inner spider-monkey. He tries anyway, needing to grab the girl and figure out what the hell is wrong with her, needing to...

She starts to back away and he feels his expression curl into a snarl, hears himself growl out, "Stop. Don't you fucking move, Polly-anna."

And she stops. Just freezes exactly where she's standing, looking at him with wide, surprised eyes. He doesn't have time to consider that, really, to roll it around through his head and figure out what it means, before the paramedics walk through her. She dissolves into a swirl of gray particles and doesn't reform and Dean feels something cold twist in his chest.

Then the paramedics are on them, shooting questions to fast for him to follow. Pulling and tugging at Sam as the Concerned Motorists try to explain what's happened. Sam tenses against him and Dean feels something tingle along his skin, raise the hairs all along his arms. Power. Dean has a half-second to think that this is probably a bad sign, and then Sam is twisting, striking, spitting mad.

Yelling with an edge of desperate and anger that Dean doesn't remember ever hearing Sammy use before, "Don't touch him, don't any of you fucking touch him, don't-"

Dean cold cocks him before he can hurt anyone. It seems like the best option at the time.

Part Two: Drowning in Your Dizzy Noise

The paramedics tell him he can't ride in the ambulance.

He doesn't disagree with them, doesn't open his mouth to argue or throw any more punches. But when they load Sam onto the stretcher and into the back of their little Emergency Medical Vehicle, he climbs in behind them. The younger man, slight framed and bespeckled, tells him very calmly that he needs to get out. The older, tall and big-boned, just rolls his eyes.

Dean tucks himself against the wall of the vehicle, between boxes of syringes and a heart-rate monitor. He doesn't say a word, but the little one looks away from him after a half-second. Dean watches a line of sweat break out across the man's brow, and wonders.

He knows that there was a time he could have charmed them. He remembers being able to smile and have people, if not trust him, then at least think of him as sort of harmlessly lecherous. When he could have made some crack about necrophilia or crazy junkies and they'd have rolled their eyes and thought he was a perverted bastard. Adorable, though.

For the life of him though, he can't remember how to do it. He can barely remember the last time he talked. There wasn't much to say where he'd been, and when he had said anything it hadn't been pleasant or nice. He's kept his silence for what feels like months, and he can't remember how he used to let the words just flow past his lips. How he could just open his mouth and say-

-please, don't ask me to do this. Please. I can't. I can't. Don't make me do it, please. Please. We'll get you out of here, we will, and everything will be okay. No. No. I can't. Dad, please-

-something that would make everything alright. But it's okay, he doesn't need to talk. He's always been an intimidating son of a bitch when he wanted to be, and he's self-aware enough to realize that he's more now than he ever was before.

The paramedics close the doors, and don't ask him to get out again.

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It's light in the ambulance. Bright enough that he expects it to burn his eyes, accustomed as they are to only blackness, but it doesn't. He has to remind himself that this body, this physical form, wasn't trapped with the rest of him. That it's highly unlikely that Sam kept him blindfolded.

He stares down at his hands, at the dark burns curling across his skin. He can't remember where they came from. Thinks that he must have been burned after he got lost. Maybe his body fell into a fire, or something. Maybe it was a side effect of whatever had pulled him through that terrible gateway into the nightmare beyond.

He doesn't really want to know.

He turns his eyes to Sam, the dark circles under his brother's eyes, the way that even in unconsciousness he's wound tight. Sam's hair is long, messy but clean. Fingers his own hair and wonders why Sam didn't cut it. Still, it's nice to have it, he'd gotten used to having it, in the black. Gotten used to the beard, too. Helped keep the cold away.

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"You okay, son?"big-EMT is asking, craning his neck back over the driver's headrest to look at him.

He answers before he can even process how stupid the question is, "Peachy."Big-EMT flinches at his tone, and jerks back around to stare out the windshield. Good. He should be paying attention to the road.

"Who was driving?"little-EMT does not seem to share his companion's good sense. Dean tries to remember if they asked anyone at the scene that, and drawls a blank. He tries to remember if you can get in trouble for driving your own vehicle into a tree. Can't remember if there's a law against that or not.

His mouth is answering without waiting for him to decide whether or not he wants to lie. "I was."

Little-EMT makes a humming sound in the back of his throat. Stares at Dean with hard, disappointed eyes. Dean wants to laugh, so desperately badly it makes his chest ache, but he holds it inside. "Been drinking?"

"No,"he can't remember the last time he ate or drank, though he obviously must have been doing so. His stomach hadn't been empty when he came to in the Impala. "Turns out Satan's wine cellar blows."Big-EMT laughs, sharp and quick like he hadn't meant to. Dean hadn't meant it to be funny.

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Turns out to be lucky they have Dean along, because they're barely fifteen minutes down the road when Sam's eyes snap open again. Dean watches his brother stare up at the ceiling, watches the confusion cloud over his face, watches it get swallowed up by something dark and angry. Gooseflesh races up his arms, up his neck, down Dean's spine. Power.

Metal groans, and Dean watches the sides of the ambulance start to buckle outward.

"Sam."His voice is barely above a whisper. It still hurts to talk, and he wonders absently if that will ever go away. Sam hears him anyway, jerks his head towards Dean and the relief that transforms his expression is almost frightening. The air around them settles, the sides of the ambulance relax back to their natural state.

Sam tries to sit up, reaching for Dean, and little-EMT scowls and pushes him back down. Tries to, anyway. It would be funny watching him attempt to restrain Sam in any other circumstance. But Dean's worried about head injuries and internal bleeding and so he reaches forward and presses a hand onto Sam's shoulder. Feels the cuts on his palm reopen and bleed into Sam's shirt. Disregards it. Pushes him down.

For a half-second he thinks Sam's going to struggle against him, too. And then he feels the tension drain out of Sam's muscles, feels him go loose-limbed. His brother reaches up, wraps his hand around Dean's wrist and squeezes. When Sam speaks he's only slurring his words a little, "What's going on?"

The way Dean sees it there's about a thousand different answers to that question. He goes for the easiest. It's been a long day. "We're getting you to a hospital."At the panic that flashes across Sam's face he continues, "It's what you get for talking me into playing chicken with a goddamn tree."Hopes Sam's aware enough to catch and understand the lie.

Sam cuts his eyes towards little-EMT, then back to Dean, and his face is very pale. Dean wishes that little-EMT would start running some tests or something and figure out what was wrong with Sam, because he shouldn't be that color. There shouldn't be those lines of strain at the corners of his eyes. His lips shouldn't be that thin and pale. Dean should not be able to see a muscle jumping in his brother's jaw. Sam's voice shouldn't be this rough when he speaks, "Did I tell you about what Fred, Betty, and Ivan got a hold of me about earlier?"

Ice creeps up Dean's spine, because out of everything he's forgotten, everything he's lost, he still remembers the codes Sam had insisted they have for everything. His own voice sounds hard and distant and unfamiliar in his ears, clipped short, "No."

Sam tightens his hold on Dean's wrist, hard enough to shift bones, and it would have hurt-

-like a son of a bitch. Cold sharp teeth closing around his wrist and he feels the incisors slide into his skin. Feels the pressure increase, waits for his bones to shatter. They're everywhere, so many of them, and he can't fight them all at the same time. He doesn't even have a weapon, nothing but his own body and yeah, he's killed a few, but not enough to matter in the long run. He thought he'd stood a chance-

-once. Not much hurts anymore. "Yeah, they said they were looking for you."Darts his eyes towards little-EMT again, "Really hard."

Dean grits his teeth, wonders what exactly Sam thinks he's going to do. Take off and pray that Sam didn't really hurt himself? The car is at the bottom of a goddamn gully, in any case. He shrugs, "They'll just have to wait till we make sure you're okay."

"Dean-"

"No. Not open for discussion, Sammy."

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They try to keep him in the waiting room as they wheel Sam off to some secluded corner and pull a curtain closed around him. They are slightly hampered by Sam refusing to let go of his arm and the fact that he's not letting Sam out of his sight. Little-EMT whispers something into one of the doctor's ears and they sigh and roll their eyes and leave Dean and Sam be.

Doctors and nurses swarm around them, rushing and busy and finally doing something to help Sam. Dean tries to fade back a step, give them room to do their work, but Sam's hand is a vice around his wrist, and he can't escape it. That's probably for the best. Sam's warm skin, rough fingers, big hand, is the only thing keeping him grounded.

The light isn't bothering him, the ambulance had acclimated him to that. The smells are. The clean, metal, antiseptic smell that doesn't quite manage to cover the skin, decay, death stench. It makes his stomach roil, luckily already empty, and he bears his teeth in a facsimile of a smile. Smiling represses the gag reflex, after all. He's handling the smells.

The movement is tearing him apart. So much activity, so many people dashing back and forth. He flinches each time someone reaches out, each step taken, each inhalation from someone other than himself or Sam.

Movement, any kind of movement at all, has been a threat for so long he doesn't know how to not see it as such. He's wired his body to strike without having to consult with his brain, taken already sharp reflexes and given them full reign of his fists and legs. He's tuned his perception of other things so fine because not seeing a fang or claw coming was as good as death.

And now it hurts. Standing amongst these people, restraining himself when every instinct is telling him to strike out. To hurt and break and kill. He can see a plan for killing every person in this room in the space of a half-dozen heartbeats, and he itches to do it.

Sam's touch is the only thing stopping him. Lucky bastards.

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He registers the nurse standing expectantly at his side, but ignores her in the hope that she'll just go away. There's a part of him that doesn't want to hurt her, and knows that he will if she pushes him any further off the edge. He digs his fingers into Sam's shoulder, breath hitching when Sam squeezes his wrist in return.

Her voice is soft when she speaks, gentle. He wonders if she's afraid of him. Wonders if she knows that she should be. "Sir, we need to look at your hands, it'll only take a second and then-"

"Go away."He's not proud of how low and sharp his voice is. Not proud of the way her face blanches when he turns his eyes on her. She doesn't deserve it, and he knows that, somewhere in his brain. But then she puts her hand on his arm and all he can think is-

-completely bizarre that some of them have hands. Oh, yes, they have talons as well, long horrendously sharp weapons growing out of their fingers, but they're close enough to human. That's worse, somehow, than the paws, the talons, the twisted, skeletal not-things that have been grabbing at him.

The human hand, closing around his arm and spinning him around and the teeth were still buried in his other wrist and he blacked out for just a second. The human face grinning up at him, mouth filled with row after row of shark teeth, black and slick and he shouldn't be able to see them at all. He shouldn't have to see this.

The pads of the things fingers tighten against his skin, hard enough to bruise, and he thinks that it means to snap his bone. Just apply pressure till the bone cracked and splintered and dissolved. And it's going to do it with a goddamn human hand.

He hears himself snarl, and it is something primal and terrible. Lifts his hand even with the creature trying to hold him still, lifts and reaches and grabs it's face and squeezes. Feels it's skin writhe and churn against his, feels it scream against his palm. When something slimey and wet slides against his skin he jerks, thinking-

-that she's got no self-preservation instinct at all.

"Dean."Sam's voice, calling him back. He tears his eyes away from the woman, relieved to find that she's left go of his arm. She's still hovering, and the itch in his knuckles is almost painful, but Sam is staring up at him, all scared and unsure. He swallows the screaming instinct tearing through his body down into the pit of his soul.

"Sir-"Brave girl, to try again. Stupid, but brave.

"Go away."This time, she goes.

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Afterwards they move Sam up to the second floor, to a tiny little beige room that's identical to a hundred other hospital rooms they've been in. He's bruised his ribs and his right wrist is shattered. They said something about internal bruising and that some of his organs were going to be sore. Said that he had only a minor concussion.

Dean watches them tuck Sam into the narrow little too short bed. Watches his brother's face relax into sleep aided by whatever it is they're pumping into him for the pain. He stands over Sam and stares for a long time, because no one even bothered trying to keep him out of this room. At least they learned quickly.

He wonders how long he was gone. How much time he's lost in the endless black corridoors he'd been fighting his way through for what felt like an eternity. Wonders how long Sam was alone and hopes for half-a-second that his brother had found someone to help him. The lines on Sam's face say he didn't.

It's the work of a second to reach over and turn off the drip feeding into Sam's veins. Hating himself for having to wake his brother up, but left with no other options. He turns away when he can't look anymore, wanders into the little bathroom in the room, wondering what merited them a private toilet. Doesn't really care, but it's something neutral, safe, empty, for him to busy his mind with while Sam comes to.

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He stares at himself for a long time in the mirror. He'd almost forgotten what he looked like, after the forever he spent in the dark. The beard is neat and trimmed, and that surprises him, because he'd never taken care of it. Sam. His hair is long, and curls. He'd forgotten that he had curls, too.

For a half-second he thinks the white streaks are a trick of the light, blinks and rubs at his eyes. They remain, and after another long moment of intense inspection he realizes that his right eyebrow and eyelashes are stark white as well. Completely and utterly devoid of any color. And his right eye is...off. It's shades to pale, and there's some kind of film over it that catches and reflects the light.

He wonders if it was like that in the dark, as well. He'd never seen himself down there.

His hands don't shake when he reaches for the hemline of his shirt, needing to see if the scars are there. Needed to know if he has any proof at all of the hunks that were torn out of his body. If he'll have to rely on memories to tell him what he went through, what he fought, what he killed.

His chest is a once-familiar patchwork of scars. The remnants of a thousand hunts, memories that he doesn't have to store in his head. The artwork of his body, painted by monsters, some supernatural, some human. The crowning touches are the white spots left by a rock-salt round taken in his chest, the angry red circle of a 9 mm bullet hole in his shoulder.

There is not one mark from the dark. Not one.

His stomach drops and he feels himself keel forward, grabbing onto the sink for support when his legs fail him. He doesn't understand and he's not sure he wants to. He starts to dry heave into the sink, and stops himself with some tattered bit of will-power still curled in his chest.

Sam is in the room outside, waking up any minute now. Sam carried him through however long he was gone. Sam deserves better than a brother having a breakdown about some missing scars. He shakes himself, straightens, and does his best to bury his malaise from the memories stolen from his body someplace deep and dark in his soul.

Splashes his face with water, and grabs for his shirt, discarded on the floor.

hr

He's just turning to face the door when hands catch at his shoulders, force him backwards right into the wall. And then Sam is there, rocking up on the balls of his feet, molding his body against Dean's. His hands catch at Dean's shoulders, his neck, tangle in his too-long hair. He's got his mouth against Dean's ear, breath dancing rough and ragged and desperate.

He's saying, "Deandeandeandeandeandeandeandean-"

Dean lets him. Sometimes it's better to just let Sam get this kind of thing out of his system. Murmurs softly up to the ceiling, "Sh, Sammy, shhhh. It's okay. I got you. I got you."

Part Three: Is This a Cure or is This a Disease

Sam doesn't say another word till Dean's casually reaching his arm through the open window of a Ford Tempo in the parking lot, springing the lock and sliding in. When Sam doesn't immediately slide into the passenger seat Dean cranes his head up to look at him, scowling at the bemused expression on Sam's face. He wonders if Sam is gearing up to climb all over him again.

He understands why Sam wants to touch him all the time, or at least he figures he does, but that doesn't make it any easier to handle. There's never been a time in his life that he was completely comfortable with physical contact. There's been to much pain and loss for him to accept gentle touches without some kind of trepidation. And the entire time he was in the black the only contact he had was pain and hurt and blood.

Every time Sam touches him he wants to lash out, and at the same time hold him as close as he can.

Doesn't want to think about it anymore. He shifts in his seat, yanking the steering column apart and winding his fingers into the wires. Stares at them for a long moment, trying to remember how to hot wire a car and coming up blank.

Sam's voice grants him a temporary respite. "You don't make a sound when you move, you know that? How is that even possible?"he sounds impressed instead of worried, and Dean's not sure that's the correct response to the situation. He also doesn't know what to say, because there's no words to explain that the fuckers in the dark could hear-

-him breathing, his back pressed against the rough rock wall, his body wedged into this corner. He's hurt, and he's not sure how badly. The blood from the gouges taken out of his left hip has completely swallowed his leg, is squishing and freezing around his toes in his boot. His left arm is numb, but he can hear the blood dripping off his fingers and splattering against the ground.

He just needs a minute to regroup. Time to catch his breath and get his bearings and rest. He's not even sure how long he's been fighting, there's no way to measure time in this place. Longer than he thought he could. But he can hear them coming, shuffling towards him with sharp, excited little movements. He shakes his head, balls his right hand into a fist and sinks into a fighting crouch. Not like there's-

-anything, and hone in on it faster than anything else Dean's ever fought.

His hands work without him, remembering what his brain can't. The engine roars to life around him, and he stares up at Sam expectantly. Smiles because it feels good to be behind the wheel of a car again, even one such as this. Says, "Lets blow this joint, little brother."

hr

When Sam slides a hand around the back of his neck he jerks, a whole body flinch that is him biting back on the impulse to break his brother's arm. Sam doesn't remove his hand, or loosen the hold that extends almost halfway around Dean's neck. He does rub little circles into the skin under Dean's ear with his thumb, hums a little tunelessly, and offers no explanation for himself.

Dean swallows back the bile rising in his throat, the hot burn of adrenaline through his body. This is Sammy, Sammy's palm over his spine, Sammy's fingers curling against his jugular. Sammy his brother. Sammy who he trusts. Sammy who kept him alive through the dark, whose memory kept him going every time he wanted to just fall down and give up and let them have him.

"You okay?"Sam's voice is soft, gentle, accompanied by his fingers tightening marginally against Dean's neck. He's sure Sam means it to be comforting, and he does his best to imagine that it is. Forces himself to look across at Sam and smile.

"Great. You?"

hr

The Impala is where they left it. He makes Sam stay in the Tempo with firm instructions to leave if anyone drives by and looks suspicious. If the look Sam gave him, wide eyed and half-panicked, is any indication he doubts Sam would go anywhere even if the National Guard showed up.

He stares at his baby for a long time, running his hands over smooth metal that he'd forgotten somewhere along the way. Relearning the long lean lines of her, the chrome and steel and rubber that's been his one true constant all these years. Dad and Sam might have left, however briefly, but it's always been him and her and he flattens himself across her undercarriage, willing himself to remember.

He imagines that she thrums under his skin, a lover's kiss, a purr, and he smiles. "Hey, baby, I missed you."

hr

It's the work of a few minutes to shove all the illegal documents he can find into the gym bag they commandeered from the backseat of the Tempo. Credit cards and badges, passports and receipts. He's still not sure why Sam likes to keep receipts for everything.

There's no way into the trunk, not with his baby on her hood, but his 45 is still stuffed in the glove box, and there's a sawed off shotgun under the passenger's seat. There's still a Bowie knife in the front driver's side wheel well, and he collects them all, running his hands over them and remembering. He tries to remember what the retort of a gun sounds like, what the backlash feels like, the smell of gunpowder.

He can't.

Raises the pistol without thinking about it, aims at the tree they wrecked into, enjoying the weight of the gun in his palm. The way it fits so perfect, like it was made for his hand and his hand alone. It feels good, sends a thrum of right-ness up his arm and down his spine, grounds out through his legs.

The knife in his other hand is more familiar, nearly the same weight as the weapon he had eventually found in the black. The grip is smoother, has more give, worn to the shape of his and Sam's hands. He thinks the blade he had in the black was probably made out of bone, remembers the way it had sometimes splintered into his hand when he fought.

He doesn't want to think about it anymore, turns his attention back to the gun and tightens his finger on the trigger, pulls. The bang is so much louder than he expected he nearly drops-

-the blade in his fist. Instead he jerks his arm back, curling it back into a position to defend his face. His arm is soaked with blood and for once it's not his own. The thing in front of him is dying noisily, thrashing desperately around on the ground, screaming up into the air.

