Rating:PG-13 for language
Spoilers:Season 5, after 5.16, Darkside of the Moon.
Summary:When Sam is attacked and marked for possession by a 'Hell Bearer,' Dean will stop at nothing to save his brother. Pain and exhaustion he's handled before; however, adding to that the horrific memories of Hell may be too much for this world-weary hunter to bear.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. The title of the story is from the lyrics to Shinedown's Sound of Madness. Also? You can thank thruterryseyes for the monster at the start of this story. She has a knack for the scary.
a/n 1: This story is unapologetically dramatic laced liberally with pain. Also there is angst. That pretty much sums up Season 5 for me. This was written for masondixon who requested something quite simple: Dean recovering from injuries at Bobby's. One road trip later, I'd turned it into this. I should give up thinking I'm going to just write one-shots. They always grow.
a/n 2: I owe a Very. Big. Thanks to two ladies, both of whom gave this story (and me) a sanity check and both of whom helped balance me when I let my perception of reality tip me over. Terry, if someone says there was a time in my life you weren't my friend, I'll call them a liar. saberivojo, you just get me, man. Thank you both so much for your help.
a/n 3: I am honored to say that secretlytodream agreed to make a fanmix specifically for this story. I provided her with a music compilation that includes songs referenced in the story as well as songs that fit both Dean and the plot and she is weaving her unique magic. I'll provide you with the link along with the final chapter of the story (incentive to keep you reading...see what I did there? *wink*)
And be sure to check out her amaxing Wake Up and Fight: Trailer Vid.
There are scars that I've been hiding;
There are ghosts that I do not claim.
There are closets I do not care to open
But they open all the same.
- "Come Undone," by Jackson Waters
Part One: The Attack
Pierre, South Dakota
His ears were ringing.
He could smell the sulfuric stench from the dying flare; see the sputtering, neon-like glow of the flame. His lungs ached as he worked to cough out air trapped in shocked lungs. Sluggishly, he shook his head. His vision appeared to be on a five second delay.
Movement skittered to his left and he jerked, trying to force his uncooperative body to turn, face the danger. However, it wasn't the hellish image of the creature they were hunting that slid up next to him. Sam's face wavered in and out of focus, turned red by the dying light of the flare. He could see his brother's mouth moving, forming a word, a name…his name.
"—ou okay? Dean!"
"'m okay." Where was his gun? He needed his gun.
"Get up, c'mon. I gotcha."
Sam's grip was strong, his fingers wrapping around Dean's arm with hurried insistence.
"I got it," Dean snapped, struggling to his knees, pulling his arm away. The room swayed around him, sending him sideways. He thrust out a hand, bracing himself against the wall, his blunt fingers gripping the crumbling concrete.
"Did it cut you?"
His left thigh stung as if in reaction to Sam's question, causing Dean to hiss instinctively in reaction. Grunting, he answered with a curt, "Yeah." At least he thought he answered. He wasn't sure if his mouth obeyed him.
"Lemme see," Sam ordered just as the flare died.
"It's okay." Dean pushed Sam's searching hands away, slumping down against the wall again. Why was Sam there? Hadn't he sent him in the other direction? He wasn't supposed to be anywhere near this thing.
Dean's hip pressed against something hard—a familiar shape. Sliding his fingers along the dirty floor, he found the grip of his .45, the clip filled with silver bullets cross-hatched with the sigil that would end the Neresit's brief but deadly reign of terror. His breath returning, Dean grabbed his gun and splayed his other hand against the wall once more, plaster disintegrating at the edges from where he'd hit, using it to gain his feet.
"Enough, Sam!" His voice was rough, sharp. The tone cut through the air and sent Sam back a step. "Where'd it go?"
"It's gone," Sam said. "It ran off after it slammed you against the wall."
Dean could barely see his brother in the murk of the abandoned hospital. With the flare gone, the lingering stench of the creature was returning and Dean pressed the back of his hand against his mouth. The air was heavy with the smell of wet fur and raw sewage, twisted together and made more potent by the confines of the abandoned building.
Blinking the dust from his lashes, Dean peered past Sam and down the dark hallway. "Why'd it run off?" he wondered aloud. He must've hit it with that first shot. It had to be regrouping, gathering its strength.
"Dean, if it cut you, we need to use the Holy Water," Sam said through clenched teeth. "You want to be a beacon to every demon in the area or something?"
"Slacking a bit aren't you, Research Boy?" Dean coughed, squaring his shoulders and steeling himself against the smell Sam seemed to have adjusted to. He reached into the bag at his feet and grabbed the last flare. "Neresits can't mark you unless they bite you. And it didn't, so we're good."
