This Pound of Flesh

Fandom: Supernatural

Category/Rated: Slash, T

Year/Length: 2007/ ~7279 words

Pairing: Dean/Sam, others

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

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

Summary: After a hunt goes seriously wrong Sam is left taking care of a battered Dean, who won't move or talk and has no spark or life behind his eyes. Sam's left on the run, with no clue what's wrong with his brother, and more trouble than he knows breathing down the back of his neck.

Series: Hell 'Verse

Author's Notes: Mild spoilers for everything so far on the show. So one morning I woke up and thought, what if Dean was completely out of it, and Sam had to take care of them both, keep them away from the pissed off thing they were hunting, and fix Dean in the process. And this is that fic. Except darker and with more sex and about four different factions out to get the brothers. Chapter title from End of the Line by the Allman Brothers.

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Part One: 'Cause It Sure Felt Like the End of the Line

The rumble of the Impala's engine rattles his teeth, bounces around in his skull till he can feel it vibrating in his jaw. The roar of the big engine eating up miles of road, surging towards the far horizon with a constant bellow of challenge and aggression.

He hadn't ever noticed before. Not with the radio playing. Not with Dean's constant shifting, humming, movement. It makes the tiny hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention, feeling like everyone that's looking for them must be able to hear the rumble of the engine every bit as well as he can.

The urge to reach over and crank up the stereo is almost overwhelming. The need to say something, anything, is a almost painful pressure on the back of his throat. Fear stills his hand, keeps his jaw clenched tight, tongue pressed up against the back of his teeth. It feels like any sound but the song of the engine might finish shattering them.

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He considers driving through the night, but disregards the idea immediately.

They're both beat all to hell, and there's something wrong with Dean. More wrong than usual. Not to mention that Sam is exhausted mind, body and soul. Frayed to thin by the events of the last two days. Conscious and moving at this point only by virtue of the sheer stubborn determination that has always fueled their family through the hardest times.

He hates stopping this soon. He hates stopping at all. Every bit of survival instinct coiled in his gut is telling him to run till Kingsville, Texas is half a continent away.

The hard truth is his body can't keep going much longer. That everybody involved is expecting them to put a couple hundred miles behind them by dawn anyway.

Hiding in plain sight isn't his first choice, but it's the only feasible option. He pulls into the first shitty motel that looms up, a crumbling monstrosity on the outskirts of town. The parking lot is half-full, and he tucks the Impala between a old Ford pickup and a white Cadillac. Sits behind the wheel for a minute, listening to the car idle and trying to get his hands to stop shaking.

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Walking into the office and buying a room is out of the question. He's covered in blood and bruises, positively reeking of smoke and sulfur, and shaking like a leaf. He doesn't really want to leave Dean alone the amount of time it would take to do things the quasi-legal way. Isn't comfortable enough to leave Dean in the car while he picks the lock to room 14.

It seems like it should be hard moving Dean around. Like in a just world it would be. It's not.

Sam opens the passenger door, grabs Dean around the upper arm and hauls him out of the car. Dean moves willingly, stands and then goes still again. He doesn't whimper or flinch, even though Sam can feel the sticky-wet of blood on his fingers from the wounds on Dean's arm. Dean doesn't do anything.

Just stands there, eyes not just unfocused, but completely blank and empty. There's a cold metallic taste in the back of Sam's throat, and bone-deep chill aching in his joints. Fear.

He keeps his hold on Dean's arm, pulls him towards room 14 and stations him by the wall. The doorknob beneath his fingers is warm and greasy-slick. It takes him three tries more than it should to pick the lock. The whole time Dean stands still and silent above him. Not sagging into the wall, not swaying, though he has to be exhausted and in a dozen kinds of agony.

He has to retake Dean's arm and push him into the room, dragging their bags behind him. Locking the door and praying that no one else decides to stop for the night and stay at this room. Letting go of Dean the moment they're both inside. Laying the salt lines, checking the room for anything suspicious or possibly dangerous.

Dean is still standing exactly where he left him when he's done.

The florescent lighting takes everything that Sam had half-seen in the midnight dark and throws it into living color. Dean's shirts are soaked in blood, burned around the collar and cuffs. Dean's hands are a mess of livid burns, wet black-yellow-red. There are trails of blood out of the corner's of his mouth, meeting beneath his chin, dry on his neck.