He's still not sure how or why he can see them. No one else seems to be able to, none of the screaming, writhing things that used to be people that he's come upon. None of them can see anything, though. Their eyes either gouged out or clawed from their skulls.

Not important. He takes a deep breath, staring at the terrible thing dying in front of him, and then crouches. Braces a knee on it's shoulder and one hand in it's coarse, tangled hair. The bone-blade in his hand is sharp enough for his purposes, and the thing goes silent after two blows. Pounds out a rhythm with it's claws for another two, and then goes still.

When he stands he brings it's head with him, fist still tangled in it's hair. Raises it above his head and feels the blood pour down his arms, feels droplets of it splatter across his face. Doesn't matter. God knows, he's fucking covered with the shit already. His own and theirs and others that he can't think about right now. He shakes the head, tosses his own back and roars, hearing-

-the gun when a figure shifts into being in front of his eyes. A huge, scowling monster of a man, collecting himself together out of the early morning air. The man is glowing, no way to write it off as anything else in the daylight. Glowing and raising a fist the size of Dean's head, malicious intent bleeding off him in waves.

Somewhere someone is shouting his name. Sam's voice, tinged with panic. He turns, looks over his shoulder and Sam is standing on top the hill, looking like any second he's going to come flying down. He shakes his head, sharp, and then turns all his attention to the man before him.

Instinct tells him to roll, to crouch and center himself and only then spring forward. He catches the man low in the gut with one fist, in the throat with the other, follows it up with an elbow driven into the man's face. There's a satisfying crunch of cartilage against his arm, ice cold blood running crimson across his skin. He growls, low and deep in his throat.

He shoves the man back a half step, puts his shoulder down and slams into the man's chest. For a second his body slides through the man, and then it catches with a jolt that rattles his teeth, that he feels in every bone of his body. The man goes down and Dean follows him, winding his left hand around the back of the man's neck, bracing his right hand on his chin and twisting. Snap.

The entire attack, from the first punch to the crunch of his vertebrae, is one long fluid movement. Instinct.

He pushes himself up off the man's chest, watches it expand, quiver, and then burst in a spray of oil-slick black liquid. He can hear screams, bouncing off the inside of his skull, desperate pleas sharply cut off. In the silence he collects the guns and knife he dropped, looks back up the hill at Sam.

His brother is tense, frozen, limbs locked and there is a hint of power, dancing across Dean's skin. He nods, hefts the bag onto his shoulder and turns away from his baby and the tree. They'll be back for her, but first they need to make some plans.

hr

Sam's hand goes back around his neck the minute they're in the car. It's easier to deal with this time, now that he's expecting it. Sam says, "That was a spirit, Dean."

"Yeah."The glowing kind of gave that away, along with the whole forming out of thin air and dissolving into ectoplasmic goo.

"You can't hit ghosts. They don't have physical forms."He wonders if the creatures in the dark were spirits. Wonders if maybe that's why they were so surprised that his fists could break them so well.

"Yeah."Sam stares down into his lap and doesn't say another word.

hr

The Tempo gets abandoned in town after he drops Sam off at the Orange Shine Inn with their bag of contraband and the shotgun. He walks back himself, watching the sun finish rising, breathing the sweet air shallow through his mouth, hands buried deep in his pockets so no one can see them shaking. Panic gnaws at the edges of his mind right up to the minute he pushes into their room.

He manages all of two steps into said room before Sam is there, crowding him into the wall. Curving his long frame around Dean's, surrounding him and blocking out the harsh light, the nauseating smells, the whole world that Dean can't handle, with himself. All Dean can see is the twisting fire in Sam's eyes, all he can smell is Sam's aftershave, Sam's skin, Sam's breath against his mouth.

Sam just stares, motionless for all the desperate fire in his eyes and Dean shifts. "Gonna kiss me or what, Samm-"He does, hard and bruising, so needy it hurts, and Dean tilts his head to improve the angle, fists a hand into Sam's hair and holds him. Sucks Sam's bottom lip into his mouth, running his tongue across the rough, chapped skin.

The broken, half-keening sound Sam makes is so surprising that Dean pulls back, shoves Sam back to make sure he's alright.

Sam slams back into him immediately, fingers shaking where they splay against Dean's stomach, dig into his hips. Crushes their mouths back together. Sam rocks against him, and he grins into the kiss at how hard Sam is, pressing against his stomach. Slides his mouth down Sam's jaw, prickly with stubble, rough against his lips.

It's funny, how after all the time he spent alone, all the things he can't seem to remember, he knows exactly where the spot on Sam's neck that makes him come undone is. He closes his lips over his brother's skin, jerks Sam's head further back, and slides his other hand down Sam's spine. Slips it beneath the hemline of Sam's jeans and his brother has lost a lot of weight since Dean's been gone. Worry about that later. Right now he fills his palm with Sam's ass, and tugs him closer.

Sam chokes, his fingers spasming closed the same time his knees dip and Dean catches him, walks him backward to the bed and topples them onto it. Slams his chin into Sam's collarbone and feels his teeth slam shut onto his bottom lip. Tastes blood, hot and salty-

-in his mouth. Not even sure what's happening. All he knows is the pressure in his skull, pushing and squeezing and rearranging his brain. Some part of him is aware of falling to his knees, of the rough ground under his palms. But mostly there's only the ripping, tearing, consuming rape of his mind.

He screams and forces his eyes open, and almost slams them shut again against the vertigo. He's still in the dark, but he can also see grass under his hands, see stars wheeling over his head, see Sammy standing in front of him gape-mouthed. He's not sure how. He's not sure why. But there's things he needs to tell Sam and so he swallows down the pain, and makes himself speak.

"Sammy, Sammy, please, gonna f-f-find you. Am gonna. Am...So dark. So dark here."

He can hear them shuffling closer, the things that hunt him. Their whispering voices and threats wrapping around him, invading his already broken mind and twining deeper into him. And then they're there in the flesh, standing above him and he tries to shove aside whatever is in his head. Tries to wrest control of his body back. Tries to tell Sam what he has to in the time he has left.

"Shit. They f-f-found me. Sammy. Don't leave me. Don't leave me. Don't lea-"

The first blow catches him under the ribs, flips him sideways and he tries to scream. The combined mental and physical pain is tearing him apart but the scream gets hung up somewhere-

-in his mouth. He bites back on the plea for help building behind his teeth, buries his face in the crook of Sam's shoulder and neck. Takes quick shallow breaths till the blood taste goes away and he feels like something close to human again. He's not sure how long it takes him to realize that Sam is rubbing his back, long soft strokes up and down his spine.

Sam shifts, wraps himself around Dean and he wants to protest. Say that they got two beds for a goddamn reason and he's still not a cuddle-whore. The dark didn't change that. Sam says, "I had a dream like that, right before the crash."

Dean doesn't know what Sam's talking about, to tired to worry about figuring it out, "Go to sleep, Sammy."

hr

When Dean jerks back to the world of the waking hours later he manages to slide out of bed without waking Sam. Manages to make it to the bathroom and flip the shower on before he retches helplessly into the toilet. Dry heaves till his whole body hurts and he can barely breath.

He is never, ever, going to tell Sam what he dreams about.

hr

The clock says it's three-thirty when he manages to drag himself out of the bathroom. He stares at Sam for a long time, curled up and half-smiling in the bed. Wishes he knew what happened while he was gone, but to guilty to ask. To scared. To angry. To everything.

He pushes the thoughts away, sinks to the bed with his back to Sam's and reaches for the phone and phone book.

Turns out there's a little mom-and-pop garage in town that promises to have the Impala out of the ditch by morning and yes, he's welcome to use one of their bays to work on the car as long as his credit is good. Dean assures them that Mitch Nguyen's credit is excellent, and that he'll be by in the morning to work on his car.

The pizza place down the road makes him repeat their room number three times, and the order twice, but Dean's to hungry to care. It's been an eternity since he ate. He promises a huge tip if they make it within fifteen minutes, almost willing to promise his first born. And then, necessary matters taken care of, he lets his head fall forwards into his hands.

He's not sure how long he sits there, trying to make all the shattered pieces of himself fit into some shape that makes sense and failing. He grits his teeth, squares his shoulders, pushing away the frustration. He's been broken for most of his life, one way or another, and still managed to do just fine. No reason this should be any different.

He's already adapting.

When Sam rolls over, curling around his hips, winding an arm around Dean's waist and squeezing, he barely flinches at all. There is very nearly no itch in his knuckles, no jerk in his legs, no white hot flash of adrenaline through his blood stream.

Sam sighs, noses against Dean's side, rucking up the battered tee-shirt till Dean can feel his wet warm breath against his skin. His fingers curl around Dean's waistband, pull Dean closer to him as he presses lazy kisses against Dean's hip.

Dean smiles despite himself, curls his fingers into Sam's hair and melds his other hand over the sharp curve of Sam's hip. Feels himself relax when Sam hums against his skin. Grins wider when he feels his brother's lips curling into a smile. Not prepared for the gut-wrenching lose when he feels Sam's smile wilt. "Dean, I killed people, while you were gone. You should know. I killed a man, and a girl, at least. Maybe other people."

He says, "Okay,"because he doesn't know what else to say and is saved from having to tell Sam what he did while he was gone by the arrival of the pizza. Thank God. Thank God.

Part Four: Let Your Skin Talk to my Soul

It takes almost two weeks to get the Impala road worthy again, though most of the time is spent waiting on the parts that Dean orders the first day.

That first day he heads to the garage Sam tags along. Sits himself alternately in a corner of the shop or sprawls inside the Impala. Stares the whole time. Right up until the sun starts to set and Dean figures they'll have to call it a day.

Dean leans across the engine, ignoring the weight of Sam's constant inspection, soaked to the elbows with grease, shirt abandoned hours ago, dripping with sweat from the unexpected summer heat. As far as Dean remembers it was snowing two days ago, and the ninety degree weather is throwing him off. He'd forgotten what heat felt like, and he's not sure he likes having to rediscover it.

His hair, pulled back into a tight ponytail at the nape of his neck, isn't to hard to deal with. The beard is. It magnifies the heat of the day, and he keeps getting oil in it. He takes a deep breath, straightens and drags the back of his hand across his brow, feeling the trail of grease he leaves behind and reaching for a rag.

When he takes a swig of water, hot and unpalatable from the heat, Sam is still staring. Eyes hooded and simmering hotter than the surrounding air and Dean can't help but smirk. Sam's had a thing about him working on cars since baby brother was thirteen.

Dean can remember Sam stumbling over his legs once while Dean was changing the Impala's oil, the naked want on his brother's face and the way he had slid his hands across Dean's sweat-soaked skin like he couldn't help himself.

It's a good memory, and there aren't enough of those anymore. Dean basks in it, grinning like the cat that got the cream as Sam jerks to his feet across the room. Watches Sam stalk towards him, lets Sam back him onto the Impala's trunk, lets Sam step between his legs, lets him run his hands up Dean's arms, over his chest, down his stomach.

Sam's voice is a low, rough, growl, "Do you know what you look like right now?"And Dean looks into Sam's eyes and sees himself, and knows. Feels something in his chest fit itself back together when he arches up and presses his mouth against Sam's, locking a leg around Sam's hips and tugging him closer.

Sam shows up every time he goes to the garage.

hr

Sleeping is next to impossible. He closes his eyes and sees the monsters he can barely keep restrained during the daylight hours. He's afraid that if he sleeps to deeply, lets completely go, he might hurt Sam without ever waking up. Break an arm or leg or his neck.

He always manages to snag an hour or two after watching Sam come, and those hours are the only thing keeping him going. They're always black and dreamless, although maybe the blackness is a nightmare all by itself. It doesn't matter. They always bleed away to teeth buried into his neck, saliva dripping down into his face, horrendous weight bearing down on his chest.

The first week he ends up on the bathroom floor every night.

It's as though his body is trying to purge the memories through his gut, and he wishes it would give that up. The seventh night Polly-anna shows up with a friend, a preacher with no eyes who lays his icy hands against Dean's forehead and smiles gently at him. Dean spits into the toilet, and glares, tenses his body for a fight.

He can hear how flat and dead his voice is when he says, "I can kill you."

Polly-anna smiles, wraps both her tiny hands around one of Dean's. "We're no threat to you or your brother, I promise."She sounds like she looks, young and dead, sweet and broken, and he wonders how she died and who killed her and if he can make it better somehow. Her expression softens even further, and he wonders if she read his mind, but she only says, "You're fascinating, is all. Both alive and-"

Sam's voice cuts over her's from outside the bathroom, "Dean, I heard voices?"Then Sam's swinging the door open and both spirits vanish, nothing but a memory of cool skin on his brow and hands. And just like that Sam is there, on his knees beside Dean, one big hand rubbing circles into his back, the other gathering his hair away from his face, crooning soft, soothing nonsense words into the shell of Dean's ear.

Dean can hear himself, his voice soft and desperate, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry-"Because he hadn't wanted Sam to see him like this. Not ever.

hr

The nausea lessens after that. The nightmares persist but he's no longer left with the feeling that his insides are trying to crawl out his mouth. The ice soaking up his spine and across his skin make up for it, though. He still doesn't dare sleep after the nightmares wake him, not with his blood singing with the hunt, with pain, with fear.

There's plenty to do in the early morning hours, anyway. The eighth night he ends up with their weapons spread across the unused bed, falling into the rhythm of cleaning them, fixing them. Forgetting about claws and the dark in the midst of all the cool smooth steel, the feel of gun oil drying on his hands, the texture of the rag beneath his fingers. He gets lost in the rasp of cloth against metal against skin, drifts into a welcome blankness where no memories can touch him.

He only comes back to himself when Sam yanks a shotgun away from him, tumbling him to the floor and gripping the sides of Dean's face with his massive hands. Staring into his eyes, looking for something and sagging down into Dean when he apparently finds it. Sam lets his forehead flop down into the carpet beside Dean's shoulder, laughs mirthlessly, "Don't do that to me. I though-just-don't do that."

He wraps his arms around Sam, rolls them and flinches when Sam's head cracks against the wall. Pins Sam's hips down and tugs down his jeans and presses an openmouthed kiss below Sam's belly-button. He's learned that this is the best way to apologize for scaring Sam. His mouth or his hands, his touch against Sam's skin.

Sam groans, thumps an arm into the wall and winds his other hand into Dean's hair, pushing, pulling, directing. And Dean licks and sucks and tries to make Sam understand how important he is. How scared Dean is that he's going to hurt Sam. And when Sam comes, hard and without any more warning than a strangled shout Dean swallows him down and tries not to let his broken edges show when he grins up at his brother.

Sam smiles back, tugging sharply with the hand in Dean's hair and-

-yanks his head backwards, feeling hunks of hair and scalp rip out but that's okay. That'll grow back and his head won't and the blade swings down so close to his face that it catches his left eyebrow and opens the skin to the bone.

The thing looks at it's hand, like it's puzzled by the bloody strands of gold it holds, and then turns it's massive head towards him just in time to watch Dean drive his knife into it's formless, doughy neck. It opens it's mouth, and he wonders if it's trying to scream, because nothing comes out but little pink bubbles of blood.

He smiles, razor sharp, yanks his blade out and lets the thing fall in a heap onto the floor, lets it flail and thrash about, causing a ruckus in it's dying. When he spins towards the others, crowded behind him, they all jerk back, and he puts his head down and laughs. Wonders when they started fearing him, and-

-says in a voice that's honey and desire and dirty as sin, "C'mere, I wanna taste-"

Dean rolls to his feet, pats Sam on the leg, almost awkward. "Maybe later, okay, Sammy? I'm going to run out and get us some breakfast."

hr

The next night he ends up in the bathroom again, this time with a flat blade knife, because his hair is driving him crazy and the beard just needs to go. He wants to be able to recognize himself in a mirror again. Needs to be able to stare into the familiar lines of his cheekbones and jaw when he's trying to drag himself away from the shadows of the darkness.

He saws through the ponytail first, tosses it into the trash can without looking. It's strange to feel air on the back of his neck again. The weight of the strands falling against his cheek has him ducking, swinging the blade in his hand up and slicing his own skin open, and only then realizing that there's nothing in the shadows behind him, no threat, no monsters in the dark but him.

He growls, grabs handfuls of hair, hating the curls, hating the soft smoothness of it between his fingers. Knicks his fingers with the knife a dozen times and then a dozen more, till his hands are a bloody mess, till his hair is stained dark and wet. He's breathing sharp and shallow, feeling his pulse race and adrenaline set his limbs on fire. Tufts of hair litter the floor at his feet, sticky and bright with blood.

When his hair is uniformly shorter than two inches he stops, runs a hand over his scalp, and sighs.

The beard next, and he knows he's not doing this properly, knows he's dancing dangerously close to hurting himself and doesn't care. Grabs and pulls and slices, fingers slippery with his own blood, masking everything, covering everything.

And then there's nothing left long enough for him to cut. His hand spasms open around the handle of the knife, and he barely hears it clatter to the floor a second later. He grabs Sam's razor.

hr

He wakes Sam up by dropping a bag filled with egg McMuffins and hashbrowns onto his chest and watching his brother mumble happily and curl around the bag in his sleep.

Cracks up laughing when Sam's eyes snap open, and his baby brother falls out of bed after getting a look at him. "You cut your hair,"Sam's voice is incredulous, low and accusatory, and Dean laughs harder, trying to disguise it as a cough. Failing, but trying. Runs a hand over the short bristles of his hair, looking remarkably better after his visit to the barber on the way to McDonald's.

"The emo-bangs are your thing, not mine, you know that."

And Sam smiles. "I missed you."He hates how soft Sam's voice is, how gentle his usually sharp eyes are. Dean's never needed to be coddled, and he doesn't intend to start needing it now. Sam doesn't need to worry anymore. At all. Dean is completely ready to write the last six months off and never speak of them again. Sam continues, "You cut your face?"

He forces himself to keep smiling as he reaches for the food, "I bit myself while shaving."

hr

Things go back to normal, for a while, and maybe they would have stayed that way if Dean hadn't found out they were down to their last ten dollars of cash-cash. Maybe they would have just fallen back into the old patterns that had served so well for so long. Maybe Dean would have learned to ignore the oddity of his right eye, Sam would forget that he'd killed, they'd fuck and move back to separate beds every night.

Dean finds out, the night after the Impala's parts arrive, and suddenly the pool hall down the street is looking very good.

Sam hunkers down in a corner booth, watching Dean the way he always watches anymore. Dean orders a shot of Jack and puts his quarter on one of the pool tables currently occupied by two big, ugly, bikers. The alcohol burns going down, hits his gut like a punch, hard enough to knock the air out of him and he orders another so he doesn't have to think about it. Then stops, because the burn in his throat makes him remember things he thought he'd forgotten.

That warehouse in Kingsville. Sam, swallowed by the brightest light Dean had ever seen, casting the deepest shadows imaginable. Fire, racing up his arms, twisting it's way inside him. Screaming, everyone and everything. The whole fucking world.

Across the room Sam is jerking to his feet, face a mask of worry, and Dean waves him back down, tries to smile. Abandons the shot glass and the bartender's longing look and her expanse of pale cleavage. His game is up, and he's swaggering his way over to the table.

hr

Things go well for something like an hour, until the bikers start to realize that Dean is toying with them, and then everything gets ugly fucking fast. Dean only realizes that he's spoiling for a fight, that he came here to bloody his fists far more than he cam here for the money, when a biker that he's taken to calling Smelly thumps into him. Smelly hisses down into his face, "Your face is about to be all fucked up, pretty boy."