Pulling the top of the flare free, Dean pounded the base against the wall, triggering the reddish flame. He pushed away from the wall, ignoring the dull ache behind his eyes. The bark of the Neresit was soundless except for the part where it vibrated the airwaves to such an extent it momentarily deafened and disoriented its victims. It had taken Dean longer than he'd expected to gather his wits in the wake of that bark.
Of course, cracking a concrete wall with his body probably didn't help matters any.
"Here, let me help," Sam said softly, reaching for the bag.
"I got it," Dean grumbled, stubbornly kicking the bag out of Sam's reach. "What are you doing over here, anyway?"
"I heard gunfire," Sam explained, straightening. "I ran back the way you said you were going and saw that thing slam into you—"
"Bastard's strong," Dean muttered. He caught Sam's searching eyes and turned slightly away, gingerly rubbing the back of his aching head. "Let's get after it."
"Just…Jesus, Dean. Give it a minute," Sam reached for his arm. "You just put a dent in a concrete wall. Take a breath."
"We don't have a minute, Sam." He yanked his arm away, irritably. There was something suffocating about Sam holding him back. Even just a little bit. "We're in the thing's lair and it doesn't want us here."
"You knew where it was before we even got in here, didn't you?" Sam accused. "That's why you sent me to the other wing."
Ignoring Sam's question, Dean again peered down the hall that extended beyond them. "It's gotta be down that way." He turned started to make his way toward where he assumed the Neresit had run.
"Wait!" Sam reached out once more and grabbed Dean's arm.
Dean wrenched free of Sam's grasp, narrowing his eyes against the sting caused by the flare and their cloistered surroundings. Sam wasn't even supposed to be here. He was supposed to be searching the other wing.
"You shouldn't have come over here, man," Dean growled. "I was trying to keep you—" Safe. The word stung the back of his throat and he turned away, starting down the hallway.
"Don't walk away from me, man!" Sam shouted.
At that, Dean half-turned, glancing askance at Sam's sweat and dirt-streaked face. "What, Sam? What?" His angry impatience filled the air between them will a palpable vibration.
Sam shifted his weight, reaching down to grab the weapons bag and sling the strap across his shoulder. He tilted his head slightly as he searched for words. "What are we even doing here, Dean?"
Dean turned more fully to face his brother, eyebrow arched. "You forget about the monster dog that's running around, marking people for possession?" He turned away again, the matter closed as far as he was concerned.
"Why won't you talk to me?"
Dean groaned. "We're in the middle of a job, here, Sam."
"I know," Sam snapped.
Dean heard the bag hit the floor, the remaining weapons inside clattering dully against the cement. At the sound of Sam's heavy inhale of breath, Dean braced for one of his brother's ill-timed temper-tantrums. Sam had bad timing down to an art.
"Yesterday's job was that spirit in Des Moines. And two days ago it was the werewolf in Omaha," Sam said, voice tense as he moved closer.
"Yeah, Sam. All Hell's breaking loose. Or didn't you get the memo?" Dean turned, holding the flare up so that he could find the bag of weapons Sam had dropped. The stench of the monster was fading, which told him they were going to have to start hunting for the damn thing all over again.
Sam stepped forward, closing the space between them, stopping just short of touching him. "Why do you keep trying to leave me behind?"
That brought Dean's eyes up. "What?"
Sam's lips thinned. "You won't talk to me about what happened in…Heaven." He said the word as if it was too heavy for his tongue. "And you keep barreling through these hunts like you're on your own. Like you want to…get rid of me or something."
Dean looked away, down the hall where he was sure the Neresit had run after crashing into him and slamming him against the wall. Sam was blessedly quiet for a moment as Dean's thoughts clattered noisily inside his aching skull.
"I don't want to get rid of you," he found himself saying softly.
"Good." Sam's reply rode on a relieved sigh. "I meant what I said. We'll figure a way out of this."
"I already know a way out," Dean said, raising the sputtering flare. "We head that way and kill the bastard."
"Not this," Sam sighed, gesturing to their dirty surroundings. "The whole…vessel thing. Missing God. Apocalypse. Angels being dicks."
"Oh." Dean looked away, the hurt from an undefined sense of betrayal that gripped his heart the moment he'd heard the word 'vessel' having rippled to anger long ago. "That."
His amulet had been useless. God couldn't be found because He didn't want to be found. Humanity was screwed because the Winchesters wouldn't say 'yes.'
"I don't think there is a way out, Sam."
The flare was starting to die. They'd stood in one place too long; the pain in Dean's head was fading to a dull roar and his leg was itching. But Sam wasn't finished.
"There is. You just…you gotta…believe, Dean."
Anger surged up, hotter than the flare in Dean's hand.