Those are just wounds. Sam can handle wounds. But Dean's right eyebrow and eyelashes are white. The color of new snow, sunlight glinting off a lake, lightning in the summer sky. And above his eyebrow there are four stripes of white hair, bold and loud against the rest of his blood-darkened hair.

Sam doesn't even know what this is, to begin handling it.

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Dean's shirts are ruined anyway and he doesn't particularly want to have to wrestle Dean out of them. Cutting them off is a perfectly acceptable alternative. The fabric squishes around the blade, probably leaving red stains on the carpet where he lets it fall, no longer paying attention.

The burns are worse than he had thought. Both arms are all ruined, raw flesh all the way up to the elbows, with tendrils of the angry red stretching up to his shoulders. He doesn't even see the mess that is Dean's spine until he's walking towards the bathroom to get a washcloth. From the base of Dean's skull to the edge of his jeans is unending torn, flayed, flesh.

Sam retches in the toilet for what seems like an eternity, till there's nothing left in his stomach and his muscles are still seizing and contracting. He can feel the dull ache of his own injuries, the burns around his wrists, broken nose, the sting in his chest that won't go away.

He sets his nose, staring into the dirty mirror, barely able to see himself through the smeared ash and blood. The rest can wait.

Dean is standing in the middle of his ruined clothes, same position Sam left him in, the only sign that he's alive the rapid inhale-exhale contraction of his chest. Sam manhandles Dean towards the bathroom.

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Showering is obviously not an issue he spent enough time considering. But he's worried that Dean's got other wounds that he's not seeing beneath the bloody mess that Dean's wearing like a second skin. Cold water would be a good thing for the burns, too.

He draws a cold bath, wrestling Dean out of his boots and blood soaked jeans before peeling himself out of his own. There's no good or easy way to do this, and he's honestly to far gone to spend the time he probably should considering his options.

Lifting Dean, because standing Dean in front of the tub and hoping that he climbs in on his own proves to be an exercise in futility, and setting him in the water is done because it has to be. Sliding his own battered body in behind Dean shouldn't be half the relief that it is. But it's something normal, something they've done a thousand times before and he clings onto it.

They shared baths when mom was alive because it was easier for her to get them both out of the way at once. After she died they kept sharing because Dean never thought that there might be another way to proceed and John was never really around to give him any direction besides: Take care of Sammy.

They moved up to showers and it never occurred to them that they didn't have to share anymore. It was faster, more efficient, and they'd always done it together anyway. They got bigger and things got crowded but they adapted without thinking. Moving and rearranging as Sam got taller and taller and they both broadened and filled out.

Twelve and in the shower with his gorgeous big brother's fingers massaging his scalp, washing his hair with some cheap fruity shampoo had been a hell of an experience. He had hardened and gasped and came before he even knew what was happening. Stared down at the warm mess on his stomach being washed away by the water, feeling warm and happy with every nerve of his body.

Three weeks of that every morning and he had finally built up the courage to turn and face Dean, rock up onto the balls of his feet and press his lips to Dean's.

That was then, this is now.

Dean's skin is unnaturally hot against his own, and for a half-second he imagines that the water steams from the heat. Sam also finds, chest pressed against Dean's back, that Dean is not in the boneless, relaxed state that he had been expecting. Every muscle in Dean's body is coiled, quivering and jumping. Like he's run for miles, been fucking or fighting for hours.

The water, already not the clearest that Sam has ever seen, immediately takes on a pink tinge. Ashes cling to the top of the water, forming a gray skim that swirls and re-patterns itself with ever movement Sam makes. It leaves a smudge like a giant bruise on the bottom of the tub when he drains it.

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He kisses the droplets of water off Dean's skin. Each press of lips to skin a prayer, a beacon set up, begging for Dean to come back, to be okay, to blink and focus his eyes. Forehead, nose, the corner of his mouth and then full on his lips, cool and dry and not kissing him back.

Chin, neck, that spot cradled against his collar bone that has made him squirm and groan since Sam was thirteen and found it by accident does nothing now. Shoulders, chest, every freckle whispered over. Stomach, a long slow kiss over Dean's belly button that Sam knows for fact gets him hard in seconds. The warm soft skin in the junction of his hip and leg, but no answering heat or hardness when he cups his brother with one shaking hand.

Nothing.

And that's when Sam knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is horribly wrong.