He grins, shifts his grip on the pool cue, watches Smelly take a half-step back into his soul mate Scruffy. "You sure about that?"takes a step towards them, feeling Dirty sidle up to the left, watching Grumpy set his beer slowly down and shift towards them. He scuffs the toe of his boot on the dirty floor, "We gonna dance, then?"

Smelly throws a punch the way a different man might throw a football, hard and fast and Dean sees it coming a mile away. Lets it come, wondering vaguely what it feels like to get hit by a person. It's been so long. Power dances across Dean's skin, tingling like electricity and he almost jerks his head towards Sam. Stops himself.

The punch never lands. Dean watches the man's arm jerk, watches the thin bones across the back of his hand bow and then snap. Smelly screams, dropping to the ground and cradling his ruined hand and Dean slams the butt of the pool cue into Scruffy's face. Barely hears the crash that is Dirty slamming into the ceiling, then the floor.

Grumpy makes a break for the door and Dean watches the bones in his legs shift and shatter under his skin in a wave from his ankles to his hips.

Dean looks up at Sammy, on his feet, fists balled, eyes wild. Snarling. Dean goes over the pool table separating them, grabbing fistfuls of Sam's shirt and dragging him towards the door, not conscious of anything but how much they need to get out of here. Of the power still dancing over him and he hisses into Sam's face, "Turn it off, goddamnit, it's over, it's over."

And Sam looks down at him, deflates, shrinks, and Dean feels the power switch off like a light.

hr

They're back in the room and Sam is jerking away from him, expression tortured. Saying, "Dean, what were you thinking, they could have-what if they had hurt you? I couldn't let them-"and he can't take this. Can't hear this. Can't have how helpless he was and how Sam was all alone thrown in his face anymore.

Shoves Sam against the nearest wall and drops to his knees without hesitating, because this is the only way that he knows to shut Sam up. The only thing that lets him sleep, even if it is for just a little while. The only thing that makes them better, and he's ripping Sam's zipper down when his brother lets his knees buckle and sinks down to look Dean in the eyes.

There's horrible, horrible knowledge in Sam's eyes, and Dean shifts, cuts his own gaze away. "Look at me. Dean. Please, c'mon?"Dean could never deny Sam anything, looks back at Sam with as sullen a glare as he can manage. Flinches at the determination, the gentleness, the warmth, in his brother's face. "You haven't come since you got back."

Only Sam could say something like that with a completely straight face.

Dean shrugs, tries to look away and can't. No way is he telling Sam that the memories constantly dog his steps, but are even worse when they intrude into his mind with Sam limp and blissed out, reaching for him. He grits his teeth, decides that they're not having his conversation at all, and surges to his feet. Still can't look away, though. The next best thing, then. Dean lies, "What the fuck, Sam, we've been fucking around every hour of the goddamn day."

Hates the calm Sam's regarding him with, staring up at him from the floor. "And you get me off and then run off or shut down or pretend to sleep. Did you think I wasn't going to notice that you weren't letting me touch you, that I hadn't sucked you off, that you hadn't fucked me, Dean?"

No, but he'd been hoping.

He finally manages to turn, wanders farther into the room with no real intention beyond putting some distance between them. "So?"His tone doesn't manage to be quite as belligerent as he'd wanted it to be, comes out softer and gentler.

"So we're fixing it. Right now."

He barks out laughter, sharp and desperate, "And how are we going to do that?"Because he doesn't know how to keep the memories away.

"You're going to fuck me."Dean jerks his eyes back towards his brother, wondering why he couldn't have just said he wanted to fuck Dean. Wondering why it couldn't have been something, anything but that. Sam reads him like a book, "I want you to, and I'm tired of waiting."

Fine. "Fine."Sam looks surprised when Dean stalks towards him, hauls him up by his shoulders and crushes their mouth together. Like Dean was ever able to tell him no. Like there was anything Dean would deny him. Like him asking had any other possible outcome than Dean giving.

"Fine?"Sam's voice is breathy and rough when he manages to drag his mouth away from Dean's. Dean just growls, knowing there are words that should go here, but they're so far beyond words it doesn't matter anymore. Shoves Sam onto the bed and crawls on after him.

"Fine."Kissing Sam again, settling between his thighs and working his hands under the hem of Sam's shirt, flattening his palms against Sam's stomach. Feeling the muscles jump against his touch, feeling Sam arch up into him when he slides his hands up, skimming over warm, firm skin. Following lines of muscle that he knows better than his own body, fingers dancing over dips and ridges, pushing in all the right places, alternately firm and teasing.

When he breaks the kiss long enough to tug Sam's shirt off his brother's eyes are huge and unfocused, and Sam grabs at his shoulders, pulls him back down.

Dean evades Sam's searching mouth, drops feather light kisses across his face before sliding his mouth down Sam's neck. Kissing the salt that collected against Sam's collarbone away, smoothing the tension in his brother's shoulder's with his mouth and Sam's hands tighten against his skin. Squeeze-

-the breath from him, oh God, he can't breath, to much pressure wringing the air out of his body-

-desperately, needing. Dean jerks, barely avoids biting Sam, barely stops himself from closing his hands, one on Sam's hip the other against his neck, hard enough to injure his brother. This is a bad idea. He grits his teeth, swallows his unease and slides his mouth down Sam's stomach, following with his mouth the same trail his hands had taken earlier.

He can't fuck Sam. He can't. Figures that after the mother of all blow-jobs Sam should be in no condition to protest. Rolls Sam's jeans off his hips, slow and languid and takes Sam's boxers with them. Surprised when the first thing Sam does with his newly naked legs is hook them around Dean's chest, wrapping-

-it's arms around his waist, it's weight dragging at him, pulling him over the edge, down into the spikes and razors below. He digs his fingers into the rotting bodies around the crater's edge, desperate, kicks at the thing hanging from him. Praying, pleading, please he doesn't want to die. He wants to see Sam, wants to see-

-the long expanse of his thighs, shins, feet, around Dean's body. Oh, God. The faster this is over the better. And he knows all the tricks to getting Sam's brain pouring out his cock in under five minutes. Lowers his mouth, pressing kisses onto the soft skin of Sam's inner thighs, running his hands up and down his brother's sides, just enough pressure to make Sam press into his fingertips looking for more.

Can't help the hard feeling of triumph in his chest when Sam whimpers, and he knows he won. He'll blow Sam, escape to the bathroom, and Sam will bring this up again sometime later. Shifts till he can feel Sam's cock, hot and twitching against his cheek, and slides his tongue across the velvet skin. Sam makes a protesting noise, winds his fingers into Dean's hair and tugs up hard-

-enough to dislocate his shoulder. He kills the thing easily enough with his left hand, fuckers didn't seem to realize that he was functionally ambidextrous. Still left with his right arm hanging awkward and painful in it's socket, and he takes a deep breath, exhales and grips his arm. Braces himself against the nearest wall to get the proper angle, shifts and pushes and twists and feels it slide back in. Listens to his breath rasp in the silent air and-

-Dean goes with it. Ends up sprawled across Sam's chest, staring up at his brother's dark, determined eyes. "I said fuck me, and I meant it."His stomach twists and clenches because can't Sam see what a horrible idea this is? Can't he see what it's costing Dean not to retch, not to hurt him, not to paint the room with blood?

Sam grabs Dean's right hand, shoves the three middle fingers into his mouth and runs his tongue all across them, painting them with spit and looking determined. Dean wants to protest, to explain why this can't happen, but Sam is releasing his hand and staring at him again. "You have a minute and if you don't get moving I'm going to fucking tie you-

-here beside your dear old Daddy and let you two get reacquainted, how does that sound?"None of them have talked to him before, beside the bubbling whispers that don't really count as far as he can tell. But this one is, and this one he recognizes, and this one he's been trying to kill since he was four years old. Yellow eyed bastard.

He doesn't look at his Dad. Can't. Would lose what control he has if he did, steps up to the monster instead. Tense and ready and strung so tight he's thrumming with the pressure of it. Reaches out and places his hand against the things chest, and smirks when it jerks away in shock. "Bet you didn't know I could do that. Let me tell you what I'm going-"

-to this fucking bed and fuck myself on you unprepared, Dean, I swear to God."Dean hears himself cry out, wordless agony, torn apart so ruthlessly he's not sure he can handle it, and buries his face against Sam's shoulder even as he skims his hand down Sam's side, down between his legs, back and sliding one finger in without any preamble.

Sam groans beneath him, arches again, rocking his hips, digging hard and painful into Dean's stomach. Dean's so tense it hurts, left arm braced on the headboard, feeling the cheap metal bend beneath his hand, bites his lower lip till he can taste blood. Twisting and curling his finger and Sam moaning up to the ceiling, "More, Dean, please,"digging his heels into the back of Dean's thighs-

-so hard he trips and falls. Landing hard and hearing something snap and for a second terrified that he'd broken a bone before he realizes that he'd fallen on one of the smaller monsters and crushed it. It's skin boils everywhere it touches his, bubbles and comes apart and the thing screams, wetly, batting at him with little clawed hands.

He jerks to his feet, feeling the sting of the lash across his back, fire hot and sharp. Not knowing where the thing came from, or why exactly it though that whipping him would be more effective than, say, beheading him. He spins to face the thing, teeth bared, covered with blood from his scalp to the soles of his feet and the thing flinches back-

-like he can't get close enough. Dean pushes another finger inside his brother, knowing it's to soon, knowing it's got to burn. But Sam asked and Sam's voice is all that's keeping him together. Keeping him alive, keeping him out of that dark place he had thought he would never leave.

He finds himself pressing kisses into Sam's shoulders and chest, leaving a trail of blood behind, painting a red swatch across his brother's skin. He's not sure where he is, really, or what he's actually doing. He's forgotten his name, forgotten who he is and what he is. Confused about everything but who this man beneath him is. Sam. Sammy. His brother. His soul-

-is different. You said you have an eye, Dean? That you can...touch...the things down here, didn't you? No one else can do that, not even me and I've tried everything. Now listen to me, you can leave, walk right out that door, and pretend you never found this room, I know you want to Dean-

-or at least the keeper of what was left of it. Begging for something that Dean can give him. And Dean slides another finger home, twists and stretches, drifting somewhere between here and there. Not sure which one is real, not sure it matters. Sam is pulling, tugging, dragging him in a dozen different places, and Dean can't resist. Has no strength left.

Pulls his hand away from Sam and wraps his fingers around his brother's hip. Dropping his other hand from the headboard and forcing one of Sam's legs from around him, dragging it over his shoulder. Cants his hips to the right angle and spits in his palm. Coats himself as quickly as he can and presses against-

-the bodies. Hiding amongst the dead. Defiling corpses already so desecrated they're barely recognizable as human, no eyes, no tongues, no faces, and he almost gags, thinking-

-Sam. Feels something cut deep into his soul, some bit of clarity in this madness. He can't do this. He can't. He might hurt Sam, and he starts to pull back, starts to let himself fall into the blackness when someone grabs his shoulders, gentle and needy. Hears Sam, "Hey, look at me, okay, please? Look at me, baby,"and he could never tell Sam no.

His brother's eyes are bottomless pits, and he lets himself fall into them. Pushes into Sam's tight heat, watching Sam's eyelids flutter, the way his chin lifts like he wants to throw his head back. But neither of them can look away, not now, not with Dean finding his way home inch by inch.

He groans, balls deep in Sammy, leans forward and catches his brother's mouth, tasting his own blood and everything that is Sam blending together in his mouth. Doesn't remember moving his hand from Sam's hip, but it's buried in Sam's curls. Pulling away from Sam's mouth, still staring into his brother's eyes and rocking his hips, barely aware of what's going on. Teetering on a knife's edge between the light and the dark.

Sam is babbling, words that don't make any sense and some that do that Dean won't remember when this is over. Gripping at Dean's shoulders, hair, arms, sides, fingers slipping off skin and then closing again. Dean rearranges Sam's legs, shifts himself lower and pushes in hard and Sam screams, the sound torn from somewhere deep in his chest, needy and desperate.

Dean loses track of time, of space, of everything but Sam and the sudden burst of wet heat across his stomach. Sam clenches around him, yells something that might have been his name and pulls Dean down into a kiss so hard Dean worries Sam will split his own lip. But none of that matters, because Dean feels something inside him snap.

Dean falls off the edge of the knife, right into Sam.

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He wakes to an armful of his brother, warm and loose in his sleep. The sun is shining through their window, and it's the first time he's slept through the night for as long as he can remember. Thinks about what's happened, about what they've done the last two weeks and what they have to do now, while he waits for Sam to wake up.

And when Sam does wake, jerking and stretching and mumbling nonsense words into the pillow, Dean smiles and squeezes him tighter. It's a beautiful thing that the first words he gets to hear his brother say are, "Mmmgph, Dean?"

He sobers, pulls himself into a sitting position, smoothing some of Sam's hair idly. "I need you to tell me everything that happened while I was gone, Sam, okay?"

Sam jerks, looks up at him with something like horror written across his face. "What? No. No, it's not important."

Dean shakes his head, takes Sam's face in his hand and makes sure he's paying attention. "I need to know. Tell me."

He does.

Part Five: You Tied my Lead and Pulled my Chain to Watch my Blood Begin to Boil

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"Promise me that if things go sour you'll get the hell out of the there, Dean,"Sammy, lingering outside the front door of the Roadhouse, staring at him and shifting his weight awkwardly from foot to foot. Sam hadn't wanted to come here, had said it was to dangerous, and not worth it. Said that Dean knew Dad's goddamn journal backwards and forwards anyway.

He hadn't understood Dean's insistence that they retrieve it, but hadn't argued when Dean had set his jaw and turned the Impala north. Hadn't said anything about breaking into Ellen's trailer earlier in the day, had torn her home apart right beside Dean, but apparently there was a line here he was hesitant to cross.

Dean doesn't understand why, what they did earlier was probably worse. Kicking down her door and ripping the single wide apart. Dean had headed left down the hallway, left Sam to ransack the kitchen and master bedroom. Ellen had taken good care of her trailer, it was in good shape despite being obviously old. Not so much, now.

There had been one picture hanging in the hallway. It was years old, a family portrait from when her family was still whole. Perfectly preserved and the only picture Dean had ever seen of Ellen's husband. Jo takes after her father, and for a half-second Dean had wondered if that was why Ellen was so protective of her daughter. Stepped up to the picture and torn it off the wall, grinned when it crashed into the floor.

The glass had cracked and splintered under his feet, and he felt the photo tear under the soles of his boots.

There was an office to the left and he had torn it apart, upended the desk and broken it to pieces looking for hidden compartments. Found out Ellen had a thing for Star Trek novels, tore the pages out of all of the paperbacks and left them scattered on the floor. Kicked holes in the wall, ripped the shelves out of the drywall, left the room without the journal.

The bathroom was down at the end of the hallway, and so was a bedroom, and he had taken the bathroom first. Left pill bottles everywhere, smashed the glass in the medicine cabinet, ripped down the shower curtain and emptied the towel closet. Nothing. He'd plugged the shower and turned it on full blast before he left the room.

He thinks the bedroom was probably Jo's by the way everything was slightly dusty, like nothing had been moving in there for quite some time. He can imagine Ellen closing it up after Jo left, leaving everything like it was as some kind of shrine to her wayward daughter.

He canvassed the room, letting his mind wander, remembering Jo's face that night in Kingsville. Remembering the stubborn set of her jaw and the fire in her eyes. She'd have followed him anywhere he asked, that night, and he had wondered if that had changed.

Made a mental note to get in contact with her.

And then he'd pushed the thoughts away, and flipped the switch-blade in his hand open. Torn the mattress apart, the box spring, too. Pulled every piece of clothing out of her closet and dresser, every piece of furniture thoroughly examined. Every picture or her or her mother or her father and even one of Dean that he didn't remember authorizing her to take, tossed into the pile of debris in the middle of the floor.

He left her room looking like a tornado blew through, without his father's journal. Met up with Sam in the living room, both empty handed. And Dean had said, "The Roadhouse,"and Sam had scowled, but not argued.

Now Dean grins, feeling adrenaline singing in his veins, "I make no promises and tell no lies, Sammy-boy,"and then he's hauling himself up onto the porch overhang, legs kicking at nothing for a long moment before he pulls himself up. The metal is slippery from the rain under his hands, rough and cool. He feels the moisture soak into the knees of his jeans as he moves towards the roof proper. Running the plan through his mind one more time.

Any second now Sam is going to push through the front door, and distract everyone in the building. This would worry Dean, but he's seen what Sam can do, now, seen him take people apart like they're nothing but little dolls. Sam will keep them occupied and Dean will find the journal and hopefully they'll be gone before anyone figures out what's going on.

Below, he hears Sam slam open the front door.

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There's an entrance to the attic on the roof, just like he'd hoped there would be, and he shoots the lock instead of worrying with it. The shot seems horrendously loud, but it gets covered over by the surprised, angry shouts from downstairs. He listens, for a half-second, hearing Sam's voice rising above the other noise, calling for quiet and Ellen and everyone to just hold on for a goddamn minute. And then the door swings closed and Dean's dropping inside the attic and the sound is lost.

The room is still and dark as pitch, dusty, the moon light hidden behind the clouds, but the dark holds no secrets from him. Not anymore. He closes his left eye, takes a deep breath, and lets everything brighten and swim into focus around him.

This is one more secret he's kept from Sam, one more thing for him to take to the grave.

The attic is filled with unused, forgotten, knickknacks. A table. A mannequin. Guns, or pieces of them scattered everywhere. Dishes and cups stacked in swaying towers, a case of beer so covered in dust that Dean thinks it's probably been up here for years. The floor is covered in dust as well, and there are no footprints in it.

Dean grins, and makes his way over to the fold down stairs. If he's right, it should drop him in one of the dry-storage rooms.

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He ends up surrounded by boxes of potatoes and beer. The room is empty and silent, and he briefly thinks about snagging one of the long necks, before dismissing it and grabbing a box of potatoes, tearing through the cardboard till the spuds spill out across the floor.

From outside, he can still hear angry, shouting voices, and so he upends the beer too, crunching through the glass and breathing the sharp yeast and hops smell of it in. He doesn't truly believe they would leave the journal in here, but you never know. When there's nothing but potatoes floating in bear, he kicks the door open, finds himself in the kitchen.

It's all old copper and steel gas lines, pilot lights burning bright orange in the ovens. For a half second he contemplates snapping some of the gas lines, but he doesn't have the journal yet. There's a forgotten hamburger turned to charcoal on the grill, smoking sadly up into what was probably once a stainless steel vent.

He's just about to upend a pile of ceramic plates when something electric dances up his spine, grabs his heart, and almost sends him to his knees.

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Emotion hits him in the base of his spine, and surges up into his skull, all fear and anger and not from him. Not his. Not his. Not his. He slumps against the wall, scrambling at it with his fingernails, trying to figure out what's happening and how to make it fucking stop.

And then the raw emotion solidifies into something else, moves from just a visceral reaction to one word with so much force behind it he finds himself moving automatically towards the door. Trying to get his legs to work right, holding himself up on the wall.

Echoing in his brain, dancing up and down his spine, is-HELPHELPHELPHELPHELPHELPHELPHELP-

And it's in Sam's voice.

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The hallway is a blur, the world spinning on the axis of-HELPHELP-Sam's voice calling to him, winding into his chest. It's not blocking out the other sounds, he can hear panicked screaming and frantic movement, but it is overriding them. More important. Most important. Sam needs him-HELPHELPHELP-and that's all that matters.