"Believe?" Dean squared off in front of his brother, his jaw tight, the muscles flexing as he clenched his teeth against the torrent of words he wanted to fling at Sam. "In what? Cas can't help us," Dean continued, his voice rising as he gave in to his ire, stepping closer to his brother. Sam's spine straightened as he held his ground in the face of Dean's wrath. "The angels are ready to feed us to their freakin' war machine. God is sipping mai tai's on a beach somewhere. What is there left for me to believe in?"
Sam looked at him then, his eyes flinty. "Us."
Dean snorted, shaking his head. "Us," he repeated, his tone layered with doubt and disbelief.
"Yes," Sam replied, nostrils flared, lips flat as he worked to hold back his emotion. He shoved a finger bluntly against Dean's sternum. "You and me. You said it yourself, man. We keep each other human."
"Yeah, well," Dean tipped his head, his upper lip curling in a snarl. "That was before I realized that the best days of your life were the worst days of mine."
"That's not fair." Sam flinched, stepping back slightly.
"You can say that again."
He hadn't meant to say it. He hadn't even realized he'd been thinking it. But as soon as the words were released, and he saw the flinch of pain cross his brother's features in the eerie light of the fading flare, Dean felt a surge of dark satisfaction settle in and cushion the shards of pain that had been bleeding him out since their little side trip to Heaven.
They stood another moment, the fading flare shimmering between them giving life to their volatile emotions.
Sam opened his mouth to speak—
The stench hit them first, overpowering, rolling bile up to the base of Dean's throat. He saw horror suck out all other expression from Sam's eyes as his brother realized what that smell meant. Dean felt his body shifting instinctively, dropping into a fighting stance as Sam half-turned to see behind himself.
The Neresit hadn't been down the hall as Dean had thought—or, if it had, it had circled around and was now charging them. The dog-like creature was massive—larger than any domesticated dog—muscles riding against bones as if they were a separate entity. Its feet were as large as Dean's hand, claws clattering against the cement floor as it came forward. Tiny eyes—pinpricks of reflected light—glowed red from the flare. Its mouth held a double row of razor-sharp teeth, the saliva dripping from its jowls as it opened up for a deafening, silent bark.
The air around the brothers shook in almost visible waves as they helplessly grabbed their ears in instinctive protection. Dean dropped the flare, the flame hitting the scattered debris lining the empty hall and catching it on fire. Dizzily, his eyes watering as smoke billowed around them, Dean saw Sam hit his knees as he stumbled sideways, crashing drunkenly against the wall and two decades of training kicked in, coalescing to muscle memory and forcing him to reach out toward his brother.
"Sam!" His voice was breathy, useless.
Sam, one hand pressed against the side of his head, crawled clumsily forward, reaching for the bag of weapons he'd dropped. Dean fumbled with the .45, working to bring it up and aim at one of the three images he saw of the creature, but before he could pull the trigger, the Neresit barked again.
Crying out from the disorienting bite of pain, Dean fell to his knees, realizing belatedly that he was pressing both his gun and hands against his ears. Blinking through the haze, he saw Sam curled on his side, one hand outstretched, fingers reaching for the bag.
In a heartbeat of time, filled with absolute clarity, Dean saw what was about to happen and how powerless he was to stop it. The godawful stench of the creature pressed close around them and the Neresit launched, landing on Sam's curled form.
The world around Dean seemed to trip into overdrive as his mind slowed everything down, turning time backwards, off-shooting into different variables. If they'd not stopped have a heart-to-heart in the abandoned hallway…if they'd kept moving…kept searching…if Sam had stayed in the other hall as Dean had told him to and not insisted on coming after his brother….
Sam's scream of pain cut through the air two beats before the crash of bullets exploded from Dean's gun, slamming into the side of the beast. Dean was yelling a wordless torrent of indignant sound as he crawled forward, his right arm outstretched, hand fisted around the butt of his gun, the weapon becoming a part of him as he continued firing. He reached the mass of muscle that was the Neresit, the beast totally obscuring Sam from Dean's sight, and put the muzzle of his .45 against the creature's temple, firing the last two silver bullets point-blank.
For the longest draw of seconds Dean had felt since Cold Oak, nothing moved. He heard only the rasp of his own ragged, frenzied breathing and the crackle of fire as the debris around them was consumed.
And then Sam groaned.
"Sammy?" Dean croaked, growling with effort as he struggled to push the mass of the dead Neresit off of his brother.
Sam was still partially curled to his side, his legs splayed out as if he'd been dropped from the sky, his arms folded against his chest. He groaned again as Dean gently rolled him to his back.
"Sam?" Dean dropped his gun and cupped his hand against the back of Sam's neck.
Sam's eyes flew open and Dean saw the panic there, turning him just in time. Sam retched, the bile blending with the dark blood spilling freely from the body of the creature. Dean held Sam's neck, keeping his head up and angled, and gripped his shoulder in support.