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Neither of them need stitches and so the first aid segment of the evening is blessedly easy. Dean's wounds are extensive and they'll have to get more supplies in the morning, but that's at least four hours away and Sam has run out of steam.

He has to put Dean in bed, too. Turn down the covers and pull them over Dean's shoulders. After a second of consideration sliding a knife under Dean's pillow just in case he wakes up in the middle of the night back to himself. He has to slide Dean's eyes closed, not even sure if his brother is able to sleep in this weird condition. Presses another kiss to Dean's brow, more for his own comfort than anything else.

His own bed seems like a cold and distant prospect, but he crawls into it anyway. The blankets are stiff and itchy with what he hopes is starch. The bed is to hard, the pillows to soft. Exhaustion covers over all those sins. His battered body sinks into the promise of sleep with abandon. He flicks off the bedside lamp, closing his eyes before his head hits the pillow.

He's not sure if he sleeps, and if he does, not sure for how long before the sounds of thrashing limbs has him rolling out of bed, heart in his throat.

There's a gun in his hand by the time he slams the light back on. Panic white hot in the back of his skull, dancing along each nerve in his body, because Dean is helpless right now. If something-hell, someone-got in the room while he was sleeping...if something happened to Dean...

His fault. His responsibility. Just the thought of it feels like a hundred pound weight strapped around his neck. He wonders, randomly in the corner of his mind, if this is what Dean feels like all the time about Sam.

Blessedly, the room is empty of any interlopers. The adrenaline in Sam's blood, left without any immediate threat, fades to a dull painful ache in his joints. He can still feel his blood pounding against his skin as he stares down at Dean, clenching his jaw against the emotions in his chest: scared and tired and lost.

Dean is jerking, sharp desperate movements that lack the smoothness that Dean's had since he was seventeen. One arm swinging up to cover his face, the other wrapping across his ribs before swinging out, a backhand that tangles in sheets and comforter. His legs, curling up to his chest and then jerking out again, heels pounding at the mattress.

Through it all Dean's face remains smooth and emotionless. Not so much as a furrow in his brow to indicate that anything is wrong.

The bandages covering his arms and back are already starting to spot crimson with blood from the violence of Dean's movements. A tendril of blood is sneaking out of the corner of Dean's parted lips.

Sam is in the bed within seconds of jumping out of his own. A flailing fist catches him in the jaw, a knee in his stomach and he figures he should be relieved that at least Dean is still strong. And he would be, if he wasn't so damn worried that Dean was going to hurt himself.

Their limbs tangle and Dean's fighting something but apparently it's not Sam. He doesn't stop Sam from slinging an arm over his waist, doesn't lash out at Sam when he pulls Dean's back snug against his chest. He can't keep Dean completely still but he can at least restrict the range of motion he's allowed to thrash in.

One leg slung over both of Dean's is an easy solution to the kicking. Catching Dean's wrists is harder, forcing them down against Dean's chest worse even than that. Wraps both his arms around his brother, holding tight because Dean is thrashing against him.

Every muscle in Dean's back is jumping and jerking, spasming against Sam's chest. His arms push and strain against Sam's, hands clenching and unclenching and with the burns that shouldn't even be possible. Dean's heart is jack-hammering in his chest, a pump-pound echo of it dancing across Sam's skin everywhere they touch. His breathing pattern is odd, two quick inhales, two quick exhales, over and over again.

Sam grits his teeth, buries his face in his brother hair, wraps his body a little tighter around Dean. He can feel hot little trails of tears on his own cheeks, frustrated and ashamed by this sign of weakness when Dean needs him to be strong. When he needs himself to be strong.

He braces himself, waiting out the storm and praying it's over soon because he's so tired. Clinging to the blind adrenaline that even now is draining out of his bloodstream, because as long as it's singing in his veins then at least he doesn't have time to think. But it's leaving him, abandoning him in his hour of need, throwing him to the wolves of his own memories.

To Dean, kneeling over him, hands cupping the back of Sam's skull, fingers tightening in spasms. White fire dancing up Dean's arms. His head thrown back, blood like a black river running out of his mouth and down his neck. Screaming. God, the scream had gone on forever.

The tears win. Sam lets them. Admits defeat and holds Dean's jerking body as tightly as he can through the sobs.

Part Two: Whenever You Run, I'll be Running Too

Sam sleeps, though he's not sure how he managed it.