He's dimly aware that even though he's barely conscious of his movements, driven by undiluted need to see Sam, to help him, he's moving silently. Quick and efficient and utterly without noise as he stumbles down the hall and towards the bar. Waiting for the floor to creak, because these old boards always do, and not really surprised when they're silent under his feet.

The noise is coming from the bar proper, but the call is from somewhere beyond that. Through the bar is still the quickest way to Sam, and he's sprinting by the time he reaches it. The room is full of people he notes and catalogues and dismisses. Old crusty men, and a woman that he knows he recognizes and a dark skinned man that sends of flash of white-hot anger across the front of his mind.

They're all shouting, moving towards the gaping hole in the far wall. Some are waving guns, they all look furious, and they're all heading in the direction he can hear Sam-HELPHELPHELPHELP-and that's just no good at all. His first instinct is to lay them out, here and now, but he doesn't have time. Sam. Gotta get to Sam. Fine. He'll kill them after he's got Sam safe and sound.

He passes the crows at a dead run, jumping over smashed furniture, focused completely on the ragged hole in the wall. Vaguely hearing someone shout his name and, "Jesus Christ, he's fucking alive!"and something that he thinks sounds an awful lot like a gun shot. Something very hot, moving very fast, roars by so close to his check that the skin burns, and then he's at the hole, throwing himself through.

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The air reeks of sulfur.

The moon, finally breaking cloud cover overhead, is huge and round and blood red.

Dean doesn't care, doesn't even really notice. There's two figures writhing together on the ground, and one of them he'd know anywhere. Sam is pined to the ground by a tiny, dark haired woman Dean's never seen before. He can see her little pale hands around Sam's throat, the snarl on her features, the desperation on Sam's-HELPHELP-

Neither notices him, neither looks towards him as he runs towards them, dodging the debris flying through the air, unaffected by the hurricane force gales tearing the night sky apart-HELP-and he wants to tell Sam that he's coming, but there's no place for words where he is. Nothing but the monochrome silver sheen across the world, but the bitter air in his lungs, but-HELPHELPHELPHELP-

He reaches them still sprinting, steps over Sam's jerking body, arm snapping out to grasp the woman around her neck, forcing her up and away from his brother. The plea for help cuts off immediately, and the emotion dancing up his spine fades away till he's himself and only himself again. He lets his speed carry him a few steps beyond Sam before stopping, bringing the girl up and around so he can stare into her eyes.

She's screaming, face screwed up into a rictus of agony, jerking and spasming under his hand. He can feel her skin bubbling up into blisters against his palm and fingers. Bears his teeth at her, a wolf's smile, lifts her another few inches off the ground and tightens his grip.

Her eyes snap open, black as sin, and she throws her head back, vomiting a cloud of poison and death into the sky, desperate to escape.

Once, she would have been formless, a twisting mass that he couldn't make heads or tails of. Once. Now he can see the patterns inside it, the greater shape of the thing beneath the shadow. He drops the woman, limp and rapidly cooling in her death, and reaches into the terrible thing trying to rush away from him. Closes his fingers into it's soul and yanks.

The scream isn't a physical thing, but he feels it grating along every bone in his body like nails on a chalk board. Feels the thing in his hand pull itself hard away from him, lent strength from it's desperation, and he tightens his grip. Pulls back. Not sure what he's doing or how he knows to do it, but feeling it in his chest. Pulls and restrains and feels sweat break out all over his skin.

There's a diamond bright glow in the air, and he doesn't know where it's coming from, smells ozone and earth and blood.

The thing swallows his arm, littering a thousand stinging wounds across his skin and he snarls. Tugs, feeling the earth shift under him, feeling the air go painfully thin and then thicken till it seems as though it's the consistency of soup and freezing cold. Frost blisters across his skin like a glove, winding down into his lungs and fogging his breath. He laughs, and pulls one last time.

And suddenly it's not a black cloud in his hand, but the twisted, deformed body of the actual thing, beating at him with the pinchers at the end of it's arms. It's tiny, all misshaped limbs and sharp edges, and it whispers through it's ruined vocal chords, "Kill me, please, kill me,"

He does, tightens his hand till the bones in it's neck crack and snap and it dies with a little sigh that sounds like relief.

The body slides out of his suddenly numb hand, and he feels himself falling, hitting the ground hard with his palms and knees, retching. Staring at the thing's bulbous, black eyes, the razor sharp rows of it's teeth in it's twisted little baby face. Gaging on bile and emotion and the goddamn cold.

He's in the middle of a circle of ruined earth, frozen impossibly solid in the summer heat. He's breathing in fire and brimstone. Watching the creature's black blood creep across the ground towards his fingers. His faintly glowing fingers. His faintly glowing hand. His faintly glowing forearm.

Retches again, balling his hands into fists and trying to drown out the screams he can hear echoing in his forebrain.

Finally manages to shudder in a breath, rocking himself up onto his heels and the change in position means that the bullet that would have hit him in the head grazes his right shoulder instead. He throws himself to his feet, scanning and moving, angry, no, furious.

There's a crowd of maybe a dozen people fanned in a half-circle outside the hole in the wall. They've all got weapons, they all look unhappy in a powerful way. And in the space between Dean and them, sucking in air desperately and rocking himself back and forth helplessly, is Sam.

Dean grits his teeth, edges a step closer to his brother, tries to bite back on the red hot anger behind his eyes. Calls across to buy time, "Not exactly the warm welcome we were expecting, Ellen."

It's one of the men that answers, "Heard something finally put you out of your misery, Winchester."There's nothing friendly or even remotely understanding in that voice, nothing at all except venom and fear. He can see it on each of their faces, naked, undisguised. Twelve against one, and they're fucking scared of him. They should be. He's had worse odds.

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"You sons of bitches really wanna fuck with me? Sam and me just came to get something of ours back, not to cause any trouble, and I'm perfectly willing to put your hospitality behind us and move on."Because there's Sam to think of, Sam who is finally getting his breathing under control, who is blinking at him with big, confused eyes. He'll bullshit his way out of this if he can.

And then one of them dips the barrel of his gun towards Sam's prone form, and Dean feels every muscle in his body tense. "You don't want to do that, cocksucker."The man jerks his eyes towards Dean, but not his gun, and Dean growls and marks him as the first one on the chopping block. He crouches, braces himself and finds that hot line of fury in his chest that has yet to let him down.

"Hold on a second, all of you. Dean, this doesn't have to end with you all over this yard. Come peacefully and it'll be quick, honorable. Sam won't have to watch you die in a thousand pieces."Some man he doesn't know, who obviously doesn't know him. Grits his teeth and shifts, because talking became pointless the minute the fucker's pointed a gun at Sam.

Before he can move, Sam speaks, pushing himself into a kneeling position and reaching a hand out towards Dean. "I'm giving you one chance to put your guns down and walk away, and then I'm going to kill you all."

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Half of Sam's face is covered in blood, and his shirt is sticky against Dean's skin when he pulls his brother up and into him. Letting Sam lean on him, and his brother must be hurt worse than he'd originally thought, because he's barely trying to support any of his own weight.

Across the yard the crowd exchanges a glance, but don't lower their guns, and Dean watches Sam twist his face up into a grimace. Hears himself hiss, "Sam, you don't have to,"dragging Sam back a step, wondering how far away the Impala is, wondering how the hell everything went so wrong so fast.

"Yes I do. They shot you."

And then there's nothing but the sound of metal screaming, and Dean watches their guns curl into balloon animal shapes, caught off guard by the giraffe and wondering about Sam's thought process. And then Sam collapses against him, out like a two-hundred plus pound light and Dean swears, because the men across the lawn look terrified now, and fear makes men do stupid, stupid things.

Then one of them grits his teeth and says, "You boys are a hazard to everyone,"and just like that there's secondary weapons being drawn and they're advancing, a line of angry, scared men with murder on their minds.

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Dean slides Sam back to the ground, stands over him and lowers himself into a wary crouch. Only three of them have guns, the rest have knifes, wickedly curved and more dangerous than a gun in close contact fighting. Dean's got two guns of his own, and three knifes, but they don't need to know that, not yet. He lets them get close, close enough that he doesn't have to worry about getting to far away from Sammy.

Stills himself, breathes deep and lets his mind go empty.

And then he moves. Closing his hand on the gun stuck down the back of his pants, bringing it up and around and putting a bullet through the chest of a man with a Colt, and then they're to close for gunplay so he drops it. Twists and grabs the man with a Glock, hitting him with the flat of his palm in his nose, feeling it cave and give. Grabbing his wrist and elbow, pulling and bringing his knee up and feeling the man's arm crack over his thigh. The gun goes flying, the man goes down screaming.

The last man with a gun is firing randomly, desperately, and he's a half-step behind Dean. The shots are painfully loud, and Dean twist, slams his elbow into the man's temple. Follows the twist into a spin and when the man falls Dean kicks him hard in the back of the head. The man's skull makes a wet cracking sound against his steel toed boot.

Someone makes a stab at his chest and he slides sideways, lets the man's momentum carry him into Dean's space. Grabs his arm and shoulder, lifts and twists till he feels the shoulder dislocate, spins to grab the knife as it falls from the man's limp fingers. Slides it up into the man's ribs and twists and feels the blade grind into bone. Not coming out anytime soon.

A blade slashes by his face and he grabs the arm, spins his legs out and knocks the other man off his feet, palming the knife and flipping it in his fingers. Slashing it backhanded across the face of a man trying to sneak up behind him, whipping it back forward into the gut of a man charging him, tearing it sideways and down till it catches on the man's hip.

Throwing himself backward when a tingle in his spine advises him that someone is about to try to slit his throat. Watching the man stumble past him, scissoring his legs out from under him and grabbing gun he had dropped earlier and rolling onto the man's back, pressing the barrel into the back of his neck and-

The gunshot makes everyone go still except Dean, who blows the brains of the man beneath him out in any case, snarling and rising to his feet, ignoring the woman yelling across the yard. "Stop it, stop it, everyone just fucking stop. He's going to kill you fucking all, if you don't back the fuck up."

He watches them, crouched over Sam again, waiting for the next attack, ignoring the handful of bodies that he's left scattered across the ground in the twenty seconds the first fight lasted. The men back up a step, one of them throwing up, a few of them stopping to try and grab the dead or wounded. The woman, Ellen, he thinks, interrupts, "You all get back here right goddamn now,"

They do. Scrambling back, and he reaches down and hauls Sam up, deadweight against his side, but that's okay. Starts slowly but steadily dragging Sam towards the Impala, not taking his eyes off of Ellen. "We came for the journal Ellen, we'll just come back for it, and next time we won't be trying not to hurt anyone."

She stares back, rifle loose in her arms, still more threatening than any of the men had been.

"I burned it, Dean."And he hopes the pain that cuts through him at her words doesn't show on his face, because if she's telling the truth then the very last piece of his father anywhere is gone. There is nothing left of John Winchester left in this world, and Dean's not sure he can handle that, not really.

"I don't know what's happened to you two,"she pauses, sighs, "I don't like people dying on my property, but I'm not sure you count as people anymore, so make sure you two don't come back here again. You understand?"

Dean keeps moving, smiles a vicious smile. Wonders if she really expects him to leave an open threat to Sammy alive and well. Doesn't think she's really that stupid. "We won't be back."And they won't be. He'll wait till open night when Sam's dead to the world, and then he'll come finish this. Dean hates unfinished business.

Part Six: All We Need to do is Make Sure We Keep Talking

Folding Sam up into the Impala is like trying to get a square peg into a round hole. If the yelp of pain that Sam makes when Dean slams his shoulder into the dashboard is anything to go by, Sam feels the same way. Dean would feel bad about this, but there are men with guns somewhere behind them and he's not in the mood to press his luck.

He slams the door, hears it bang into Sam's knees, and sprints around to his side of the car. By the time he's cranked the ignition, put the pedal on the floor, and sped the hell away, his mind is going a hundred miles an hour in directions he doesn't like.

A demon almost killed Sam tonight.

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Their stuff is all crammed in the backseat. They hadn't planned on sticking around town after ransacking Ellen's place and had been prepared for a hasty getaway. Works for him. He puts the Impala on the highway, keeps his foot on the floor and leaves nothing but a trail of dust behind them. Figures he needs to put at least a couple of towns between them and the other hunters before pulling over and getting Sam patched up.

Sam, for his part, is passed out across the seat, long limbs going every which way in protest against the confines of the car. His forehead is pressed against Dean's thigh, fingers of one hand tangled in Dean's shirt, the others gripping his knee tight enough that it hurts.

Dean drops one of his own hands without thinking about it, curling it around the back of his brother's head, feeling Sam's drying blood flaking off against his fingers. Sam mumbles something, curling in on himself and huddling against Dean's side.

"Sh. We're stopping soon, okay?"

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He pulls into a Best Western because he wants a place that might possibly have clean water for him to clean Sam up with, and because it's parking lot is surrounded by a fence. He doesn't really think anyone is following them, not tonight, not with the dead bodies he left them to deal with, but he's not going to take the chance. Not with Sam curled up and half-conscious beside him.

He pops the door open and is sliding out when Sam's hand closes on his wrist and drags him back.

Tugs against his brother's hold, but that's an exercise in futility, and he knows it. "Sam, I'm just getting a room, I'll be right back and we can get you cleaned up."Doesn't say: And you can tell me what that demon was doing choking you to death, because, well, priorities. Room first.

Sam mumbles into the seat of the Impala, tugging harder on Dean's wrist and there's a headache pounding in his temples that he hadn't noticed before. Swears under his breath and attempts to pry Sam's fingers off with his other hand.

"Glowing,"Sammy slurs softly up at him, finally managing to get his head cocked so that he's not speaking directly into the leather. The left side of his fact is all swollen up, the skin under his eye is already turning all sorts of pretty colors, but he's focusing his eyes and his problems speaking seem mostly to do with the fact that his lower lip is the size of a golf ball.

For a second Dean's not sure what he means, and then he chokes on a laugh, shaking his head, "Not anymore, Sam, I'm-"cuts himself off when he realizes that, in fact, he is still glowing.

There's a fusion bright glow over his hands, arms, tendrils of it stretching up to and across his shoulders. He wonders if his right eye is aglow as well. Figures it probably is. "Fuck."Because there's no lie you can tell to get people to believe that your skin should be shining like polished chrome, like there's rays of sunlight pumping through your veins instead of blood.

"S'okay...just, just drive for awhile. Maybe it'll go away."

Yeah. Worth a shot, anyway.

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It's weird, how it doesn't feel any different than the rest of his skin, these pieces of him that glow. They don't tingle, or pulse, or even so much as prickle. They just glow, a ghost light in the black of the Impala's cabin. He closes his right eye and the light shifts to something bright and warm, like the sun. With his left closed it's sharper, silver-metal-fire.

Sam stays conscious after they pull out of the Best Western, pushes himself into a sitting position, braces himself in the corner and stares. Dean watches him edge his long arm across the back of the seat, pretends he doesn't notice. Doesn't want to spook Sam, not after everything else that's happened today.

He wonders, if he pretends that everything is okay, if Sam will play along.

Sam flattens his fingertips against Dean's jaw, and they are cool and dry. Slides his fingers up Dean's cheek, till his hand is cupped over Dean's right eye. He hiccups out a laugh, sounding a decade younger. Like Sammy on his thirteenth birthday, riding behind Dean on the motorcycle he had driven one summer, laughing into Dean's shoulders, arms wrapped tight around him.

"It tickles,"Sam's still half-giggling, splaying his fingers and then contracting them. Dean watches the world appear and disappear through the space between Sam's fingers, till he's laughing too. Helpless and caught up in Sam's voice, Sam's touch, Sam's everything.

He doesn't realize the glow is diminishing till it's gone, and Sam's laughter is slowly fading away to nothing more than soft, gentle breathing. Sam lets his hand fall back to Dean's neck, wrapping it as far around Dean's throat as he can. Hears Sam murmur, "It's gone now."

"Gonna find us a motel then, Sammy."

"No."

"No?"Because Sam's a bloody mess, and Dean's itching with the knowledge that he's hurt. Wants nothing more than to get him patched up, salt the doorways and watch over him till morning comes and this night fades to one more bad dream.

"Teresa was going to kill me back there, Dean."He says it so cooly matter-of-fact that Dean's skin crawls, knuckles tighten involuntarily on the steering wheel. The demons have never tried to kill Sam before, and the idea that they are now sends unpleasant chills down his spine almost as much as it relieves him. If they're trying to kill him it means they're not trying to use him anymore.

God, he hates mixed blessings.

"That was Teresa?"Sam hadn't said much about the possessed gas station attendant, or the night he had met her. Just that there had been some kind of trouble with the FBI and that in the process of leaving town they'd had a fight that had leveled a city block to rubble.

Sam nods across from him, rubbing circles under Dean's jaw with his thumb. "How do you know she was trying to kill you?"Because the demons had beaten the crap out of Sam with every intention of keeping him alive and well before.

"She told me. Said I wasn't needed anymore, and-"he cuts himself off, and Dean tries to taste the words he would have said, but can't. Before he can try to press the issue Sam is speaking again, softer, "She said that she was doing me a favor, because the people still alive in a few weeks time are going to be the really unlucky ones."

Dean's teeth grind together, he can feel the muscles twitching in his jaw and neck. Direct threats to Sam have always been white-hot fury in his bones, and this is no different. On some level he recognizes the threat to everyone else, as well, but that fades to the inconsequential. They're trying to kill his Sammy, and that's just not acceptable. He's stayed out of the way since he got back, kept to himself, and not went looking to cause the kind of trouble he knows he can.

But this, this is as good as a declaration of open war.

He slams on the brakes, spins the wheel and whips the car in a tight one-eighty. He passed the interstate he needs to get on ten miles back. Beside him Sam starts, eye wide and white in his bloody face. "Dean?"

"We need information. About the demons, what they've been up to, what the fuck they're playing at."

Sam grimaces, shifts uncomfortably before he speaks, "Bobby?"

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The more things change, the more they stay the same, and there's something comforting about pulling into Bobby's place and being surrounded by junk cars and old dogs and hundreds of wards spread across his land. Red, Bobby's old blood hound bitch, is nuzzling at Dean's hip, looking for the affection he can't spare while trying to hold Sammy up. Sam, who flails one arm down, curling his fingers behind the dog's ears and scratching.

Dean readjusts his arm under Sam's shoulders, knocks and waits and hopes that Bobby isn't spoiling for a fight. They need information, and they're going to get it one way or the other, but the thought of having to hurt Bobby makes his stomach tight and sour. He'd do it, but he wouldn't like it. Sam is cooing, "Good dog, who is a pretty dog, Red is, oh yes she is."

Bobby answers the door with a cup of coffee in one hand and a Latin text in the other, and for a long moment just stares at the pair of them. There's no anger in his eyes, no hate or disgust twisting up his features. Mostly, he just looks resigned. Tired. Edges the door open wider with his foot. Motions Dean in with a jerk of his head, "Good to see you boys again."

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Bobby still makes his coffee stronger than any other human being on the planet, and he's still making it with holy water, if the way he watches them out of the corners of his eyes is anything to go by. He visibly relaxes when Dean swallows half a cup down in one long gulp and Sam manages a few sips out of Dean's cup. Dean wonders, fleetingly, when Sam started drinking his coffee black.

He missed six months that feel like six years. Some things are harder to adjust to than others, and Sam's cuddling up against him is one of the more difficult changes to deal with. It's odd to feel Sam's long body curling around him, with other people watching. Can't bring himself to push Sam away, though, can't make himself take Sam's hand off his thigh.

Knows it's Sammy doing his best to be calm. Knows he's been struggling since they got here. Sat through Dean cleaning him up and getting him swaddled in bandages without a word of complaint. Stared hard at Bobby the whole time, though, cold and suspicious. And Dean can feel the tingle of power across his skin that says Sam's just waiting for the slightest bit of provocation to break Bobby and bring his home down around his ears.