"Easy, easy," Dean soothed. "I gotcha."
"Gah," Sam gasped, sagging against Dean's hold. Dean half-way cradled him against his good leg; there would probably be more of the same. Sam's body always reacted the same way to severe pain.
"Lemme look, lemme see." Dean kept his voice calm, though his heart was shaking against his ribcage so hard he was sure Sam could hear the bones rattle. He ran his hand down Sam's torso, going cold as he felt the unmistakable slick of blood.
"Okay, Sammy, it's gonna be okay." The words were empty yet necessary, for one of them at least.
"Arm," Sam gasped, his lashes fluttering as he fought to stay conscious. He pinned Dean with a look, his eyes bleeding pain until Dean couldn't catch his breath. "Right arm."
The fire was growing, flames crawling closer, following the path of debris. Dean turned Sam's right arm over, seeing only the mess of his brother's mangled jacket and the dark stain of blood. The fire caught the coat of the Neresit, the stench of burning hair adding to the toxic air pressing around them. Knowing he needed to move fast, Dean grappled with Sam's weight, pulling his brother against his chest as he reached for the bag of weapons Sam hadn't been able to grab.
Slinging the strap across his head and shoulders, he shook Sam slightly.
"You still with me, brother?"
Sam groaned slightly. "Gonna be sick again."
"You can be sick later," Dean grunted, balancing on the balls of his feet and gripping Sam under the arms. "First, we gotta get the hell outta Dodge."
Sam tried to help, his long legs wobbly and uncooperative.
"C'mon, man, you can do this," Dean panted, slinging Sam's good arm over his shoulders and pushing upright, hauling Sam with him. His brother was heavy and almost too tall for Dean to support. He staggered to the side, stumbling as he tried to avoid the fire, the wound in his thigh choosing that moment to remind him of its existence with a sharp stab that stole his air for a moment.
Sam coughed as the smoke hit him, then found his footing and gripped Dean's shirt with his wounded arm.
"That's it, Sasquatch," Dean encouraged, breathless from the effort. "Need you to pull your weight around here."
The Neresit was ablaze behind them. They coughed, gagging on the smell of bubbling, burning flesh, making their way down the deserted hall, their path illuminated by the firelight. Dean saw the main entrance to the abandoned building on his right and began to drag Sam forward. The night air was intoxicatingly fresh and the drop in temperature from the fire they'd just escaped seemed to revive them both. Dean felt Sam pull slightly away as they crossed the threshold.
He was able to haul Sam half-way across the weed-infested parking lot before Sam gave in to the nausea and doubled over, his stomach muscles contracting violently against Dean's bracing arm as he heaved. Dean held him, turning his face slightly away to grab great breaths of fresh air.
When Sam was able to stop, his body sagging, Dean dragged them both to the side of the lot, slumping against the chain-linked fence that surrounded the abandoned building. Security lights were positioned roughly every ten feet—half of them having long since blown out—and shed a small amount of light on his efforts.
Before he'd even lowered Sam to the ground, Dean was bellowing for help, his voice smoke-seared and ragged.
Sam's eyes were closed, his face fisted, hair sticking to his sweat-streaked skin. Dean crouched in front of him, dragging the bag from his shoulders and dropping it next to Sam's form.
"CAS! I need you, dammit!"
"He can't hear you…," Sam gasped. "Can't f-find us…."
Dean's hands hadn't stopped moving. "Yes, he can," he assured Sam in a hushed tone as he pulled Sam's ruined coat away from the wound. "He brought us here; he knows where we are or he needs a fuckin' GPS!" He lifted his dirt-streaked face to scream the last at the empty, black sky, a full cover of clouds obscuring his view even of the stars.
Grabbing the flask of Holy Water, he unscrewed the cap and without preamble, poured the contents over the rows of puncture wounds marking a perfect crescent shape—top and bottom—on Sam's right forearm.
Sam screamed, the sound gripping Dean's gut and turning it inside out. He instinctively tried to jerk his arm away from the thing causing him more pain, but Dean held tight, keeping Sam's arm in place and pouring the blessed water over the numerous puncture wounds.
"I'm sorry, man, I'm sorry. I gotta do this, okay? I gotta do this. Just hang in there, hang on, okay? You're doing great. You're doing great, Sammy."
Dean's mouth formed the words; he felt his lips move, heard his voice uttering reassurances, but he was separate from himself, standing next to their huddled forms, watching himself grip the flask, steam billowing up from the wounds, Sam writhing as if it were acid.
"CAS!" Dean bellowed once more, feeling dizzy as he came back to himself, blinking as Sam panted for air, his heels digging into the concrete in an instinctive move to get away, even as he fought to hold himself still.
"Dammit," Dean whispered, a half-sob. "Where are you?"