Dean is still and silent again when he wakes, early morning sunlight painting a swath of heat across his back. Sam's hard and Dean is warm and firm and pressed up against him in all the best places. He rocks against his brother, lost in that beautiful place between sleep and dreams where everything is fuzzy and okay.

And then he realizes what he's doing, and scrambles off the bed, ashamed of himself deep in his chest.

A few deep breathes center him. He reaches over carefully, pushing Dean's eyes open and feeling the knife twist in his gut when nothing stares out of Dean's green eyes. He expects there to be more tears, but the place in his chest where they were coming from is painfully empty now.

Dean's skin is hot under his fingers. Feverish. He smooths circles into cheek, temple, forehead, running fingers through Dean's short, soft hair absently. Wants to close Dean's eyes again so he doesn't have to look at the emptiness there, but can't bring himself to. Just sits and touches till a semi passing on the interstate outside lays on it's horn loud enough to make him jump.

They have to get moving.

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Dean looks wrong, swallowed in Sam's hoodie. But Sam can't very well walk him into Wal-mart flashing burns and hollow eyes at everyone without someone getting suspicious, so the hoodie stays on.

Only Dean's fingers peek out of the bottom of the sleeves, but they're in shadow and hopefully no one will notice the burns. The hood hangs low enough over his face to hide his multi-colored hair, and obscure his eyes. Sam just prays he doesn't start bleeding from his mouth again.

His own face is a swollen mess of dark circles and red skin, his left eye shot completely red with burst capillaries, but there's nothing to be done about it.

They need supplies, bandages and salves for Dean. Antibiotics that he has prescriptions Dean forged weeks ago to get. Food. As much as they can carry so they don't have to stop again for a long, long time. Enough to get them to Tulsa and beyond.

There's a doctor in Tulsa, a man they saved from a pack of werewolves a decade ago. They'd gone to him once before, when Sam was fourteen and dad had been mauled by a black dog, been holding his intestines in his hands

and screaming.

The man had done good work. Hadn't asked any questions, either. And best of all, as far as Sam knew no other hunters had a clue about the man's existence. It was strange, to have to be factoring that into his plans. He supposed he'd get used to it eventually.

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The boy behind the pharmacy counter looks at them strange when they walk up. Sam figures that's mostly because he's leading Dean around with two fingers curled into the waistband of his jeans. But the burns look worse than they did last night, and he doesn't want to touch them anymore than is necessary. Besides, he needs the reassurance of Dean's warm skin, the thrum of blood and breath pressed against him somewhere.

His fingers, flexing just a little against the firm skin of Dean's lower stomach are all that are keeping him grounded.

The kid's still got a strange gleam in his eyes, and Sam smiles big as he can when he pushes the prescription across to the boy. Ducks his head and tries to look innocent behind the curtain of his hair. The kid snorts and rolls his eyes, but fills a little bottle with pills and pushes it towards him irregardless.

He's turned and headed on his way when the boy speaks, "You shouldn't bring him in here like that, man."

For a second he considers pretending he didn't hear, but can't stop himself from saying, "What?" Tugging Dean a little closer just in case there's trouble. He wonders if Dean can run. Doesn't see why he couldn't, as long as Sam was leading.

The boy rolls his eyes again, "Cops catch you with him all fucked up like that and you'll be in loads of trouble. Coach's daughter just got date-raped or whatever at college and I heard they're putting the boy away for, like, years." The boy shrugs, "So just, you know, watch it."

Sam doesn't know what settles worse in his gut. The fact that someone thinks he might be intending to rape Dean, even drugged him to do it. Or the fact that the little weasel faced kid has no intention of stopping him. Is warning him against getting caught.

He makes himself smile and say, "Thanks man," before walking away before he can cause a scene they can't afford right now.

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Damn self-scan things are quite possibly the best thing since a sawed off shotgun. Technically you're not supposed to have more than what, twenty, items when you go through one, but the store is practically empty. Sam pushes the cart up, scanning like there is no tomorrow. In another life he could have been a cashier.

He's scanning the fourth bag on beef jerky-now with more smoky flavor-when Dean's skin beneath his fingers roils and then blisters into goose bumps.

The hair on the back of his own neck is standing up. He pivots slow as he can, staring out the corners of his eyes, looking for the threat. Finding it in the two dour looking men in the jackets with FBI printed across the back in huge yellow letters talking to one of the managers.