Bobby, for his part, seems to be aware of the edge that Sam is on, keeps his movements slow and careful.

They've been sitting on his battered couch for twenty minutes, and the silence is getting them nowhere and Dean almost hates them for making him be the one to break it. "Look, Bobby, we just need-"

And then the door opens, and Sam jerks and Dean presses a hand against his chest, shoving him down into the soft cushions of the plaid couch. Thinks, hold on, holding his own breath, and barely notices the surprised look Sam flashes him. Across from them Bobby is standing, his expression warm and welcoming.

Jo Harvelle steps through the front door, lugging an armful of groceries.

She stands frozen for a long moment, staring at him and Sam, and Dean nods his head at her in greeting. She says, "My God, you're okay,"dropping the bags and something glass shatters on Bobby's linoleum. Bobby takes a step toward her, and she jerks her eyes towards him, blinking owlishly, "He's okay?"

It's Sam that answers, bristling, tightening his hold on Dean's thigh and scowling. "Yes, yes he is. And he's going to stay that way, clear?"

She stares at them for another long moment, then switches her gaze back to Bobby. Shaking her head and laughing, soft and desperate. When she looks at them again she looks torn between amusement and hope and deep, terrible, fear. She says, serious, "I broke the spaghetti sauce."

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Dinner is silent, and Sam falls into an involuntary sleep afterwards, curling himself around Dean like he's trying to protect him even in his sleep. Jo sits across from them, and Bobby stands behind her, one hand braced on her shoulder. There's a closeness between them that he recognizes but never would have anticipated. Maybe he should have.

They talk about what he missed, about the night that Hell had opened on Earth, and Bobby tries to prod out what happened to Dean the six months he was gone. Those are things that he can't yet vocalize, and doesn't even feel like trying to explain. There are some things you don't ever share.

He waits till Jo wanders into the kitchen to get more coffee before settling forward in his seat and leveling his eyes on Bobby. "A demon tried to kill Sam yesterday."

Bobby's coffee cup freezes en route to his mouth, he stares for a long second, "Sam?"

Dean nods, holds his cup out when Jo returns with the coffee pot. Bobby takes a long drink out of his own cup before continuing, "Well, that would support the current theory some of us have been chewing over."Dean scowls, motions for him to continue, "Rumor is they've found themselves some more of the psychics. Three more."

He feels something cold unravel in his gut, and a hot burst of relief across his chest. "They're just waiting for the fucking Summer Solstice then."

Bobby nods, rubs a hand over his face and Dean wonders what he's debating on saying. Doesn't have to wait long, because then Jo is reaching a hand up, nudging him in the chest with one slim little finger. "They're waiting for the Solstice to throw the doors open completely, but, Dean, for the last month they've been, well, they've started coming and going as they please."He pauses, takes another hit of coffee, "You understand what I'm saying?"

And he does. Hates the implications of the dates, remembers all to well waking up in the dark Impala a month ago. He can't remember how he got out of Hell, one moment he was there and the next he was waking up upside down in a ditch without a clue how he got there. "So we have two months."

"You gonna stop them?"Jo, watching him with her sharp eyes, hand still on Bobby's chest.

He holds her gaze, but doesn't answer, can't. Not with the thoughts racing through his mind. He wonders when he got so pessimistic, wondering at what point he became capable of considering what he's considering. Wondering if he could keep Sam safe in the scenarios playing through his mind. Thinks he could. "Dean?"

"Your mother says she burned my father's journal. Is it true?"

Jo freezes, goes blank and wide-eyed and that's answer enough. "Son of a bitch."Tries to bite back on the anger because he doesn't want to start glowing again. Doesn't think that would go over so well. Wants to hit, break, destroy something, but can't with Sam asleep and glued to him.

"I did it."She sounds so young, but that doesn't stop the hot blossom of rage through his chest. He's on his feet without thought, dragging Sam off the couch and his brother makes a protesting sound, clinging to his knees, still sleeping somehow. He only realizes he's growling, another conditioned response he hasn't been able to wipe out of his psyche, when all the color drains from Jo's face.

"They were using it to track you and Sam, they would have found you and killed you and I had to do something."

It's funny, how that just makes it worse. So much worse. His coffee cup is shattering against the far wall before he even realizes that he's thrown it. Jo jumps, Bobby just looks mournful over the loss of his ceramic mug, and Sam finally jerks back to the world of the waking.

Sam pulls himself up using Dean for handholds, responding to Dean's anger with a pulse of power that knocks every picture off the walls and topples the monuments of books Bobby's got scattered around. He says, "Dean?"and his voice is hard and flat.

"It's okay, Sam,"and it's not, but maybe saying it enough times will make it so it is. "We're going to go sleep now."No one argues with him, Sam just fades back a step, tugging him along with a hand in his waistband. He knows he needs to get out of Jo's sight before he hurts her. "Bobby, it'd be appreciated if you could find us something to kill. Plan to be gone in the morning, understand?"

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He doesn't sleep, not in the once familiar bedroom, not under the sheets that smell like oil and lilac. Sam sleeps heavy enough for them both, sprawling almost completely on top of Dean in his sleep, brutally heavy but that's not a problem. Not one that he's isn't willing to deal with, anyway.

He stares up at the ceiling, running his hands over Sam's shoulders and back, waiting for his anger to fade. Not really surprised when it's still burning every bit as hot in the morning.

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"What've you got?"Bobby jumps at his voice, and for a second he feels guilty for waiting till he was directly behind the man to speak. Only for a second, though. It's still hard for him to remember that other people are affected by his actions again. That he isn't the first and last person dealing with each and every situation.

Bobby recovers marvelously in any case, pivots on his heel and hands over a stack of folders. Dean can see newspaper clippings sticking out, articles printed off a computer, handwritten college ruled sheets by the dozen. Bobby rumbles, voice early morning rough, "Take your pick."The folders all say things like: Werewolf, Toledo and Brownies, Detroit. There's maybe a dozen of them, total.

Dean cocks an eyebrow, flipping through a folder about a poltergeist in upstate New York. "Jo's work, not mine. Likes to be organized before she heads out."Dean tries not to let his face cloud over with anger, knows he fails spectacularly when Bobby grimaces, "She spoke up for you boys when no one else would, you should know that."

He's about to point out that she also burned the last piece of his father in the universe, when he hears his name. Has already called over his shoulder, "In the kitchen, Sam,"when he belatedly realizes that he only heard it in his head.

That's goddamn unnerving. He wonders at what point in the six months Sam learned to do it.

Doesn't have time to wonder before Sam is behind him, fingers curling into his waistband, staring hard and untrusting at Bobby. He wonders if he's ever going to get to see Sam smile at someone besides him ever again. It doesn't matter, really. None of it does.

He stuffs all the folders under his arm, nods to Bobby and would shake his hand except he's pretty sure Sam would freak out. "Thank you for everything, Bobby. We'll be in touch."

Chapter Seven: The End of Laughter and Soft Lies

The summer solstice is on June 20th. They leave Bobby's house the morning of April 20th.

A week later, April 27th, they're standing over a recently exhumed grave, watching orange-red flames lick up towards the gray, clouded sky. The air smells like gasoline and rot and freshly turned earth and Sam's aftershave. He can feel Sam's heat at his shoulder, the feather light touch of Sam's fingertips against his waist.

Want uncurls in his gut, fire up his spine, and beside him Sam shudders and gasps. He turns, eyebrows raised in question, and has time to see the heat in Sam's eyes before Sam is crushing their mouths together. Fists a hand in Sam's hair, wonders if his brother is ever going to cut his curls again. Stops thinking when he feels Sam's fingers slip under his shirt, hard against his waist, pulling him close and tight.

The fire burns below them, and the sky opens in one of the random spring showers he's always loved, but he doesn't notice. Not with Sam groaning in appreciation when he tugs Sam's head back and presses messy kisses down Sam's long neck. He shivers against Sam's fingers, trailing up and down his spine.

For fifteen minutes, everything is right and beautiful in the world again.

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May 11th finds him sprinting through the western Carolina foothills at midnight. Clenching the ratty old sheet that's been in the Impala's trunk for probably forty years in one hand, his favorite sawed off shotgun in the other. Pumping his legs desperately to catch the huge, misshapen thing fleeing from before him. Wondering how the hell Jo confused a fucking boogeyman for a satyr.

It's hard to run with one eye open, but running with the conflicting input of both eyes makes him nauseous and dizzy. He can hear the bump-thump of the thing dragging Sam across the forest floor, and wonders how Sam still manages to get snuck up on, what with being psychic, and all.

Swears and whips his gun up, unloads it into the thing's back sheerly because it makes him feel better. There's only one way to kill these things, and it's a bitch, and he wishes it would slow down so he could get this the hell over with. Goddamn long-legged freak.

And then there's a cliff rising in front of them, and the thing is spinning to face him, waving Sam around like a rag doll in it's huge, gnarled hand. It roars at him, all long rows of teeth and a snake tongue. Its face is something out of a child's nightmare, which is fitting and also disgusting as hell. Children's imaginations are scary places.

He laughs, because, honestly, how can he feel threatened by something you kill with a blanket?

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May 15th and they're in Key West. Sam is dragging him along by the waistband of his jeans, and all he can think is that if people knew that nymphs spat this black-oily crap they wouldn't be nearly as popular. He digs at the rapidly hardening mess over his eyes one more time, and for his trouble almost loses his balance.

Sam responds in one fluid motion, changing his grip from a pull to a grab.

The high-pitched barking that is the nymphs' form of communication sounds to their left. Is answered from behind and to the right and Dean swears. "We're almost to the spring."Sam sounds calm, in control, but his hand is ice cold against Dean's stomach, so there must be some serious nerves going on in his crazy brain.

"How the hell do you know that?"

"One of us looked at the map before we left-"and then when Dean's foot catches in a hole, and he goes down heavy to his knees, "-are you okay? Dean?"He can feel Sam kneeling beside him, hands catching at his shoulders, all panic and nervous energy. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, just leave me here and go throw the holy water in their spring,"

Sam apparently decides not to deign to answer that, just grunts and slides an arm under Dean's shoulders and bodily hauls him back to his feet. For a moment Sam is still, and Dean can feel the anger radiating off of him though he's not sure he understands it. Wishes he could see Sam's face. Goddamn nymphs. Sam hisses, finally, dragging them both forward again, "You're never leaving me again, okay? I won't let you."

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May 23rd he leaves Sam sleeping deep and sound in their motel bed. Drives two hours into Toledo and waits in the outskirts of town where Jo's notes indicate a werewolf has been hunting. Sits there with his gun in his hand, thinking about Sam's face a year ago, forced to kill a girl that he had loved or whatever-the-hell.

When the wolf comes for him, all primal fury, he puts three silver slugs into it's heart and closes it's eyes before getting back into the Impala and driving away.

Sammy is still asleep when he gets back, mumbles nonsense when Dean slides into bed and lays his hand on Sam's back. And Dean lets himself, just for a moment, revel in Sam's heartbeat, firm and alive against his palm. He tries not to wonder if he killed someone's husband or brother or son tonight. Left the body in some alleyway for the rats and dogs.

Sam is silent the next morning when they drive back into Toledo. They spend a week there, searching, waiting for news of another attack. Eventually Sam decides that the wolf must have moved on, and Dean agrees. They both only relax when the town is fading into the rearview.

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June 1st finds Sam trying not to laugh at the little knee-high creature waving a spear at them. Dean is merely tempted to step on its head, but he holds back on that impulse. The thing with brownies is that you can't really kill them. They'll just come back like mushrooms after a rain. Very pissed off mushrooms. So stepping on them, no matter how satisfying it is, is a completely futile action.

You have to reason with them, though bribery works as well, if you're dealing with the greedy sort.

Sam's voice is cajoling when he speaks, kneeling down in an attempt to get eye-level with the creature of indeterminate sex. "Look, you don't want to stay here. It's dirty here. There's all kinds of cars and people here, just waiting to squish you."Dean imagines brownie road kill, a little gray body all twisted up, with it's little red hat rolling sadly away from the scene right before everything explodes.

Sam chokes, flashes Dean a dirty look. The brownie scowls at them both and says nothing.

Dean rolls his eyes, not believing they've been reduced to this, says, "Plus there's cats everywhere. They're vicious. And hungry."The brownie looks vaguely disconcerted at this, and goes so far as to cast an anxious look over its shoulder, as though perhaps a cat might have snuck into the alley while they were speaking. Dean smirks in triumph, presses his advantage, "And we've got lots of this shiny crinkly stuff to give you."

In the end they convince the brownies to relocate and all it takes is four boxes of aluminum foil and a pencil sharpener.

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June 11th dawns with them crammed into the too small shower stall of the trailer they spent the night outside of, digging up the bodies in Grandma's garden. The bathroom is built for maybe half a person but they're covered in mud and gore and the remains of various vegetables, and they make do.

Dean tilts his face up toward the faucet, rubbing at the grime caked onto his skin and laughing when Sam tries to siphon some of the water back towards himself. Shoves back against Sam, driving Sam into the wall and completely out of the water, letting it splatter against his own shoulders and trickle down his chest. Tries to forget the way the roots of the corn had been twined around the bones of the long-dead children.

"Hey,"Sam, speaking right into his ear, flattening his hand against Dean's stomach and pulling him back till they're pressed chest to back. Sam is hot and hard, digging into the small of his back, rocking his hips in lazy slow circles that have heat pooling low in Dean's belly instantly.

"Hey,"leaning back into him, rolling his head back against Sam's shoulder, staring at the hunks of dirt stuck in his brother's hair before he lets his eyes drift closed. Concentrating on Sam's hand around his cock, Sam's body behind his. Braces his arms against the shower tiles in front of him, lets his head fall forward and the water runs down the back of his head, down his spine, tries to slide between their bodies but nothing can get between them now.

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June 15th and they're sitting in the Impala, triple checking their guns, keeping one eye on the house where the black dogs went to ground. Sam says, softly and in rhythm with the motion of his hands, "You sure this is what you wanna do?"

Dean cuts his eyes towards him, but Sam's staring intently at the gun in his hands. "It's the only way."Sam sighs, and after a long moment nods his head tiredly. "You okay with it?"This time he nudges Sam's shoulder, keeps it up till Sam finally looks up at him.

"Yeah. Yeah, I am. It's okay."He wonders if they were talking about the black dogs at all.

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June 19th they walk into Blondie's Beer, Spirits, and Grill at a quarter till nine. It's one thing to understand what they're going to do tomorrow, it's another to actually handle doing it. The unspoken agreement between them had been that the only way to deal with the situation would be being drunk through the whole thing.

Dean wonders if the woman behind the bar, older, with too much cleavage showing and skin orange from excessive use of self-tanner, is Blondie. She smiles at him sadly when he requests two beers and two shots of Jack and leave the bottle. Sam downs the first shot with him, scrunches his face up, and then motions towards the bathroom with his head before stalking towards it.

There's a table open in the corner, and Dean tucks the bottle under his arm, beers in one hand, glasses in the other, makes his way over to it. The liquor is sitting heavy and uncomfortable in his stomach, he takes a long pull of his beer, trying to wash the whiskey taste out of his mouth and throat. It's been nine months since he drank any substantial amount of alcohol, he figures that it shouldn't take much to get him insensible.

Wonders why Sam is taking so long in the bathroom.

He hears a crowd of people push into the bar, feels a prickle in the nape of his neck and almost disregards it. Instead grits his teeth and slides his hand to the gun holstered beneath his right arm, readjusts his grip on the beer bottle. He doesn't ignore his instincts. Not anymore.

Forces himself not to turn and look, stares nonchalantly at the dart game going on to his left, strains his other senses towards the crowd. They're not speaking, don't appear to be moving any farther into the bar. A few of them are nervously shuffling their feet. He wonders what they are. What they're doing here. If it has anything at all to do with him.

He raises his bottle, cants it so he can just catch their reflections in the curve of the glass. A half-dozen people, four men, two women, none of whom he recognizes. Wills them to just turn around and walk back out the door, leave him and Sammy in peace.

Instead one of the women turns, eyes locking on the back of his head, and as one, they move towards his table.

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He doesn't rise. Instead he tests the balance of the table, what it would take to flip it, catalogues what he can use as weapons in his immediate vicinity. Slides the gun almost completely out of its holster, breathing deep and slow. Waiting. Hoping now that Sam stays in the goddamn bathroom till this is over.

The woman that spotted him slides into the seat across from him, the rest of her group standing over them, trying to look threatening. She's pale, all long white-blond hair and cornflower blue eyes, skin like milk or cream. Clothed head to toe in leather, though, scruffy worn cowhide that looks like its seen better days. She puts her elbows on the table, leans forward into his space. "Dean Winchester?"

"Never heard of him."

She laughs, hard and flat, and her tongue is very red behind her little white teeth. "Where's your brother, Dean?"Pours herself a shot of the Jack, slams it back and raises an eyebrow at him.

"Became a monk. Took a vow of silence. Last I heard he was tending goats in Tibet."Two of the men are bigger than him, big enough that they're probably slow as hell, the others about his size, including the other woman. They're all strung tight as bowstrings, focusing on him so intently he's surprised their eyes don't pop out of their skulls.

"Funny. Ha. Ha. Isn't he funny?"She cocks her head towards her friends, they do not look amused. He watches her, the line of her jaw, the flex of skin around her eyes. Restrains a smirk when she nods, barely perceptible, and one of the big boys standing over him lunges for his head.

Dean slams his beer bottle into the edge of the table, the right angle and pressure that he practiced a thousand times when he was younger, lets go of the gun and grabs the man's wrist. Forces the big boy forward with his own momentum, till his hand is splayed against the table and drives the jagged edge of the bottle down into the back of his hand, that triangle of skin between his thumb and hand. Pushes through it, till he feels the glass dig into the wood of the table.

The man is screaming, but Dean's not listening, grabbing the table and flipping it out into the other four, scattering them and leaving the man sobbing on the floor, trying to pry his hand off the table. He grins in the face of the blond woman's glare, says, "Oh, sweetheart, I'm hilarious."

She snarls, bearing her teeth. Both sets of them.

"Fuck you, Winchester."

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There's a Bowie knife strapped to his calf above his boot, but it'll be messy decapitating them with it. It's really too bad that machetes are far too big and suspicious to carry around on your belt. He'll make do. Says, "Didn't think your kind liked working this hard for dinner."He's never heard of vampires going to this much trouble for a kill. Then again, he's never heard very much about vampires.

She shakes her head, visibly struggles for composure, he can almost hear her second set of teeth sliding back into place in her gums. Manages an ugly smile with her pretty face, "Oh, drinking you dry is just going to be an added bonus."

"That right?"The others are producing weapons at an alarming rate, all of them except the bastard that is still screaming on the floor. He'd like to toy with them, find out what the hell they were talking about, but at this point he's just worried about Sam. There's no way his baby brother couldn't be hearing the screaming, and no way that hearing it he would willingly allow Dean to be out of his sight.

"Yeah, that's right, all we need is your head, well, and your brother's. Everything else is just going to be a job perk."

He narrows his eyes, wondering why people continually threaten Sam, even knowing what it portends for their immediate future. Dumb sons of bitches. "Isn't head-shrinking a little off for your peoples usual MO?"Maybe they're rabid, or something, crazy monsters gone even crazier than usual.

"Oh, it's not for us. We're...hm...I guess you could call us mercenaries. Just following orders, that kind of thing."She's edging closer to him, like he wouldn't notice, a wickedly curved dagger in her hand and he wonders if she's ever cut a head off before. She's holding the knife all wrong for the pressure necessary to severe the vertebrae.