Dean jerked, looking to his right and suddenly Castiel was there. The angel looked harried and disheveled—more so than usual—but he was there. Dean was so flooded with relief that if he'd been the type of person who thought to utter a prayer of thanks, it would have been that instead of a curse balanced on the edge of his lips.
"Where the hell have you been?" Dean shouted, tossing the empty Holy Water flask back into the gaping duffel. "You need to beam us outta here and heal him. Now."
Castiel's eyes were on Dean's face, staring at him as if he were searching for something a level deeper than anything Dean willingly exposed.
"Cas!" Dean snapped, trying to force the angel to obey by the mere urgency in his tone. "That big-ass demon dog bit Sam, okay? You gonna help us or what?"
"You're bleeding," Castiel pointed out, his eyes shifting from Dean's face to his bent leg.
Dean glanced down, feeling the pain sharply. He curled his fingers into the chain link fence above Sam's head and pulled himself to his feet.
"I'm fine. It's Sam."
Crouching down, Castiel peered at Sam's mangled arm. Dean watched as the angel lifted Sam's hand gently, turning the shaking limb over. Sam wasn't in danger of bleeding to death, but Dean didn't like the look of the wound. The puncture marks were already swollen and puffy, blood seeping weakly to blend with the Holy Water clinging to the hairs on Sam's arm.
"I can't…." Castiel said softly.
Dean's frown was fierce, though Castiel was still looking at Sam. "Can't what?"
Castiel looked over his shoulder at Dean, a world of sadness engulfing his eyes. "I cannot heal him."
"What?" Dean was incredulous. "Can't? Or won't?"
Castiel laid Sam's arm across his belly and stood. He kept his eyes lowered as if he were weighing his next words.
"I mean, I know you wouldn't heal me after Allistair—"
"It has nothing to do with you, or with Sam," Castiel said, silencing Dean's bitter protest with a look. "I have rebelled, Dean. I am not…I am not myself."
"Oh, so you can fly us to some random job, but you can't heal us when it goes south?" Dean growled, unconsciously gripping his wounded thigh.
"It's hard to explain," Castiel said, his face tight, lips almost white as he pulled them against his teeth. "I am still learning my limitations."
Flinging his hands from his sides in frustration, Dean turned back to Sam, meeting his brother's hooded, pain-filled eyes. "Well, that's just…that's just…figgin' swell, Cas. Remind me to ask you about your limitations the next time you tell us there's a monster dog on the loose."
Castiel suddenly looked up and around. "We've not much time."
"No shit, Sherlock," Dean snapped. "That freak marked him—"
"He will be protected from possession," Castiel interrupted, staring once more at Dean's face, peeling back layers in a glance. "You both have the sigil on your skin."
"The sig—you mean our tattoos?" Dean asked, glancing down at Sam when he heard his brother groan. "Our tat's will protect him from this?"
Castiel frowned and the expression of doubt shot fear deep into Dean's heart.
"It will protect you from possession, but—" He stopped, his head tilting as if he were listening. "You need to get Sam out of here."
Dean shifted his hands away from his sides. "I'm ready when you are, man."
"I cannot take you and hold them off at the same time."
"Hold them off?" Dean frowned, looking around, uncertainty turning his sweaty skin clammy.
"Take your brother out of here as fast you can," Castiel ordered, grabbing Dean's shoulders.
Dean's head spun, his friend's voice roughening, bending, becoming someone else's. Someone long dead. Someone who changed his life with words just like those. Words with the same weight of meaning.
"Now, Dean. Go!"
"Find a car, get somewhere safe," Castiel continued. "You will need to follow the ritual to keep him sane."
"Sane?" Dean realized he was gripping Castiel's arms as if for balance. The air around him seemed to be shaking, much like the effects of the Neresit. "What the hell do you mean, sane?"
"The creature's poison will blend with his bloodstream and act as a beacon for demonic possession—"
"But you just said his tat—"
"Listen to me, Dean!" Castiel bellowed, his voice crashing against Dean's wounded ears, reminding him of the power even a limited angel possessed. "Sam's blood is not like other humans. It has been changed through contact with demon blood. They will not be able to possess him, but they can still destroy him."
Sam suddenly began to shake, tearing Dean's attention from Castiel's grave expression.
"Sammy?" Dean dropped down next to his brother, one hand on Sam's chest, the other reaching for the back of Sam's neck, trying to still the tremors, when he realized that the air was shaking. Not only that, but the ground had begun to shake, rattling the security lights and rippling the chain-linked fence.
"What the hell?" He whispered, grabbing for the duffel bag and slinging the strap over his head and shoulder before pulling out the sawed-off shotgun. It was filled with rock salt, but instinct told him it was better than nothing. He stood, wincing as his leg protested.