They do not look pleased. One has his side arm drawn, the other is motioning about with documents that Sam's sure are probably covered in words like: warrants, arrest, and Winchester. He doesn't know how they caught up with them so fast, how they tracked them to a goddamn Wal-mart. Can't worry about it right now.

He slams his finger into the finish and pay button, slides Mr. Hosea Lantigua's card through the scanner and scribbles what could be considered a signature if you were looking at it from a distance. While squinting. On a really

cloudy day. The large portion of the groceries, still left in the cart, he abandons.

The bags are heavy in his sweat-slick hand, and his skin itches when he turns his back on the FBI agents to walk towards the exit. His fingers tucked into Dean's pants do their solid best to curl into a fist. Any minute now, he knows they will turn and spot him. Any second there will be a silenced shot cutting across the distance between them, hitting Dean in the back of his head.

And then the greeter, a little old lady with purple hair is smiling up at him and wishing him, "Have a wonderful day, sir."

The open air on his face is like a dream. He takes a deep, ragged breath. Walking quickly as he dares, knowing running would be the worst thing he could do, towards the Impala. Praying they haven't found it. Praying that there's not a dozen agents surrounding their only way out of here.

There's not. He shoves Dean into the passenger seat, dumps the contents of one of the bags all over the floor, a explosion of bandages and medical tape and off-brand neosporin. His cell phone goes in the bag, Dean's too, and the laptop.

He doesn't know how they found them. All it means is that he fucked up somehow, that because of him there's a van of federal agents in this parking lot somewhere, looking for Dean. Dean. Who he has to take care of. Who is his responsibility right now.

He ties the bag closed, tosses it into the back of the old pickup idling beside them before walking calmly as possible over to his side of the car. Before opening the door and sliding in and driving ten miles an hour out of the parking lot. Like nothing is wrong. Nothing to see here, folks. Just two guys picking up some groceries.

By the time he pulls onto the interstate he's shaking so badly his teeth are chattering.

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Sam has a deep, abiding hate for Amoco. Has since he was fifteen and some jackass tried to hold the place up while he and Dean were inside. The guy had been strung out and desperate, waving a Mossman around, all show and nerves. Dean had walked right up to him and taken the gun out of his hands, slammed him in the face with the butt of the gun over and over again till Sam had dragged him away.

Sam wonders if that's in his profile, too, as he pulls into the gas station.

It's strange, filling the Impala up. He tries to remember if he's ever actually done it before. Not like it matters. What matters is the fever coming off Dean's skin when he drags him out of the car, the beads of sweat on his upper lip, the way he stumbles twice crossing the tiny gravel parking lot.

The three-hundred pound man behind the counter, name tag proclaiming him to be Uncle George, doesn't look up when they push through the door. There's no security cameras in evidence, no alarm system that he can see, and he lets a little relief creep into his chest.

Grabs a half dozen Hostess confectionaries from the shelf directly inside the door. Sets them on the tobacco-smoke-sticky counter before making a bee-line for the coffee.

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Dean will drink coffee on his own.

Sam presses the cup into his palm without thinking, throwing the Impala into reverse and shagging ass back to the interstate. When he looks back over Dean is raising the cup to his lips, drinking the thick, black shit down like it's water.

Goddamn figures.

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Tulsa is roughly six hundred and fifty miles away. Dean probably could have made the drive in seven hours, stopping a half-dozen times along the way at crappy tourist traps when he wanted an excuse to stick his hands down Sam's pants and his tongue down Sam's throat.

Sam doesn't dare go more than a mile or two above the speed limit. Every time he even spots a cop idling on the side of the road his stomach rolls and sours, bitter bile rising in his throat. Each time he wonders why they don't peel out after them, because honestly, how many '67 Impalas with Kansas plates can there possibly be in bumfuck Texas?

They never do, and Sam says prayer after prayer of thanks that the FBI is so bad at sharing information with local authorities.

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It always surprises him how big and empty Texas is, especially when it's thrown into contrast with the places where Texas is big and really, really full. Like Dallas. He knows the second he's inside city limits that he should have found a way around it, but by that time it's to late.