He snorts, "Who the hell would bother putting a hit out on us?"Who the hell would be stupid enough to?

For the first time she looks uncomfortable, there's something an awful lot like fear dancing around behind her eyes. And he knows it's not directed towards him. She's not smart enough to be afraid of him, not yet. "You know who."

He laughs, because he supposes there's only one faction she could mean, one group that he knows doesn't want to fuck with him directly. Still, sending vampires to do their dirty work...he would have expected more and better. He shrugs his shoulders back now, ready for this to be over, ready to find Sam, ready to get the hell out of here. "And what are they paying you, for our heads? Not going to be worth a whole hell of a lot after they wipe you all out, is it?"

Demons, he learned, down in the black, don't play well with others.

"They promised us safety, you idiot, freedom to prowl the coming world as we saw fit, without fear."She's nodding her head at her friends again, but they hang back. Apparently, they have remarkably better sense than she does.

"Freedom in a world where your food source is dead and gone? Wow, that's a good deal you worked out right there."

"Shut up!"

"Not to mention the fact that you'd actually have to be alive to claim the reward, and, honey, you're not walking out of this bar. Now, can we shut up and dance?"

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The four come at him at the same time, the blond woman fading back a step to watch. He blows her a kiss, drops, rolls, comes up with the Bowie knife in his hand. The other woman laughs as they circle around him, feinting jabs and keeping their guard up. They seem perfectly willing to take this slow and patient, but he's not.

Here's the thing with vampires, you have to cut their heads off to kill them, but pain still hurts them. Healing slows them down, and wound them badly enough, they'll stumble and fall just like a human. He twists towards the other big man, ducks low under the punch that's thrown, striking out with his knife fast and fluid. The man's stomach opens against his hand, intestines pouring out of the man's gut and spilling in a red, blue, purple mess at the man's feet.

Dean's spinning when the man falls, putting his shoulder into the next man's hips and feeling him buckle towards the ground. They hit hard but he's already got his hand in the man's hair by the time the ground rushes up to meet him, baring his throat and stabbing down into his spine with the knife. Tearing it out to one side, and then yanking it through to the other.

The last man grabs him, lifts him bodily up and Dean reaches down, winds his hand down between the man's legs, squeezes and twists. The man screams, Dean elbows him in the face, and when he drops him swings the blade into his neck. It's a shallow cut, doesn't do much more than spurt blood. Dean is about to push the blow, tear the man's head off, when the blond woman finally steps up and slams her fist into the side of his head.

He'd forgotten how strong they were.

She's screaming at him, words he can't hear around the ringing in his ears, kicking him in his ribs and flipping him onto his back. She falls onto him, straddling him, and he can feel the cold press of steel against his neck, see her pretty face all contorted up staring down at him.

He reaches up, digs his fingers into her eyes, and pulls her down to him. She lets go of the knife to dig at his hand, and he grabs the blade, twists a leg around hers, and holds her still above him while he saws through her neck. Scrambles to his feet, still dizzy from the blow she dealt him.

The remaining vampires are staring at him, and finally the woman drops her knife, grabs the man with his intestines hanging out and starts dragging him towards the door. The last two limp out behind her, leaning on each other, and he let's them go because goddamn his head hurts. Sways there in his own little ocean of blood, wondering where the hell Sam is.

And it's only then that he realizes he's been hearing Sam since the vampires walked through the door, fast and desperate in the back of his mind: run, Dean, runrunrunrunrunrunrun-

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He's just turning towards the bathroom, because like hell is he going to leave Sammy here, when the door to the bar bursts open again. This time, all the little red dots appearing on his chest and head pretty much tells him exactly what's going on. All the men in their black suits and FBI jackets clear up any residual doubts he might have had.

"Put the knife down, and lay down on the floor, slowly."

He laughs. This is just not going to be his day, he can tell. "What the fuck have you done with Sam?"Because he's still alive, he can hear his brother pleading with him to run away in the back of his mind.

Two of the agents exchange glances, and he growls, impatient and irritated with this already. Wonders what the hell they're waiting on, because surely they must want to just go ahead and open fire on him. Finally one of them looks back towards him, won't meet his eyes, and says into his earpiece, "We have Dean secure, bring the other one in."

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The bathroom door swings open, and he twists his body so he can keep an eye on both groups as well as possible. Agents pour out, and he wishes his heart rate would slow down, wishes he could see Sam, wishes Sam would do his psychic mojo and get them out of here.

And then they drag Sam, stumbling, through the door. His eyes are wide and unfocused and Dean feels anger surge up in his chest, because these mother-fuckers don't know who the hell they're messing with if they've hurt Sammy. It takes him a moment to drag his eyes away from his brother, and when he does he feels his heart stutter, ice pour through his veins.

Because Missouri Mosely is standing right behind his brother, her hand twisted into his curls, and she does not look happy.

Her voice, when she speaks, is soft and sweet as ever, "This is really for the best, Dean."

Chapter Eight: Just Breaking the Skin

"Let Sammy go, now."

An agent slams him face first into the nearest wall, forcing one boot between his legs, knocking into his ankles in an attempt to unbalance him. Pats him down with smooth, quick efficiency before grabbing his right arm and trying to pull it behind his back. Dean grits his teeth, locks his knees and elbows, stiffens his shoulders and neck. Doesn't budge. Says into the wall, "Let Sammy go. Goodwill gesture, c'mon."

"Cooperate and we will, Dean," Henriksen's voice, and he sounds far more upset and stressed than Dean had been expecting. Giddy joy had been closer to what he'd been anticipating. Something is off here. Wrong. Well, okay, more wrong than he'd first thought.

"I got your word on that?" He's got to get Sam out of here, get him away from whatever the fuck Missouri is doing to him, and then Sam can take them all out. The agent holding his arm is yanking, digging his other elbow into the small of Dean's back.

"Scout's honor."

Dean scowls, hating this, hating having to trust, hating having no other options. Lets his arms relax. The next second his arms are behind his back, zip tied, and he's on his knees, staring up at Missouri's hate-filled face, Henriksen's troubled expression, Sam's unfocused, blurry eyes. "Sammy goes free now. Scout's honor, Henriksen."

Henriksen nods, and Dean wishes he could read the other man's expression. Wishes he could get a handle on this situation. "Let him go, he's not in any shape to run off anyway."Missouri doesn't respond, and after a long second Henriksen cuts his eyes towards her. She's staring at Dean, hard and flat, doesn't appear fazed when Henriksen repeats, "Let the boy go."

She's still looking at Dean when she says, "No, I don't think I will."

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There's no way a woman her size should be able to drag a man of Sam's, but she manages. Pulls his brother so close that Dean can see the anger and frustration beneath the fog. Can read the naked hate and fury in the line down the middle of his brother's forehead, in the way he's pulled his mouth tight, in the slow grinding of his teeth. Sam opens and closes his mouth without sound, and Dean tries to reach for him before remembering he's restrained.

When she speaks she jerks his attention away from Sam, "Your brother doesn't believe me."

"What?"he drags his knees forwards, precious inches closer to Sam, straining against the plastic binding his arms. The agent behind him presses the barrel of his gun against the back of Dean's skull, and he shuffles forward again anyway. If they were going to kill him they'd have done it already.

"He won't listen to me, won't look at the facts and realize what's going on."That's his stubborn Sammy, all right. Sam, who had denied the existence of ghosts till he was six years old and watched Dean get beat almost to death by one. He grins up at her, on steadier ground now, because if she's trying to change Sam's mind then she's already lost and just doesn't know it yet. She says down into his smiling face, "So I'm going to have to show him."

Staring up into her merciless eyes he has the insane urge to scramble backwards, to hide behind all these men and their guns. To put as much space between her and him as possible. But he can't, and he wouldn't even if he could, because that would mean leaving Sam.

So he stays still, immobile as a mountain as she steps right up to him, till all he can see is the expanse of her sundress. Till he can almost feel the vibrations of her voice when she says, "You're a hard mind to get into, Dean Winchester."

He smirks, "Mind like a steel trap."And then she pushes her hand against the side of his head and ohgodmakeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstop-

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Dean doesn't have words to adequately describe what she does. Doesn't think anyone does, because he's sure this hasn't happened to many people in the past. She's just there, forcing her way into his thought process, into the space behind his eyes that is supposed to be his, riding the currents of his thoughts wherever they go. He's dimly aware that Sam's there, too, furious and plotting murder.

She's tearing him apart, looking for something, or maybe just for the hell of destroying his mind, he's not sure. Ripping apart conversations he's had with Sam to little tiny pieces, leaving them disjointed and scrambled in her wake. His subconscious works damage control, but even he can see that she's destroying faster than he could ever hope to repair.

Worse yet, she's dragging him along with her, forcing him to watch his psyche shatter and break at her touch.

WHERE IS IT? His memories stream by, all wrong. Him and Sam in the shower, Sam holding his head under the facet, fingers in his mouth, forcing him to breath the water into his lungs. Sam standing above him, bleeding from his nose, unloading six shots into Dean's face and chest. The vampire he had killed, cradling its severed head in one hand wrapping its other around his throat, squeezing and squeezing and squeezing-WHERE IS IT?

He doesn't know what she wants. Wouldn't give it to her if he did. Thinks, FUCK YOU, as loudly as he can, and draws himself up for war. Let her give it her best shot. Let her try to break him. Better and stronger than her had tried and failed.

She screams, all frustration and anger, and forces her way deeper.

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WHERE IS IT? Throwing his body over Sam's to protect him from the debris the poltergeist is flinging around the room, and only realizing Sam's already been impaled on a jagged hunk of metal when it slides into his own body, sealing them together. He screams, forcing the memory back to truth with sheer willpower, to Sam wrapping his arms around him, holding him close and whimpering in the back of his throat. Sam had been ten. There had been no metal.

WHERE IS IT? Sam bringing the Impala home after the first time he drove her by himself, trying to explain the dent in her left fender. Sam's face breaking under his fists, till it's nothing but a mess of blood and bone swimming in an ocean of blood. That one warps back on its own, something deeper than she could ever understand won't even imagine hurting Sammy. He can hear himself telling Dad that it was him who had hit the light pole while Sam stood behind him looking like a scared puppy.

THERE. Dad looming over him that one summer he had let his hair grow down past his shoulders. Dad's rough fingers winding into his hair, breath alcohol sour across his cheeks, dancing into his mouth when his father wraps his hands around his throat and holds him down and calls him Mary. No Forces himself to remember Dad's indifference to the long hair, his only remark that it might give someone something to grab in hand-to-hand combat. Don't give anyone an advantage over you, Dean.

THERE. Dad in the hospital, leaning over him with one hand braced over his nose and mouth. Telling him that he was going to kill him and Sam. That it was for the best. That it would save the world, didn't he understand? Sometimes a man has to do things he doesn't want to do, Dean.

Sometimes a man has to do things he doesn't want to do, Dean. Do this for me, please, son.

Dean screams and she laughs and he hears the echo of her voice, OH YES, RIGHT THERE.

She slams everything she has into this needle point in his psyche, this hairline fracture that leads to the one place he promised he'd never think about again. Surges into the maelstrom beneath the surface, drags Dean and Sam with her, and above the noise of Hell itself Dean can hear himself, screaming still.

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-here beside your dear old Daddy and let you two get reacquainted, how does that sound?"None of them have talked to him before, beside the bubbling whispers that don't really count as far as he can tell. But this one is, and this one he recognizes, and this one he's been trying to kill since he was four years old. Yellow eyed bastard.

He doesn't look at his Dad. Can't. Would lose what control he has if he did, steps up to the monster instead. Tense and ready and strung so tight he's thrumming with the pressure of it. Reaches out and places his hand against the things chest, and smirks when it jerks away in shock. "Bet you didn't know I could do that. Let me tell you what I'm going-"

-is different. You said you have an eye, Dean? That you can...touch...the things down here, didn't you? No one else can do that, not even me and I've tried everything. Now listen to me, you can leave, walk right out that door, and pretend you never found this room, I know you want to Dean-

-please, don't ask me to do this. Please. I can't. I can't. Don't make me do it, please. Please. We'll get you out of here, we will, and everything will be okay. No. No. I can't. Dad, please-

Dean jerks, digs in his everything he has and pulls them back, away from this, tosses them to the mercy of his memories as long as it means they're far away from this one. From somewhere far, far away he can hear a voice that is moderately familiar yelling, "Let him go, let him go right now,"but it doesn't seem important. Not when she laughs, and pulls them right back to the tiny dark cave that he'd buried so deeply he thought he'd erased it.

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He's got no real destination in mind, wonders if he ever did. It feels like he's been wandering around for years with no thought but staying away from the roving packs of beasts that would tear him apart. No thought but stay alive, get out, find Sam. He thinks its only been a few days. It feels like years.

He knows where he is, finally forced himself to face it, to admit in the silence of his own skull that he's in Hell. Where else could he be? He figures that this means he's dead, but he doesn't feel dead. Being dead shouldn't hurt this much, he's almost certain. Who the fuck heard of dead people dislocating their shoulders?

This tunnel has gone on forever, is getting more and more narrow with each step he takes and he considers turning back. His stomach turns violently enough to dissuade him of that idea. Behind him is the Pit, he doesn't know what else to call it. Behind him is the hole to the center of the world, rimmed with bodies barely recognizable as human, men, women, and children tormented beyond any thing he could possibly imagine.

Forces himself to keep stumbling forward, ignoring the fire in his shoulder, the pull of dried blood across his back from his torn skin, the shock and horror of his missing eye. No. No. He can't think about his eye socket, packed with the remnants of his shirt, a make shift patch because it felt so wrong just leaving it open to the elements. Focuses on the burn of the muscles in his legs, the ache in his lungs, the echo of his heartbeat. The things that tell him he's still alive.

Or not dead. Or whatever.

The tunnel keeps getting smaller, and by the time it finally opens up into a round cavern he's crawling on his hands and knees, leaving patches of skin behind when his fingers and palms freeze fast to the stone. Goddamn freezing cold in fucking hell. Figures.

He crouches in the end of the tunnel, scanning the room, looking for other occupants, for threats, for a doorway marked: Exit This Way. No movement, the room appears to be empty save for the raised platform in its center and he lets a relieved breath slip from his lungs. Drags himself to his feet and starts across the uneven floor towards another tunnel on the room's far side.

He's halfway there when something moans from the platform, and a thousand little points of panic flare to life under his skin before his brain kicks into gear. Because that, that low, whimpering moan, that's a human sound. He knows, because it's the same one he makes, every time he has to change the bandages stuffed into his eye socket.

He's loping towards the platform before he even has a chance to consider what he's doing. Shoulders low and head down, arms tight and close to his body and he springs up onto the raised lip of the platform. Not sure what he's planning on doing, not caring. Another human, oh God, someone else besides him alive down here.

It takes a long moment to make out the body in the strange dark of this place, the not-light that follows him around. When he does he jerks his head to the side, pressing his mouth and nose into the bloody flesh of his shoulder, trying to hold down the nausea roiling in his stomach. The body is spread-eagled across the platform, a dozen long stakes driven into its hands and arms. A dozen more in its legs. Pale skin covered with blood-black lacerations.

And the poor fucker is still alive.

Dean swallows, barks out a laugh that he can't stop, pulling himself towards the poor bastard's head, not thinking anything beyond the fact that he can give the other person some relief. Can end this pointless torment. It's the greatest kindness that he thinks he can offer.

He braces his hands around the other man's neck, tenses his muscles and stares down into the man's face. Waits for his arms to twist, but they won't, can't. And he finally blinks, takes in what his brain is screaming at him. He knows the profile of that nose. He knows that hairline. He knows the silver shot through this man's beard. And then the man speaks, and oh, Christ, he knows that voice, "Play time again already, you fucker?"

Dean twists away, retching, not believing, not wanting to believe. Hates how thin and flat his own voice is in his ears, "Dad?"

There's stillness, silence for a long moment, and then his father flops his head towards him, and oh, God, he can see the dark wet emptiness where his father's eyes should be. His stomach flips again, he dry heaves and hates himself for it. "Dean? Dean, oh Christ, boy, is that you? Dean? Please, I-"

He can't take the quiver in his father's voice. Can't just sit here and do nothing, pulls himself back to his father's side, pulls his Dad's head into his lap and curls his body over his Dad's. Rubs comforting, desperate fingers across his brow, down his cheeks, through his matted hair, "I'm right here, Dad, I've got you, I'm right here. I found you, it's okay."

It's not.

Her voice cuts through his psyche, and for the first time Dean remembers that this is just a memory. That he's not really here, that this is some twisted idea of hers, that he's really in a bar in western Idaho. She says, TOO EARLY, and he feels the world twist and shudder and reform itself for her.

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It's instinct to spring to his feet, to put himself between his father's broken body and the monster stepping through the far doorway. He falls into a fighting crouch without thought, legs spread and braced, jaw set, fists flaming with silver light. Hears himself growl out, "Go the fuck away, you dumb bastard."Doesn't expect an answer.

"Oh, I think not. Do you know the amount of trouble you've been causing? I do believe I'm going to tie you here beside your dear old Daddy and let you two get reacquainted, how does that sound?"None of them have talked to him before, beside the bubbling whispers that don't really count as far as he can tell. But this one is, and this one he recognizes, and this one he's been trying to kill since he was four years old. Yellow eyed bastard.

He doesn't look at his Dad. Can't. Would lose what control he has if he did, steps up to the monster instead. Tense and ready and strung so tight he's thrumming with the pressure of it. Reaches out and places his hand against the thing's chest, and smirks when it jerks away in shock. "Bet you didn't know I could do that. Let me tell you what I'm going to do to you, how does that sound?"

The thing opens its mouth, too wide and too big and with far too many teeth and Dean sneers and buries his fist in the side of its face. Feels teeth shatter against his knuckles, feels skin split, grins and follows it through with an upper cut to its jaw. Hisses, "You fucker,"and grabs the monster's bottom jaw, not caring when he splits his fingers open on the razor edges of its teeth, pulling it close so he can stare into its jaundiced eyes.

"You have no idea what I am, do you?"

It tries to shake its head, and sneer and Dean just smiles. Feels his eyes crinkle in the corners, feels his cheeks ache from how wide he's grinning. "That's a shame, because I might have been nicer if you could give me some answers."

TOO EARLY.

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"Your experience...is different. You said you have an eye, Dean? That you can...touch...the things down here, didn't you? No one else can do that, not even me and I've tried everything. Now listen to me, you can leave, walk right out that door, and pretend you never found this room, I know you want to Dean, but, listen to me-"

He can't. He doesn't want to. Can't hear this. "Dad, please."Please don't say this. Please don't ask me for this.

His dad grimaces, Dean can see the teeth that he's missing, that have been smashed out of his mouth, nothing but jagged bloody stubs now. Closes his eye and breathes through his nose and tries to make this not be happening. Curls his blood soaked hands around his father's shoulders and tries to stop the trembling in his arms.

"I know it's not fair, son. I know. Dean, I'm not getting out of here. You know I'm not. Please-"

"Please, don't ask me to do this. Please. I can't. I can't. Don't make me do it, please. Please. We'll get you out of here, we will, and everything will be okay."

"Dean-"

"No. No. I can't. Dad, please-"

"Dean, listen to me. I'm broken, boy. I don't have a body left, you said yourself you cremated me. Please, Dean,"and his voice breaks, and it is then that Dean knows he is lost. That he will do this thing, no matter what the cost to himself. Hears himself sob, brokenly, up to the ceiling, "Dean, I just want the pain to stop. Please."