"There's a break in the fence," Castiel was saying. "Two yards south of you. Take Sam. Get out of here."
Dean looked up, following Castiel's eye line. It was as if the clouds turned to oil and had begun to writhe. Cords of the slicked smoke twisted around each other and moved toward them with frightening speed.
"Son of a bitch," Dean breathed, eyes wide on the twisting smoke he knew to be an onslaught of demons heading their way. The ground began to shake violently, sending Sam's slumped form sideways and teetering Castiel and Dean off-balance.
A low roar seemed to emanate from the cloud as if showing the teeth of a monster. Dean cocked the shotgun. "Okay. Now it's a party," he whispered, his mouth dry, eyes darting everywhere at once.
Sam shouted, a wordless cry that grabbed Dean by the heart. He looked over and saw that his brother's back was bowed, his neck tight, as if someone was trying to pull him upright by the ribcage. Dean was next to Sam before he remembered moving, reaching for him helplessly, unsure how to stop this but needing to all the same.
He was bent over Sam when the cloud of demons hit.
The smoke crashed into them, rolling them over in a tangle of limbs, stealing breath and replacing it with screams. Dean was slammed against the pavement, his forehead bouncing off the blacktop and shooting pain through his head. The swarm pushed him along the concrete. Sam was beneath him, then beside him, then pressing down on top of him, suffocating him with his weight.
Searching for access, angered when they couldn't find one, the demons continued to attack, their snake-like tentacles jabbing, seeking, hurting. Dean felt as if he were being branded each time a snake of smoke struck him. It was like iced fire, searing him and marking him, tearing down his defenses.
He'd felt it before, he knew. He'd felt it for years. And he'd almost been lost to it.
Sam's cries of protest snapped Dean back to the present and he blindly fired the shotgun. The demons retreated a moment, rearing back as if they'd been struck—which, Dean knew, they had. Breathless from pain, blood streaming from a cut on his head to blur his left eye, Dean roared in anger, firing the other barrel and pushing the smoke back further. He shoved Sam's weight away from him and sat up shakily, confused for a moment why the demons didn't renew their attack.
And then he saw Castiel.
The angel stood among the throng of the demon smoke, his arms outstretched, wings spread. Dean gaped. He'd only seen Castiel this way once before: the day he met him. Wiping blood from his eye, Dean pushed to his knees as he watched his friend hold the demons away.
"Limitations my ass," Dean breathed.
Castiel was magnificent.
And he was also shaking.
"Go," Castiel ordered, his voice tight.
Dean felt an urge to look to his left, as if an invisible hand grabbed him by the chin. He saw the break in the fence that Castiel had referred to. The attack had shoved him and Sam down the lot until they were level with their escape route.
"Take him, Dean."
Dean jerked, startled as he realized Castiel's voice was in his head. It wasn't the first time a voice not his own had echoed in his head, but where the others had felt like a rape of his mind, this felt like a caress, a whisper. So soft he wasn't sure what he'd heard until Cas said, "Get him safe."
"What about you?" Dean's question was reactive, instinctive. "CAS!" He felt as if he were thinking in capital letters, the name heavy in his mind.
"Go." Castiel's orders left no room for argument.
Dean tucked his arms beneath Sam's shoulders, hauling his brother up against him. "C'mon, Sammy. Need your help here, man."
Sam was still trembling, but Dean felt him rouse enough to get his legs under himself and push upward. Balancing Sam against him, Dean slung his brother's arm across his shoulder. Looking back at Castiel, Dean felt the image of the angel standing as a shield, keeping a veritable herd of demons from mauling them, would be forever seared into his brain.
Sam groaned as Dean plowed them through the opening in the fence and out into the deserted street. Forcing Sam beyond his waning strength, Dean kept up a litany of reassurance as they staggered forward, searching for a car to get them as far away from the abandoned hospital, dead Neresit, and demon hoard as possible.
"I gotcha, Sammy. I'm not gonna let them get ya, man, I promise." He was panting, his words thin, breathy as his eyes roamed the empty street, never ceasing in their search. "I'm gonna get us outta here…just need to find a car…find a car and…head to…Bobby's." He almost grinned as the solution blazed across his mind. "We'll head to Bobby's. Get you in the panic room. Get you safe. Figure out this ritual."
"Dean," Sam groaned, his legs wilting.
"No, no, NO, Sam!" Dean readjusted his grip, tightening his hold. The muscles in his back screamed from abuse and his leg flared hot. He could feel fresh blood running down the inside of his jeans from the cuts on his thigh. "You are not allowed to pass out on me. You understand? You do NOT pass out on me. Not yet. I'll tell you when. Understand me? Sam?"
"Yeah," Sam gasped, forcing himself forward, his head lolling sideways, resting against Dean's.