There's people everywhere. Thousands of other cars surrounding them. Hundreds of cops. Noise so loud that it drowns out the purr of the Impala. Smothers his thoughts in the rumble of an eighteen wheeler beside him, the honk of a pissed off college student in front of him, the punk kids behind them with their music cranked up so loud he can't even understand the words, just feels the pound of the bass beat.

Every few seconds he's cutting his eyes towards Dean, trying to gage if it's affecting him at all. If he's getting better or worse or...anything. For the first time in his life he wants Dean to demand that he pull the car over so that he can go teach those kids a thing or two about real music. But there's nothing.

For just a second he considers cranking up the Impala's system. Blaring Hell's Bells or Saturday Night Special or

Kashmir. Drowning out the thumping rhythm of whoever-the-hell-that-is. The urge passes, the stereo stays still and silent as Dean.

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It's been over twelve hours since they pulled out of the Wal-mart parking lot when they hit the outskirts of Tulsa.

The sun has been gone for hours, the moon sickle thin and blood red against the starless sky. It is the same exact shade as the blade that Ava had handed to Andy less than forty-eight hours ago.

The exhaustion and pain and fear hit him like a sucker punch along the jaw. He jerks the Impala off the side of the road, rolling out onto his hands and knees, trying to keep the coffee and cherry pastry in his stomach where they belong.

There's pressure on the back of his eyes, thick black light trying to bleed itself out through his irises and he grits his teeth and forces it back. He's not sure how long he stays there, prone and wrestling with the thing inside him before he locks it back down. But his palms are cut and bloody from hitting the gravel with his full weight, his knees ache from being in the same position for so long.

And Dean...Dean is the same as he was.

He pulls himself back into the car, trailing blood all over the steering wheel, the seat belt. The Impala whines softly when he puts it into drive, like it had been settled down for the night and resents moving again. He pats the seat comfortingly, and pulls into the next motel they come upon.

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The Quiet Time Motel has twenty rooms and three cars in the parking lot. Sam chooses eleven and lets them in.

Tomorrow he has to take Dean to the doctor. Tomorrow he has to figure out where they go next, because staying in one place is as good as painting a bulls-eye on the top of the Impala and inviting any one of the people trying to kill them to take a shot. Tomorrow he has to let himself think about what happened before he writes over the whole thing in his mind.

Thank God it's still tonight.

Dean's burns are...not worse...but definitely starting to move into a different stage now. The dead skin is starting to peel and molt, turning black and yellow and leaving behind long fissures of red that bleed at the slightest touch. Dean's feverish all over, but it's worst in his hands, and Sam starts worrying about nerve and bone damage. The antibiotics are not doing anything.

The wounds down his back are starting to scab, and it looks like someone had pulled Dean's spine right to the surface of the skin.

The white hair is still there as well. And there's a silver sheen over Dean's right eye that he catches sometimes out of the corner of his eyes. He doesn't want to call it milky, but that's the only way he can think to describe it. And that ties knots in his gut because the only things he's ever seen with milky eyes are always dead.

He pushes the thought away to somewhere else. Locks it in some room deep in his psyche along with all the other things he can't process. Lays Dean down on the bed and crawls in after him, pushing his brother's eyes closed and wrapping his body around him. Waiting for the thrashing to start.

It's worse than last night.

Dean bucks and twists against him, the desperation of last night's movements tinged with a new violence. In the morning he'll have ripped long patches of skin off his arms, and left Sam with a split lip and black eye.

Part Three: Gotta See My Rock-n-Roll Doctor

Dr. Ephrim Manor still has his little private practice on the outskirts of town. The brick building still looks the exact same as last time Sam saw it, a sprawling one-story with white shutters and a sagging roof. The good doctor never even replaced the front door, scoured the whole way down by claws. He has paved the parking lot, at least.

The doctor recognizes them as well, the moment Sam pushes into the cool lemon-scented building, dragging Dean behind him. Sam doesn't even have to point out that he owes them before Ephrim is motioning them into his examination room. Calling over his shoulder to the receptionist, "Reschedule the appointments for the next three hours, okay, Shirley?"

Ephrim hasn't aged quite so well as his practice. Ten years ago he was middle-aged, a tall thin man with energy to spare and a knowing gleam in his eyes. He's still tall. But there's a tightness to his flesh that borders on unhealthy, his eyes are dull. He has a cane and a limp.

Still knows how to not ask awkward questions, though.