He doesn't say anything else, not sorry or please or I miss you, can't around the pressure in his throat. Just slides his hand up, covers his father's mouth and nose, firm even pressure. Sobs, soundless and terrible, into the uncaring empty air of this place. Tries not to feel the shudder and jerk of his father's body, the way he still struggles even though he wants this. Even though he pled for this.

And then there's nothing but stillness, no warm breath against his palm. Nothing. He lets his body fall forward over his father's, feeling like he's been pulled apart at the seams, and screams. Again and again and again till his throat is raw and bloody. Screams till one of the monsters wraps a claw around his shoulder and then there is nothing but blood and death and broken bodies strewn around his feet.

He falls, curls in on himself, screams, "Are you happy now? Got what you fucking wanted, you bitch? Are you fucking happy now?"

DO YOU SEE, SAM, DO YOU SEE NOW? YOU HAVE TO UNDERST-

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The world implodes, swirls down into a pinprick and then explodes back into Blondie's bar. Into a dirty ceiling and a hard floor under his back, and he doesn't remember falling. He can taste blood in the back of his throat, smell its copper bitterness in his nose and feels it sticky all across his face and neck. He blinks, tries to breathe and coughs on the blood, twisting himself onto his side so that it can run out of his mouth.

There's a horrendously loud thud, and then the scrape of someone pulling themselves across the floor towards him. He flinches, tries to find the strength to fight, can't. And then Sam is there, bleeding from his nose and mouth, face a mask of panic and worry.

His brother is shaking, shuddering, his movements are clumsy when he pulls Dean half into his lap. Sam smears the blood around on Dean's face, rocking him back and forth and murmuring nonsense words. Dean coughs, tries to get his voice to work, manages what might be a whisper, "I killed Dad. I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry-"

And Sam's fingers tighten against his skin, his jaw twitches but his eyes are soft and worried, not angry. He says, voice hard and sure, "You did good, baby, it's okay."

Dean laughs, relief and redemption and forgiveness hitting him like a two by four to the side of the head. And only then does he hear the shouts of the agents all around them. Hear Henriksen's voice rising above the din, flat and no nonsense, "She was instructed to let them go, multiple times. Interfering with a Bureau operation will not be tolerated and-"

Dean doesn't hear anymore, because his eyes finally lock on the crumpled body of Missouri, curled with her back to him, lying in a spreading puddle of her own blood.

He only blinks when Henriksen steps between him and her body, kneels and locks eyes with him. Sam's hands tighten around his shoulders, he can feel the burn of power all along his body and almost laughs with relief. Fuckers can go fuck themselves now. Sam's back. Everything will be okay.

"You boys okay?"It's a weird question, as is the respect and worry in Henriksen's eyes. But hadn't Sam said something about him being changed after Kingsville? Dean's too dead tired to worry about it right now, manages a nod and feels Sam flex his power, snap the plastic binding his arms together.

Drags his hands forward, doesn't care if everyone in the whole damn building knows he's free. Sam will take care of them if they cause trouble, and he has lost circulation in his hands at some point. He swallows a deep breath, flexing his fingers, thick and tingling, and freezes.

His skin is all silver light, and panic rips through him like fire. The last time he glowed there had been a Demon in the immediate vicinity. He drags himself away from Sam, manages to make it to his knees, straining his ears. Scanning the faces of the agents in the room. Hoping, praying, that he's wrong.

And then someone drives a truck through the side of the building, and Dean doesn't have to see the driver to know that their eyes will be bottomless black pits. He's on his feet in an instant, dragging a wobbly Sam up and shoving him into Henriksen. Hears himself order, calm and cool and deadly serious, "Get your men and my brother out of here before they kill you all."

Chapter Nine: Is It Fast Enough so You Can Fly Away

Sam's saying, "What? Dean, what, wait-"

Dean is not listening. Pushing himself to his feet and goddamn but he hurts, all over everywhere. He'd wonder what the hell Missouri did to him, but he doesn't have time right now. Besides, Dean's always been good at dog paddling his way through pain, and the dark brought him up to an Olympic level free style. He sways for half a second before steeling himself and marching towards the truck.

Henriksen is yelling at the agents to get the civilians to safety, and beneath his voice Dean can hear Sam scrambling to his feet. Hears his brother shouting over the agent, "Don't panic, no one panic or get angry or scared, okay? Emotional instability is really dangerous right-"

Sam's so practical. Dean's just pissed off.

He's two steps away from the truck when the passenger side door slams open hard enough to shatter the already stressed glass into a billion pieces.

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The man that slides out of the truck is wearing a green uniform for Ed's Seafood Emporium, which matches the stickers on the door of the truck. He's rope thin, older and tall. He's bleeding from a jagged gash across his forehead and his eyes are black as sin. He flashes a crooked grin at Dean before jerking back to the truck, scowling and reaching in.

He pulls out a little girl, tiny brown haired thing with big green eyes all rimmed in red. Dean can see the bruises on her arms, the red swell of a welt across her cheek. The man has the barrel of a monster pistol buried in her hair right above her ear.

Behind him someone is shouting back at Sam, voice tight and high with emotion, "Why the hell can't we be angry, and why are we taking orders from you anyway, you're just-"

And Henriksen, "Because I told you to, goddamnit it, they know-"

In front of him the demon smiles again, dragging the girl another step away from the truck. There's a resemblance between the man's face and the girl's and the realization that he's probably her father or grandfather sends ice water through Dean's veins. The demon says, "I've been sent to bargain with you, Winchester."

Dean laughs, short and sharp, "You don't have anything I want."

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Dean shifts towards the demon and the girl, and the demon shakes its head, makes a tsking sound at him. "Another step and I will paint the room with this girl's blood."It looks down at the little girl, "Isn't that right, honey?"Shakes her when she doesn't respond, and Dean has to watch fresh tears run down her cheeks.

He takes a deep breath, forces himself to grit out, "Sammy?"Feels the brush of his brother's power like a cool breeze, like a caress, letting him know he's right there.

When Sam speaks he is right behind him, his heat covering Dean's back, "I got it."

Dean grins, or at least, his lips move back to show his teeth, and he stalks towards the demon. It shifts, takes an automatic step backwards, before it remembers its threat and tightens its finger on the trigger. There's a hell of a bang and the girl falls, screaming, flinging her arms over her head. The demon drops the smoking gun, raises its hand experimentally towards the side of its head.

Dean's seen what happens when you jam a barrel before, but never so close up, and never sticking out of the side of someone's head. It wraps its fingers around the metal embedded in its skull, yanks it out with a grunt and tosses it to the ground. It laughs, right before Dean reaches it, tackling it to the ground. It spits up into his face, "This meat sack was just as innocent as the little girl."

The demon's right and Dean knows it, but they took away his options. Made him choose. Dean puts his fist through the dead man's face. The man keeps breathing, stays alive, the demon's power animating the corpse. Dean tries to listen to Henriksen and Sam herding everyone out of the building. Can't hear anything over the sound of the thing's horrible, unending, scream. Its skin, what parts of it not completely hidden by blood, is blistering.

Dean's drawing his fist back for one final swing when the tell-tale click of a hammer being pulled back has him ducking and twisting on instinct alone. The bullet catches him in the shoulder, anyway, a red hot poker through skin, muscle, bone. He slams a hand over the wound, feels his blood soak it immediately, scanning for the shooter and watching the demon tear its way out of the man's body, watches it curl over on itself looking for another host.

The little girl is standing over him, holding a little handgun in her hands, and her eyes are pits of shadow.

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She says, "That wasn't very nice of you."

Dean freezes for a half-second, and then Sam is running back up, and she swings the gun towards him and Dean is grabbing her knee. Hates himself when she screams, thrashes, when he feels her skin boil under his. For a moment he forgets that he doesn't believe in God and prays.

A black cloud is pouring out of her mouth but he is too busy throwing up to grab it before it can escape to find a new body. His shoulder is on fire and his knuckles are covered with someone's brains. Close enough to innocents. He throws up again and then Sam is yelling something he doesn't comprehend into his ear. He must not respond properly, because then Sam is curling an arm under his shoulders and legs and bodily lifting him.

He thrashes, tries to squirm away and Sam just tightens his hold.

And then they're out in the muggy night air, and he's staring up at the stars and Henriksen is yelling at their backs, "You're still both under arrest, do not make me shoot you boys."

Sam drops him against the Impala, lets him tumble down onto the gravel of the parking lot while Sam unlocks and opens the doors. Grabs handfuls of Dean's shirt and hauls him back off the ground, stuffs him awkwardly into the passenger seat of the Impala and barks over his shoulder, "Fine. We're arrested, we're leaving now. We'll be sure to make sure we're there for the arraignment tomorrow."

Sam clambers across the Impala's hood, and Dean wishes he wouldn't do things like that. Would say something about it, but Sam's eyes are so big and scared when he slides into the driver's seat that Dean bites his tongue. Henriksen stands in front of the car, yells, "You cannot just drive out of here, goddamnit, you are-"

Dean yells back, "Watch us."Doesn't think he slurs it too badly.

And Sam throws the Impala in reverse, slams on the gas, spins her in a tight circle before grinding the gears right into second and heading for the exit. There's an undercover car attempting to block them in and Sam takes out the curb but still manages to slam the right front bumper into the police car.

The Impala is good, old steel, Dean doubts there'll even be a dent on her. The police car buckles and Sam steps on the gas. They go.

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"How bad is it? Did it hit anything important, can you tell?"

Dean assumes Sam is talking about the bullet. He doesn't know, says, "Yeah, it's fine, nothing vital damaged."Sam twists his head to look at him, lips thin and pinched like he knows Dean is lying. He's reached a hand across the seat, pulling and tugging at Dean's blood soaked shirt, cruising through a green light on the way out of town, when a car rams into the left rear bumper hard enough to start to spin them.

Sam is cursing, jerking both hands back to the wheel and wrenching it to the left and Dean doesn't know how his baby brother manages to keep them on the road but he does. Dean's twisting in the seat, staring out the rear window at the Lincoln slamming into a light pole on the other side of the street. Watching the SUV behind them getting close at entirely too fast a speed.

He says, "Fuck,"and thinks \lquote faster' and Sam twitches, shifts to fourth and keeps accelerating.

The SUV rear-ends them anyway.

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This time Sam doesn't manage to keep her on the road, and for long terrible seconds they are half on the road, half on the sidewalk, on a collision course with a light pole. Dean's leaning over the seat, reaching into the back and digging in the duffle for weapons, because either Sam will keep them from crashing or he won't and either way they're going to need some firepower. He's just closing his hands around a Magnum and a Glock when Sam jerks the wheel hard to the right and just like that they're barreling down some tiny alley going fifty miles an hour.

They loose the side mirrors immediately and Dean grits his teeth against the scrape of brick over metal down his baby's sides. Behind them the SUV tries to follow, but doesn't cut the turn sharp enough and Dean watches their air bags deploy when their grill slams into the building.

He's checking both guns when the alley ends and they're plowing through an intersection. Dean stops counting almost-collisions after the first dozen.

Sam jerks the car around one hundred and eighty degrees, punches the pedal to the floor and slams into fifth and just like that they're doing seventy down the shoulder. Sam takes a shaky breath, looks over at him, grinning like a loon, and a Camry chooses that moment to grind into their side, trying to force them off the side of the road.

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"Dean-"

"Got."His body protests climbing into the back seat, but he does it anyway. Winding the window down and almost laughing at himself for doing it, but he can't bring himself to hurt his girl if there's another option. Checking the guns one last time and growling, "Hit it back-"and he'd explain but Sam's already jerking the wheel hard right and then back left, slamming the bigger Impala into the other vehicle with enough force to propel it a few feet away from them.

Dean crowds against the window, aims and fires and the pop of the tire exploding is every bit as loud as the gunshot. The Camry spins out, misses clipping the Impala one final time by a hair and Dean watches it get jack knifed by a Ford truck with a sick feeling in his stomach.

Innocents.

They have to get out of here. Get to where the demons don't know where they are, because for all Dean knows they'll just keep possessing other drivers till they manage to kill them. The trick, of course, is how to do that. It's late, but there are still a handful of other cars on the road and it won't be to long before the demons manage to find more hosts.

Sam meets his eyes in the rear view mirror, half-nods, offering his acceptance of whatever plan Dean might come up with.

That is, of course, when the flashing blue lights appear behind them.

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Dean's voice is soft and flat when he asks, "You see that semi?"The lights are getting closer, and they've got friends joining them. Dean wonders if they're possessed or just cops trying to do their job. Wonders how fast Sam is driving and tips his head over Sam's shoulder to stare at the needle pointing at the one hundred and ten with approval.

Sam grunts.

"Go there. Piss him off."Sam nods, sharp and curt and the cops are still goddamn gaining on them. Dean wonders what the hell he thinks he's doing. And then Sam's driving beside the huge truck, and they're still on the shoulder, and Sam's looking over his shoulder like he's not sure how to piss off a trucker.

Dean figures that there's always one sure fire way. Waits until Sam is far enough forward and then shoots a hole through the man's passenger window and up into the ceiling. "Go left, in front of him, go, go! Make him chase us, Sam, c'mon,"and Dean just hopes that the man is possessed now. Demons are not good truck drivers, as past experience has shown.

The cops are gaining, trying to follow them around the semi on the shoulder and Sam guns the engine, cuts hard left, shooting across the road in front of the semi at a ninety degree angle. And Dean stares, biting his lip, willing the truck to follow with every fibre of his being and, oh God, it does. He laughs, whoops, when the semi jerks after them, accelerating and turning and he watches the trailer swing too wide. Watches it unbalance.

And then it's tipping like a mountain falling onto its side, kicking up sparks and fireworks against the asphalt. There's two horrendous crashes, which Dean assumes must be the police cars wrecking into it, now that it's stretched completely across the road.

Sam is laughing in the front seat, drumming on the steering wheel, and Dean laughs with him. His shoulder burns like a son of a bitch, but there's beautiful empty road in front of them, and he couldn't care less.

"Turn off the lights, Sammy."Sam hums, clicks off the lights and motions for Dean to crawl back into the front seat. They cut through the night, a shadow in the greater blackness.

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"Dean?"

"It's okay."

"No, I mean, about earlier."Sam's fidgeting, staring hard at the road, but unable to sit still. Dean can feel the faint touch of Sam's mind in the back of his, but his brother is holding back, and he's not sure why.

"That's okay, too."Sam sighs, shifts again and his hand ends up on Dean's knee, long strong fingers squeezing. They've been driving for hours and they're going to need to stop soon. Tomorrow is the day of days, the end of time, and they need to be patched up for it. No sense coming to Armageddon already bloodied.

"Okay."

"She skipped things."And he's not sure why he's bringing this up, why he couldn't have just sunk into the silence. He bites his tongue, but it's too late, and Sam is daring a look at him, eyes narrowed and curious. "About Dad. She cut things out. That he said. Good things. I mean."

"Oh."A pause, and then, "Look, you don't have-Dean, I know how-I felt-"Cuts himself off, and takes a deep shaking breath, like he's remembering or forgetting, "You just don't have to."

"Right. Anyway, he just said that I was always right and you were a little brat."Sam chokes on a laugh, and Dean tries to make his tired muscles smile. Doesn't think he quite succeeds, but it's a valiant effort. Lets himself slide sideways, so his head is pillowed on Sam's thigh, breathes in the leather and blood smell of the car and manages a real smile when Sam keeps his arm slung over him.

Part Ten: Rise to Meet the End

Dean's shoulder is on fire, a very contained, hot, fire, burning down through his muscle to the bone. He imagines that he can feel the bullet, grinding itself against his shoulder, and tries to dispel the thought as soon as it's formed. He's exhausted, running on empty since Missouri, bloody and hurting. He wants to stop for just a few hours, get patched up and grab a bit of sleep. For the last twenty minutes he's been thinking that as loudly as possible in Sam's direction.

Sam keeps staring out the windshield, brow furrowed, jaw set, eyes a million miles away. Dean can still feel their connection in the back of his skull, a pulse of contact that's been his constant companion since he returned from the black. It's there, but apparently Sam has turned it off, or switched channels or something.

Dean wonders, gut twisting, if Missouri did something to the link, damaged it somehow. He reaches out, brushes Sam's elbow with bloody fingers and his brother jerks to look at him. Dean says, "Start looking for a place to stop."

Emotions flare across Sam's face, worry, fear, panic, shame. The color drains from Sam's cheeks as he says, "Shit. Shit. The bullet, you should have said-shit-I'll-shit-hold on, I saw a sign for a motel a few miles back."Sam spins the car around, tires squealing, and speeds back down the two-lane highway leaving twin trails of rubber behind.

"Yesterday I wouldn't have had to say anything."Dean scowls, leans halfway across the seat towards Sam, cursing when the blood loss leaves him lightheaded, continues, "Yesterday you would have known how much it hurt, and where, and that I wanted to stop and suck you off before falling asleep for an hour or two."It feels odd, saying it all out loud, but if Sam can't or won't hear him any other way then he has no choice.

A flush spreads down Sam's neck, returning color to his cheeks and a shine to his eyes. Dean wonders if perhaps mentioning a blowjob might not have been the best idea for keeping Sam's mind focused on the bigger issue. His brother shifts, says, "What do you mean?"

"Fuck, Sammy, have you not noticed that you've been reading my mind for months?"Sam has the good grace to look embarrassed by Dean's incredulous drawl. "I want my psychic connection back."He does. Right now. He doesn't like all this speaking out loud madness.

They're pulling into the parking lot of the motel, and Sam pulls into a parking space, lets the car idle while he stares down at the fuel gage as though it has all the answers. Dean waits. If the gunshot hasn't killed him yet it's not likely to in the time it takes Sam to marshal his thoughts. Dean's been inside his brother's head, now, he knows how hard it is for Sam to find words sometimes.

"I thought after-after-what she did-I thought you would want-"Sam motions helplessly, turns to look at Dean with his huge, soft eyes, "-space."

The memory of Missouri in his mind is still sharp and sour, his skin crawls with just the thought of what she did to him. Doesn't change the fact that Sam got it all wrong. Dean reaches up, wraps his fingers in Sam's curls, grown down below his shoulders now, and tugs hard. "Not from you. I need no space from you. Come back."He doesn't mean to sound so desperate.

"Okay."Sam's smile is like the sun breaking through after a thunderstorm, is like the first shoots of grass after a hard winter. Dean smiles back, helpless, and up his spine there is a thrill as warmth floods the back of his skull.

Emotion pours into Dean like a torrent, not his but close enough. Anger at the FBI, complete cold, detached fury at Missouri, fear, pain, hope. Gladness that they are touching again. Dean smiles, thinks, glad to have you back, and watches Sam grin sheepishly across the seat.

Back from Sam he gets a flurry of image-thoughts, Sam's hand cleaning up Dean's shoulder, them sleeping curled up together like puppies, Sam on his back, legs helplessly spread, Dean between them. Dean grins, it sounds like a good plan to him.

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Sam patches him up as gently as you can patch up a bullet wound. He digs the slug out of Dean's muscle, trying not to be too rough with his thick fingers. It doesn't really matter, Dean doesn't feel much in the way of physical pain anymore, but he appreciates the thought. Sam keeps up a constant flow of reassurances into his mind anyway, soft whispers and promises.

They bandage the wound with what clean cloth they have, Sam frets about the possibility of infection, it translates as a quiet worried thrum in Dean's bones. The kiss is distraction, is perfect symmetry, is Dean pushing himself away from the headboard and into Sam's warmth, is Sam extending his long legs on either side of Dean's hips.