Dean blinked blood from his eyes, wanting to reach up and wipe the sting away, but afraid to let go of Sam. He felt his head spinning from the fight they'd just survived. He needed to get them out of there and get them both fixed up before he could figure out this ritual or neither of them would be able to stay conscious long enough to save Sam from insanity.
The roar of the demons, and the earthquake-like shake of the ground, was fading the further he dragged them. His body was trembling from effort, the feeling of being separated from himself sweeping over him once more. Every thought was peppered with a curse, his patience gone. He didn't even have the energy to continue his litany of reassuring epithets to keep Sam conscious. The broken, weed-infested sidewalk was starting to look really appealing as a resting point when he saw it.
It was a rusted-out orange Nova, but it had four wheels, was parked in front of a dark house, and was practically begging them to take it for a ride.
"You see that? You see that, Sam? We got us a ride outta here."
Sam didn't reply. If he wasn't at least partially holding himself upright, Dean would have been willing to bet he was unconscious. Holding his breath as he dragged them close to the rear driver's side door, Dean tried the handle and exhaled when the hinges creaked loudly as he opened it. Peering in, he saw trash, wadded up bags from take-out foot, and torn copies of Auto Week strewn across the back seat and floorboards.
He reached across Sam to sweep the seat clean, then eased him inside so that his brother lay on his left side, cradling his still-bleeding arm. Dropping the duffel on top of the trash, Dean grabbed a wax pencil from the bottom of the bag. Leaving Sam's legs hanging out of the car door, Dean quickly climbed up onto the seat and as fast as his shaking hands would allow, drew a Devil's Trap on the roof of the Nova.
As a precaution, he drew another protective symbol on the trunk and again on the hood. Returning to Sam, he dropped the pencil in to the bag, shoved Sam's legs inside and shut the door. Making his way to the front seat, Dean pulled out his knife and ducked under the steering column, cutting the wires free. He was short of breath as he climbed behind the wheel, shoving aside a myriad of travel books, more magazines, and a canvass tool belt.
"C'mon, c'mon," Dean muttered as he worked to spark the vehicle to life. With his luck, the car would become a protected coffin rather than an escape route. "Start, you rusted bitch!"
With that, the Nova coughed to life.
"Atta baby." Dean half-grinned, pulling the door closed and yanking the gear into drive.
He used the cuff of his shirt to wipe the blood from his eyes, flinching as he inadvertently touched the wound on his forehead. Hazarding a glance in his rear view mirror at what now looked more like storm clouds than demonic travelers, he roared away from the curb, taking the first corner on two wheels, and found a barren stretch of road.
"Sam?" He glanced over his shoulder at his brother's curled form. "Hey, man, you with me?"
"'m here." Sam's voice was raspy, slurred. Dean frowned, turning his head to the side as he tried to pick up the words more clearly. "Feel's like…like my blood's burning…God…Dean, this friggin' hurts…."
Sam jerked and twisted on the seat, his words stabbing into Dean, shoving to the surface memories he'd spent countless nights burying. He tried to take a breath and found his lungs rebellious and uncooperative. In retaliation, Dean buried the odometer needle, tearing down the rough asphalt road, hoping that no random deer or other animal chose that moment to peek its nose out of the open space on either side of them.
"Hang in there, Sammy," he implored, glancing at his brother in the mirror. "Just need to get a little space between us and them."
Sam only groaned in reply and Dean worried his lower lip with his teeth, searching for a safe place to pull over take a better look at Sam's wound. Several minutes later, he reached a turn off. He left the car running and twisted around in his seat, ignoring the shriek of torn skin against his ruined jeans.
Sam was turned away, his face buried into the vinyl of the back seat, his chest and shoulders rising and falling in time with his rapid breathing. His right arm was cradled against his chest and Dean saw that the wound had stopped bleeding, Sam's long-sleeved shirt had stuck to it, acting as a bandage.
Dean reached out on instinct, needing to check Sam's breathing, pulse, the heat of his skin. But half way to Sam's shoulder, he inexplicably froze. He suddenly couldn't draw a breath, couldn't quell the tremor as his insides shook. Sam turned his head slowly to face Dean, sweat covering his face, his hair sticking to his skin. Angry red scuff marks from their roll across the pavement framed one eye and crossed the bridge of his nose.
In the dimly lit car, Dean saw the chaos in his brother's eyes.
"Jesus Christ. It's burning, Dean," Sam rasped, pain tripping through his words and turning them into a hiss. "Swear to God, my blood's burning!" The fingers of his left hand curled into claws as he raked at his wounded arm, his chest, trying to find a way to stop whatever it was he was feeling.