Ephrim looks at Dean for a long moment, Sam's fingers itching where they're tucked against Dean's waist. Sam can't move, he's brought Dean this far, got him to help, but can't bring himself to push the hood back from Dean's forehead, push the heavy fabric off his shoulders and reveal the ruin beneath. This is a mistake, he shouldn't have come here, it's not as bad as he thinks it is, he's panicking over something small...

The doctor steps up, nearly as tall as Sam, pushes Dean's hood back with long, thin fingers. Ephrim still says nothing, moving a hand slowly back and forth in front of Dean's face, grabbing his chin and tilting it side to side, up and down. There's no comment made about the streaks of white in his hair, the film over his right eye that catches and reflects the light.

And then the doctor sighs, tugs the zipper down on the hoodie and starts pulling it off. He stops at the first sight of white gauze at Dean's shoulders, continues slower down his arms till there's nothing separating Dean's injuries from the rest of the world but cheap Wal-mart bandages and medical tape.

Just like that Sam's moving, sliding his body between his brother and the doctor. Pushing Dean back towards the door, shaking his head around words that he can't force past his lips. Dean wouldn't want anyone to see him like this. He wouldn't. This was stupid. Sam can handle this on his own and no one else needs to know.

"Sam. Sam look at me," Ephrim's voice is whisper thin, soft and slow as the first flurries of winter. His fingers closing around Sam's wrist are paper thin, cool and dry. Sam looks. Down into the old man's sharp blue eyes, the capable set of his jaw. The only emotion showing on his face is cool efficiency. No pity or scorn. Thank God. "I need to look at Dean, okay? Sit in this chair here for a minute for me."

And just like that, Sam is folding himself into a chair to small for his big frame, burying his face in his hands and not listening to the whisper of bandages being peeled off skin.

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There's silence for a long time after the Ephrim finishes undressing the wounds. For so long that Sam looks up, expecting to find the doctor staring at him with disgust written all over his face, or staring at Dean, aghast. Ephrim, instead, has one of Dean's hands in both of his, carefully stretching and flexing each joint of each finger.

All ten fingers work, each wrist bends. "The burns on his palms are third-degree. Everything else looks to be second." Sam's stomach clenches at the doctor's voice, tightens and sours because he had both soaked the burns and put a shit-load of neosporin on them in the last forty-eight hours and he knows enough about burns to know that those are both no-no's with third-degree damage.

Dean's going to be lucky if he ever has feeling in the palms of his hands again.

Sam lets his head drop back into his hands, hiding from the doctor and Dean. "How long ago?" Ephrim's voice, on the other side of the room, accompanied by the soft rustle of him collecting things out of his cupboards.

Sam doesn't look up to answer, can't take seeing Dean standing still as a statue with the flesh falling off his arms in places anymore. "Two nights." He pauses, swallows in an attempt to ease the roughness of his throat, "What am I going to have to do to get them to heal properly?" Because they are going to heal. Dean is going to be fine.

"He needs to be hooked up to an IV, Sam, kept here for at least a day or two to make sure infection doesn't set in." Before Sam can even open his mouth to protest, because there is no way they can afford to stay anywhere that long at this point, Ephrim is continuing, "But that's not going to happen, is it? You'll have to give him lots of liquids. As much as you can. I'm going to give you a special cream to keep on them, and you'll need to keep them covered. Antibiotics, too. I'll be right back."

hr

By the time Ephrim comes back Sam has relocated Dean to the examination table, unable to take him just standing there anymore. He stands between his brother's knees, curled so his forehead rests against Dean's. Breathing in the leather and gunpowder scent of him, trying to draw the strength he needs from the coiled power of Dean's thighs on either side of his hips.

He hears the doctor return, but the other man doesn't speak till he's standing beside him, "So what happened?"

Sam smiles, crooked, broken, so wide it's painful. He can feel the acid burn of tears in the back of his throat and the corners of his eyes. Staring into Dean's big green eyes, looking for something-anything-of his brother anywhere and coming up empty handed.

"He pulled me out of the fire." And his voice shouldn't be that calm, not with the way his hands are shaking, resting on Dean's shoulders. He swallows, tries to stop smiling but can't, even though he feels like he's splitting his own face in half. "Third times a charm, I guess."

hr

Sam stays where he is, pressed forehead and hips against Dean, fingers digging into his brother's shoulders, while Ephrim works. Cutting away as much of the dead skin as he can. Cleaning and treating the wounds. Sam doesn't really know what all he does, because he can't bring himself to look. Just stares into Dean's face and after a while realizes that the droplets of water on Dean's cheeks are Sam's tears.