Sam is clinging, desperate, long arms wrapped around Dean, fingers pressing into his skin. He pulls Dean's tongue into his mouth, sucks and licks and Dean groans into the wet heat. It's good, it's so good, but he made Sam a promise back in the car and he fully intends to keep it. Braces his legs and pushes, and Sam goes sprawling onto his back, dragging Dean down with him.

Sam nips at Dean's lower lip when he pulls away, and as payback Dean bites and sucks at Sam's neck till there's a purple-black bruise the size of his palm under his brother's jaw. Sam's got one big hand wrapped around the back of Dean's head, cradling him close, the other tugging on the waistband of Dean's jeans, fingers scrambling desperately at the button and zipper.

Trying to get Sam's shirt off looks to be an exercise in futility, and so Dean leaves it. The way Sam's panting and rocking up against Dean's hips he's not going to last very long anyway. Sam's already hard and straining when Dean thumbs his jeans open and drags his jeans down those long thighs.

By the time Dean's got Sam's jeans down to his brother's knees Sam is grabbing desperately at his good arm and shoulder, grip slipping on sweaty skin, dragging him back up. In the back of Dean's head, egging him on, is a constant stream of: pleasepleasepleaseplease-

Sam's hard and ready, and for just a second Dean rests his forehead against his brother's hip, lets his breath drift all across Sam's sensitive lower stomach, inner thigh. And then Sam makes a choking, needing sound, body held tight and bowing up from the strain because he won't pull on Dean, won't risk hurting him, no matter how much he needs.

Neither of them are capable of hurting the other. Not anymore.

Dean presses a kiss over Sam's belly button, and then slides his lips over the tip of Sam's cock. Licking, sucking, while Sam whimpers and arches beneath him. The world will be ending in a few hours, but it doesn't matter. He's got Sam, jerking and gasping and coming hard down his throat, and nothing else matters.

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They set the alarm for two hours, and Sam curls around him in the too hard motel bed. Dean's already drifting into the abyss of sleep when he feels more than hears Sam say, "I'm not psychic."

Dean shifts, trying to fight his way back to a place where he can understand what Sam's talking about. He mumbles into Sam's arm, crooked uncomfortably beneath Dean's head, "Read my mind."He can feel exhaustion pulling on him, snuggles further back into Sam's heat.

Sam traces patterns on Dean's chest and stomach, tangles their legs further together till Dean can't even tell whose are whose. Finally he says, "Just yours, baby. No one else's. Just yours."That's interesting, Dean's sure, but he's far too exhausted to think about it. Sleep takes him.

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Sam is pushed up close behind him as they press out of the motel room, breathing heavy teasing breaths into Dean's ear. They're in step with each other, less than an inch apart and keeping that distance perfectly. Dean takes a deep breath and feels Sam's chest expand at the same time. He wonders if their heartbeats are synchronized as well.

The hair on the back of Dean's neck rises the second they step out of the room, and he feels Sam tense up behind him. Scans the parking lot, and laughs, sharp and short, when he sees the man leaning against the Impala.

Agent Henriksen pushes away from the car, starts to remove his hands from his pockets and just like that he's floating two feet off the ground, spread eagle, face twisting into panic. Sammy is snarling behind Dean, hands clenched into fists. "Why are you here?"Dean's own voice is calm, cool. He's unwilling to panic over this when Sam has it under control.

The agent blinks, swallows, looks down at the ground so far below him and then jerks his eyes back to Dean. Says, "Something's coming. Something bad, isn't there? And you know what it is? How to-to stop it?"The man fidgets, as much as he can, suspended off the ground and held captive by Sam, "I want to help."

Dean stares up at him, wondering if this is a trap, a bad joke, or actual sincerity. He can read no lie, no ulterior motives, in Henriksen's eyes. All it takes to get the man lowered back to the ground is a soft brush of his mind against Sam's, a brush of his fingers over Sam's wrist.

The agent stares at them, and Dean smiles, though he knows that there is no warmth or softness in the gesture. Sam's voice is low and rough when he says, "If you try anything, you will die."Henriksen nods, Dean motions for him to join them in the Impala.

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It takes them hours to make it to Bobby's place, there's barely seven hours left till the end of the world by the time they pull in. There's a crowd inside, hunters all, gathered to attempt some last ditch effort to halt fate. Everyone jerks to their feet the moment Dean steps through the door, Sam an inch behind him, Henriksen bringing up the rear, cheery as a man on his way to the gallows.

Someone amidst the dozen people in Bobby's living room pulls back the hammer on their gun, and then another, and another, till for a few seconds all Dean can hear is the click-click-click of weapons being armed. Dean grins, growls out, "You really don't want to be doing that."

A man steps forward, older than him by a few years, brandishing a sawed off shotgun, shouting, "I don't know who you think you are, you fuckers, but your kind ain't welcome here and we'll not be putting up-"Sam shifts his weight, and the man's gun jerks out of his hands, flips nicely in midair till it's pointed squarely at its owner's guts.

"You know,"Sam's voice is calm, conversational, "They say that it takes a long time to die, when you're gut shot."The muzzle presses into the man's stomach, Dean can see the trigger vibrating. "But that's not always true. Do you know, for instance, how buckshot works? Of course you do, you're a hunter. I don't think that would be a particularly slow death, holes ripped into all your organs, pieces of metal bouncing around and tearing apart your stomach, liver, guts. Painful, though."The man takes a step back, the gun follows him.

The man is shaking when he raises his hand and points at Dean, it might be anger or fear making his voice quiver when he says, "You killed my brother at Harvelle's, you bastard. Shot him in the back of his goddamn head while he was flat on the ground."

Dean does not ask if he's aware that his brother was shot after he and a dozen other men attacked Dean with no provocation. If he remembers that all Dean had been trying to do was drag his own brother to safety when they'd come at him with guns and knifes. Instead, he says, "Would you like to join him?"

The man hisses, "You bastard,"and just like that everyone in the room is drawing down, a jungle of gun barrels pointed at their ragtag little group. Henriksen steps up beside Dean and Dean is only slightly surprised to find the FBI agent pointing his service sidearm at the crowd. Sam growls and Dean can feel him reaching across the distance to the crowd, can feel the burn of his brother's power across every inch of his skin.

It's Ellen's voice that cuts through the room and reins all the madness in, Ellen who strides out of the kitchen like a conquering general, head high, shoulders back. She barks, "Stop acting like a bunch of goddamn children. Put your guns down,"she sighs, "this is not a goddamn pissing contest."

Dean's always liked Ellen, right up until the point she took his father's journal and then told him she burnt it. Now, he's not exactly sure what he feels towards her. She's not an immediate threat, and the other hunters listen to her, and so when Sam suggests snapping her neck in the privacy of their minds Dean vetoes the idea for the moment.

Jo and Bobby follow Ellen out of the kitchen and Jo actually smiles and waves at them. Dean nods to her as across the room the hunters all cautiously lower their firearms. Beside him Henriksen breathes out heavily, and holsters his own weapon. Sam keeps his own power stretched out, but Dean's the only one that can tell, and he's not about to say anything.

Ellen stands between the two groups, turns to face Dean and Sam with tired eyes, and says, "Do you boys have a plan?"She sounds desperate, lost. Everyone in the room looks the same way, and for a half-second Dean feels bad that they have not come with a message of hope.

Sam nudges him softly in the back, silent support, and Dean says, "We have a solution. It's just not one you're going to like."Ellen flinches, but doesn't say anything, Bobby carefully takes Jo's hand in his, squeezes. "The gate has to open."

He's met with shouts, screams of protest, rage, and grief. Sam tenses, slides a hand over Dean's hip, protective. Ellen waves the other hunters quiet, her face pale and stricken. Her voice is very small when she says, "There has to be a way to stop them."

Dean shrugs. "There is."More shouting from the crowd, Ellen glares them into silence. "We could stop them this time. And the next time, and who knows how many times after that. But,"he scowls at the unfriendly faces across from him, the people that just don't understand, that won't look at the bigger picture, "Someday, when me and Sammy are old and can't stop them anymore, what will you do then? When they open the gate and there is no one here that can oppose them? What will you do?"

Armageddon had been promised since time began. It was coming, one way or the other. The best they could do was pick the time and place when the odds were the most in their favor.

There is silence for a long time, it is Jo that finally speaks, "How many will die?"

"Thousands."Dean shakes his head, has no real, definitive idea, "Millions. The weak."

Sam takes over, "We'll save who we can, and we'll protect our allies. We will end this war, once and for all."He shifts, takes a deep breath, and Dean can feel his power flex and twist. There is a cracking, grinding sound, and Dean looks down to watch Sam use the invisible force he commands to carve a line into the floor of Bobby's living room. "And you people are either going to be with us, or against us. What's it going to be?"

For a long time they all stare at each other, Dean thinks that maybe they will one and all refuse to help, and almost hopes that is the case. It is Jo that steps across the line first, leading Bobby, and after a pause, Ellen.

Dean smiles, without joy.

Part Eleven: I Ran with the Moon and I Ran with the Night and the Three of Us Were a Terrible Sight

It takes them until minutes till midnight to get everyone out of Bobby's house and into his storm cellar. The other hunters are argumentative, and Dean's lacking the patience and inclination to deal with them. A few refuse outright to go into the safety of the cellar and Dean's tempted to leave them out where they will die.

It's Sam that handles the situation, picking up the irritated men and psychically depositing them into the cellar.

At eleven-fifty Dean stands at the top of the rough hewn stairs leading down into the cellar, staring at the dirty, worried faces of the gathered humans. He can smell their fear, taste it in the back of his throat, mingled with anger and confusion.

Bobby looks up at Dean from the foot of the stairs, cradling a shotgun, loaded with rock salt, consecrated with holy water, to his chest, asks, "Are you sure about this, Dean? Some of the boys are uncomfortable with being sitting ducks in here."

Dean bares his teeth, two years ago, back when things were normal, it would have been a smile. He shifts his eyes to the far end of the room where Sammy's sitting cross-legged etching a ward in to the hard surface of the floor, nudges his brother with his mind, says, "How many humans are there, Sammy? Alive right now?"

"Six and a half billion. Something like that."Sam shrugs, concentrating on putting the finishing touches on the wards they've carved into the walls, ceiling, floor.

"There are twice that many demons. Maybe more. And they're going to be free, tonight, in ten minutes."He pauses, looks Bobby dead in the eyes till he's sure the other man is paying attention, "You think they don't know you lot have gathered here? You think they aren't planning some kind of attack? They will kill you all, if you're out there where they can get you."

Jo steps up behind Bobby, puts her hand on his shoulder, can't manage eye contact with Dean when she says, "And what if they get in here?"

Dean says nothing for a long moment, stares down at his hands, skin ruined, twisted and discolored by the burns. "They're not going to get in. Believe me."She opens her mouth, maybe to demand further assurance and Dean rumbles, "To get in here they'll have to go through me, and they can't do that. They can't. Relax."

"Five minutes,"Ellen's voice, calling from the back of the room where she's been blessing water for nearly an hour. There's a thrill in Dean's blood, a hunger that he hasn't sated since he escaped the dark. God, it's been so long since he's had a real fight, since he's let loose, since he's had a reason to.

Above the heads of the others crowded below him Dean catches Sam's eyes. Winks at his brother and mouths, "Show time."

Dean pulls his shirt off, up and over his head, ignoring the pull of his wounded shoulder. Balls the shirt up and tosses it down to Bobby, cracks his knuckles and his neck and risks one last look at Sam. Says, "I'll be back in the morning."Reaches out to Sam through their link, thinks, Protect them.

Just like that Sam's scowling, shoving himself to his feet and glaring at Dean. There's a hot rush of anger back through their bond, Sam's irritated thoughts buzzing like a swarm of bees through Dean's mind. Fuck that. Going with you.

Dean shakes his head, sharp, it's too dangerous for Sam to be outside. His power doesn't affect the demons the same way it does humans and Dean isn't willing to take the risk of him being hurt.

People get shoved out of Sam's way without him ever touching them, and then he's standing on the step below Dean, glaring at him. Sam's fingers are feather light, tracing down the whorls and patterns of Dean's burned flesh, till he's gripping Dean's wrists. Refusing to be left behind. There's so much guilt and desperate protectiveness pouring out of Sam that Dean tenses, surprised.

It's so easy to forget, even after these last long months, that Sam is driven to protect him now. Used to protecting him. Unwilling to stop, no matter Dean's wishes on the subject.

There's not enough time to argue, Dean rolls his eyes and Sam smiles, lets his shoulders sag just slightly with relief. Dean turns to the door, reaches for the knob, and Jo's voice interrupts, "You're going out there without a weapon?"

He almost laughs, instead, Dean balls his hands into fists, tilts his face up towards the ceiling and takes a deep breath. Closes his eyes and reaches for the burn of the glow, for the thing that he can feel, lingering just beneath his skin. Someone gasps, and Dean opens his eyes to a much brighter room.

His scars glow, overflow with light that Dean doesn't understand, truly. He doesn't look back into the room, doesn't want to see the other hunter's faces, just reaches forward and opens the door. Says over his shoulder, hard and flat, aching with truth, "I am a weapon."

Sam follows him, hand warm and protective against Dean's lower back.

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There's barely a minute left, Dean can almost hear the seconds ticking away, loud as gunshots in his mind. Sam's voice is low and soft, loud in the utterly silent night, "What's it going to be like?"

Dean looks up at the red moon, the angry storm clouds swirling around the sky, "Watch."

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At eleven fifty-nine on June twentieth the world changes. Twists, rips, shreds itself open at the seams and is remade. Dean has never heard a sound as loud at the grinding scream that goes on forever in that instant. There is a flash of light, blindingly bright, he closes his eyes against it and sees it perfectly through his eyelids anyway.

And then darkness, such darkness as the world has never seen, was never meant to see. The sky is lightless, the moon gone, no stars peaking their way through the roiling clouds overhead. Old Night dark. Creation dark. Destruction dark.

There should be no light at all, every electrical device short-circuited, every fire put out, but there is.

Dean glows, the only light in the blackness. Behind him, Sam shudders, from the cellar Dean can hear concerned shouts but no screams. And all around them, stepping out of the darkness with their twisted bodies, come demons. Dean smiles, drops to a fighting crouch, points to one of the shadows writhing in the unnaturally cold air.

It hisses back, voice like a knife drawn across a ceramic plate, "You. You are supposed to be dead."Dean shrugs, bouncing on the balls of his feet, feeling the electric tingle of barely restraining violence dancing in the air. Motions the beasts towards him.

It lunges at him, all long spindly legs and arms covered in barbs. Jaw from a Rottweiler on a human face, open and slavering, and Dean smiles. He's killed worse. The thing reaches him in a blur of motion and violence and he slides left, spinning, slamming a foot into the thing's back. It stumbles and Dean's on it, wrapping an arm under its huge jaw, jerking it backwards, hard, feeling vertebrae give and spinal cord tear.

He hisses into its ear as it dies, "Welcome to my world, motherfucker."

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They come at him all at once, and it is every fight he had in the black revisited. It is the killing field he made of Ellen's yard, it is him taking apart the vampires back at Blondie's. He is a weapon, a tool, and he thinks this is probably his purpose.

The first two reach him, and Dean drives the flat of his palm up into the distended jaw of some huge, tusked creature, slams its tusks back up into its own skull. In the same instant ducking a blow from a fist the size of Sam's head, spinning towards that assailant, reaching a hand towards its misshapen, doughy face. His fingers sink into its skin, and he curls them, and yanks. Half its face comes off in his hands. It screams.

It's a slaughterhouse, it's a massacre, it's them throwing everything they have at him and him cutting through it like butter. And through it all, through it punch and broken bone, he can feel Sammy feeding off his emotions, his excitement, glee. His brother laughs, loud and clear amidst the screams. He can feel Sam's power ripple out around them, a drop of water in a pond, destroying the mirror flat surface. All around him he can feel objects swirling in the air, rocks, small trees, cars.

It's a dance, the demons, him, Sam, the projectiles spinning through the air, blood surrounding them thick as fog. It's beauty. It's where he belongs, where he's always belonged. What he was born for, bred for, made for.

There's no way he can hear anything above the din of screams, laughter, tearing flesh, splitting trees and grinding metal. He doesn't need to hear anything else, he knows where Sammy is, can feel each move his brother makes as an extension of himself. His brother stays close, stays within the circle of light that follows Dean. That is Dean.

And all around them there is blood, and broken bodies. Dean jerks his elbow into the face of one of the creatures, a small one, grabs it and hurls it into one of the bigger ones. Kicks another hard in the knee, feels the bone give beneath his steel-toed boot. He catches it on its way to the ground, wraps his hand around its neck, squeezes and twists till it snaps in his hand.

Catches another by the wrist when it tries to eviscerate him, breaks its wrist and takes its weapon, a crude sword, caked in blood, rusted and ruined. Perfect. He drives it into the creature's gut, twists the blade and yanks it back out, spins and beheads the closest demon. Blood sprays back in his face from the severed artery, drips down his neck in thick almost-black streams.

Dean laughs, ducks, rolls, covered in mud and blood and gore. There's a body to his right with too many legs and he scissors his own out, watches the demon fall hard to the unforgiving ground. And then he's springing onto it, drawing back his fist, knuckles raw, skin hanging off the bones, and drives it into the monster's face.

He can feel Sam, almost right behind him, wielding a tree as effortlessly as if it were a toy, smacking the hell out of any of the demon's that try to sneak up on Dean. Mostly, though, he just feels the thrill of the fight, mostly he just tastes blood in his mouth, mostly he's just marking the next five beasts that he plans on killing.

Two demons are running for him and Dean lunges to his feet a second before they reach him, arms spread, catching them in their chests. They scream at the skin on skin contact, blistering and smoking, loosing their balance and falling heavily to the ground. Dean puts his booted foot through one of their heads, and stomps on the other one's neck. Leaves it laying there, suffocating slowly.

There is a short scream, cut off quickly, as Sam crushes another one with his big damn tree.

And then there are none. Then there is silence save for Sam panting behind him and his own heart jack hammering in his chest and the soft whimpers of the dying. Sam's voice is soft, uncertain, right into his ear, "Dean?"

Dean laughs, tilts his face up to the sky and spins in a tight circle to face his brother. Stares up into Sam's face, grabs his brother's collar and yanks his head down, kisses him till all he can taste is Sam. He says, into the kiss, into Sam's mouth, into his soul, "Almost morning."

There's a gray tint to the sky, not sunrise exactly, but a lessening of the greater shadow. The humans will be able to see in the twilight glow, will be able to move, and after a fashion, fight. Overhead the storm clouds spin and thunder crashes, unnatural cold air overtaking the summer heat and crushing it into submission.

He stops thinking about the sky when Sam groans into his mouth, the debris he had been spinning through the air earlier coming noisily to rest around the yard as he forgets his control.

Sam's warm arms wrap around him, lift him off the ground and Dean wraps his legs around his brother's waist, squeezes. When he pulls back after a moment Sam's eyes are bright, reflecting the glow of Dean's skin. The only light in the lightless world. Sam says, voice ragged, "It's over?"

"It's beginning."He wonders how many have died already, how many more will be slaughtered before the end. It is unavoidable, but still he wonders. Sam kisses him again, interrupting his thoughts. They stand in a field of bodies, both of them soaked with gallons of blood not their own, and it is everything Dean dared hope for.

When the first of a new wave of demons sneaks up, weapon raised high, swinging it down towards Sam's head, Dean does not bother removing his tongue from Sam's mouth. Just reaches up and catches the monster's arm right below the elbow, feeling its skin boil against his, holds on until it drops its weapon, yowling and flailing in pain.

The world is over.

The war is just starting.

::go to 'Lock the Door and Turn the Lights Down Low' —>::

::back to index::


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