"No, man," Dean said, his mouth so dry he almost choked on the reassurance his words were meant to be. "It's not. Nothing is burning." He curling his shaking hand into a fist then forced himself to reach out and grab Sam's hand, stopping his brother from doing further damage to himself. "You're gonna be okay, you hear me? I'm gonna fix this."
Sam clenched his teeth, closing his eyes with a low growl and Dean moved his hand to grip Sam's shoulder. He felt his brother relax slightly under the weight of his hand and whatever fears that had held him back before evaporated. He curled his fingers, digging gently into the meat of Sam's arm, forcing his brother to look at him once more.
"I promise you, Sam," he said quietly, firmly. "I promise I'm gonna fix this."
Not waiting for Sam's reply, Dean turned around in the seat, pulled out his cell phone, and steered them back onto the road. It took a few minutes to get to an area with a strong enough signal but the moment he had more than two bars of reception, he called Bobby.
"Boy, I'm buying you a watch for your next birthday," Bobby greeted him gruffly, "if you live that long. You know it's midnight?"
"I'm about forty-five minutes outside your place, Bobby," Dean said, trying in vain to calm his racing thoughts and convey the necessary information to get Sam help. "Need your panic room."
"What for?" All gruffness vanished from Bobby's tone and Dean felt his eyes burn with relief. "Is it Sam?"
"Yeah, but…it's not what you're thinking. Exactly," Dean amended, taking the next turn on the back route to Singer Salvage. "Cas took us to a job. It didn't go as planned."
"Do they ever?"
"Sam was bit by a Neresit."
Dean pulled the phone slightly away from his ear in reaction to Bobby's outraged yelp. "Not helping the headache, man."
"Cas sent you two after a…a…Hell Bearer?"
"Yes," Dean snapped. "That's not important. We got the bastard."
"But not before it marked Sam."
"Right—and Cas said there's a ritual—"
"Dean." Bobby's voice was a warning. Dean's stomach coiled tight. "This ain't just any ritual. You're not gonna like this one."
"Well, you can tell me about it when we get there."
"Son, I'm not at home." Bobby sounded almost sad—as if he knew that his words would slip ice through Dean's veins. "I'm on a job. In Illinois."
"Son of a bitch!" Dean didn't bother to curb his frustration. His head was pounding, his forehead wouldn't stop bleeding into his eye, and his leg felt as though it was on fire.
"Couldn't be helped," Bobby apologized. "'Sides, I thought you said Cas took you on this job. Why ain't he helping you?"
"Bobby, for all I know, Cas is dead," Dean growled, the worry behind the words scorching his throat. "I left him holding off a freakin'…gaggle of demons."
"What? Why? Neresit marks victims for one demon…not hundreds."
"Yeah, well, they were coming after Sam," Dean snapped. "Sam and his freakin' special demon-enhanced blood."
"Balls," Bobby cursed.
"You got that right." Dean blinked his blurring eyes, finding the road once more with the dim beam of the Nova's headlights. "Forget it. I'll just get him into your panic room where they can't—"
"Dean," Bobby interrupted.
"Shit, Bobby. What? What?" He was tapped. One more piece of bad news….
"Rufus has something in the panic room. Some kind of witch. He's there now, waiting for me to get back so we can...y'know, vanquish the bitch."
"Goddammit." Dean pounded the steering wheel with the heel of his free hand. "Anything else you want to tell me? You burn all your books? Sell off your protective charms?"
"Listen," Bobby said, apparently picking up on the fact that Dean was about to bench him for life if he didn't give him something positive. "I know what book the ritual is in. You get there, get Sam inside, and call me. I've…got some tricks up my sleeve."
"Enough tricks to keep a bazillion Sam-thirsty demons away?"
"More than enough," Bobby reassured him. "I'll be there in eight hours. You can last eight hours."
"I hope so, man."
"Rufus is there," Bobby reminded him. "He'll help you."
"Bobby…." Dean couldn't hide the plea captured in the whisper of that name.
"You just get to the house, Dean. Just get Sam there and we'll get through this together."
Dean closed his phone, shoving it into the pocket of his coat. He looked over his shoulder at Sam, unsure if his brother had registered any of that conversation.
"We're gonna be okay, Sammy," he said to his brother's silhouette. "You just stay with me, okay?"
Sam's silence chilled him. Ignoring the pull on his wounded leg, Dean shifted, pressing the accelerator to the floor, and reached over the seat. His fingers found Sam's heated face; after a moment, he was rewarded by the feel of his brother's good hand touching his, wrapping fingers around his hand and gripping tight.
"I'm gonna fix this," Dean whispered.
Part Two: The First Four Hours.
a/n: Thank you for reading! I hope you're enjoying thus far.
There are four parts to this story and I'll post a chapter every other day, the final chapter coming on Tuesday, October 4th.