It doesn't take as long as it seems like it should before Ephrim is resting a hand on his shoulder.

Dean is swathed from shoulders to fingertips in clean white dressings. Ephrim presses a huge plastic bag into his hands, filled with what feels like dozens of bottles, rolls of gauze, other things that Sam can't identify by touch alone.

"Thank you." There's nothing else to say, dragging Dean off the exam table and snatching the hoodie up. Struggling to get Dean's arms into the sleeves without hurting him. He wonders if they can stay another night here. He has no reason to think anyone would track them to this place.

At least, he doesn't till Ephrim gives him one, “ You boys know an Ellen Harvelle?"

Just like that his blood is ice water in his veins, setting his heart to stuttering. He's got Ephrim against a wall before he realizes what he's doing, forearm braced across the old man's throat, trying to read betrayal or threat in the man's eyes. "What?"

"She called here, when I was getting you the drugs. Wanted to know if I'd seen you two around. Seemed real concerned with finding you." Oh, God. He's got to get out of here. Got to get Dean out of here. Oklahoma has to have more hunters per capita than anywhere and Ellen knows all of them.

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her she had the wrong doctor Manor, that I'd never seen anyone matching your descriptions or known anyone named Winchester." He could be lying, Sam's not sure. There's no way to tell and he's wasting time worrying about it. Got to go.

He spins away from the old man, grabs Dean by the belt buckle with one hand and the bag of drugs with the other. The receptionist makes a startled sound when he slams the door open and pounds out, but he can't bring himself to care. He's out the door and crossing the parking lot, vision narrowed to the Impala and the road beyond.

Ephrim calls from the doorway, "I think this makes us even," voice sharp and hard. Sam just laughs, half-desperate as he shoves Dean into the car. Like he would ever risk coming back here anyway.

hr

The question, of course, is how the hell did Ellen know about Ephrim.

There could be a thousand explanations, but Sam's got a sinking suspicion he knows what happened. He puts fifty miles behind them before jerking the Impala to a stop and tearing through their bags. When he doesn't find what he's looking for he ransacks the trunk, flinging around knives and guns and...goddamnit.

Dad's journal is gone. He wonders where Dean left in the two days his brother must have spent frantically looking for him. Wonders who Dean had trusted enough to leave the book with while he went on what Sam knows Dean thought was a suicide mission. Wonders who had betrayed that trust.

Mostly though, Sam just wants to hit something till his knuckles bleed, just hurt something, anything. Because everything, every safe place they ever found, every secret that they kept in their family, is in that goddamn journal. He tilts his face up to the heavens, wanting to scream, digging his fingernails into the palms of his hands, needing Dean to be there beside him telling him everything will be okay.

hr

He's halfway to pushing two of the pills Ephrim gave them into Dean's mouth when he stops himself. Reconsiders and chucks the entire bag out of the window, thinking about how easy it would be to put something poisonous in the little bottles he'd be giving to Dean to help him. The bag bursts and splits, spilling hundreds of little white pills against the blacktop behind them.

Sam wonders if this paranoid itch is ever going to go away. Then again, it's not really paranoia if everyone really

is out to get you, now is it? Dad had told him that once, in the middle of one of their big blow-ups where they had spent a week not talking to each other.

He'd rolled his eyes then, thought Dad was crazy and told Dean so as often as he could. And Dean had told him, pulling Sam into his lap and messing up his hair, that sometimes Dad was right. And just trying to protect them. And he'd understand someday, when he had something that he needed to protect and everyone else kept trying to take it away.

Sam had changed the subject back then, twisted to straddle Dean and shove his tongue into his brother's mouth, trying to swallow their disagreement. Had lost himself in Dean's strong, rough fingers sliding across his skin, pulling their hips into the proper alignment and grinding into him. Had contented himself in the belief that his Dad and his brother were both wrong, they just didn't know it yet.

Goddamn them both for being right.

hr

They could be in California by morning if he drove straight through. It's just that there's one more person he needs to see before they start running in earnest, and she's not in California.

He should be able to make it the two hundred miles to Lawrence by nightfall.

::go to 'The Walking Wounded' —>::

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