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.
Warnings: There is mention of torture (from Dean's tour in Hell) in this fic.
Wake Up and Fight: Part 1
Wake Up and Fight: Part 2a
"What the hell took you so long?"
"Good to hear from you, too." Dean sighed out the words, weariness gripping him with vengeance. He dropped his head back against Bobby's desk and closed his eyes, forcing himself to keep the phone up by his ear.
"Used your salt ring trick," Dean told his friend. "They're…regrouping. Or whatever." He opened his eyes. "How the hell did you do that, anyway?"
"Lot of trial and error," Bobby replied gruffly. "It won't last long, though, so we gotta hurry."
"Tell me something I don't know," Dean muttered.
"I left Rufus three messages," Bobby obliged, his voice gravely with frustration. "Don't know where the hell he went to get angelica, but he ain't answering."
"Figures," Dean muttered. "Gonna have to do this on my own."
"The ritual is in a large, black book with an etching of a cross on the cover and spine," Bobby said with curt tightness to his voice that reached through the phone to grab Dean by the chin. "Last I saw it, it was on the table behind my desk, under a jar of crow's feet."
Dean blinked slowly, working to wake up his sluggish mind. "You have a jar of…bird feet in here?"
"This surprises you?"
There were parts of Bobby's house as familiar to Dean as the Impala. This house was as much home to him as any place had been. But for the first time, Dean looked around, seeing the chaos of Bobby's study as a stranger might.
Books stacked vertically, horizontally, diagonally, on shelves, on the floor, covering what was almost unrecognizable as a chair. Jars of unidentifiable objects shoved into corners and sitting atop curse boxes that were almost beautifully adorned with protective carvings. Turning as he continued to look around, Dean thought he even saw a monkey's hand on one of the shelves.
"No," he shook his head, hearing the scruff of his way-past-five-o'clock shadow rub against the mouthpiece of the phone. "No, I guess not."
"You see it?" Bobby asked.
"Hang on," Dean grunted, needing to use the edge of the desk to pull himself up. He made it to his knees before he was forced to stop, suck in his breath and wait for the world to level out. The edges of his vision grayed and a dull buzz ticked in his ears.
He didn't realize he'd dropped the phone until he heard Bobby calling his name from what seemed like a million miles away.
"I'm here," he said, gripping the phone and pulling himself the rest of the way to his feet, leaning heavily against the desk.
"Is it bad?" Bobby asked, skipping over the are you hurt question that he apparently knew Dean would avoid.
"I've had worse," Dean answered honestly.
"You've also been dead," Bobby reminded him. "Recently."
"True," Dean grunted as he moved to the shelf Bobby had described. "No bird foot jar, man."
"Look in the china cabinet," Bobby suggested.
"The…what?" Dean blinked in surprise, suppressing a laugh. "You have…china?"
"I did," Bobby replied, his voice daring Dean to make something of it. "Now I just have spell books and lots of weapons."
It was always a bit of a shock when Dean remembered that there had been a Bobby before the hunter he knew. A Bobby who'd run a legitimate business – not simply a front, but an actual money-making scrap yard – who had been married and had kept a house and had maybe even a family of his own. A Bobby who had been to war and seen true horrors before Hell decided to turn inside out and show him how much worse it could be.
When he did remember, Dean found himself straying to the what if part of his brain he didn't often feed. What if John had made a different choice in raising motherless sons – would destiny have still caught up with them? What if he hadn't gotten Sam from Stanford – would his brother have still been a hunter? What if a deals hadn't been made, sacrifices forced, families torn apart….
"Dean? You ain't fading on me again, are you?"
"Still here," Dean mumbled, rubbing the side of his head and trying to stay focused.
He felt empty. Hollowed out.
"I know you're hurting, boy," Bobby said gently, "but right now you're the only hope your brother's got, you hear me?"
"I know that, Bobby," Dean snapped, exhaustion sparking irritation.
"Just keep it together a few more hours."
"Found the china cabinet," Dean told him. "It's locked."
"The key is—"
Dean shoved his elbow through the glass, yanking the door open.
"It's not locked anymore."
Bobby's sigh was weighted. Dean knew he'd probably broken one of the last pieces of furniture Bobby still kept from his old life, but at the moment he didn't care. I don't need you to remind me what my job is, Dean thought rebelliously.
"Guess I deserved that," Bobby replied almost as though he'd heard Dean's unspoken thought. "You see the book?"
Dean grunted, pulling the heavy volume out and turning back to the desk, dropping it on top of a pile of yellowed papers.
Sam groaned, twisting slightly in his sleep. Dean spared him a glance then turned back to the book.
"What do I look under?"
"Hell Bearer," Bobby told him.
Sam muttered something intelligible and Dean frowned, flipping through the crinkled, musty-smelling pages as he mentally ran the alphabet through his head trying to find the page on the Hell Bearer. He saw a sketch of what looked like an old-school werewolf peering up at him from the faded pages.
"Found it," he said, running his finger down the page, exhaling. "Okay, it says…Pakao Neresit is Serbian for Hell Bearer. Awesome. Why didn't it stay the hell in Serbia? Appear as a diseased, dog-like creature…horrible smell, mouthful of fangs, yeah, no shit…wheezing bark can cause disorientation, unconsciousness, blah blah blah—"
"Did it bark?" Bobby asked.
"Hell, yeah, it barked," Dean replied, still reading.
Dean paused. "What do you mean?"
"You're not dizzy or anything? Off-balance, that sort of thing?"
Frowning, Dean looked over at Sam's restless form on the couch. His vision blurred slightly and he reached up to rub at his blood-crusted eye. "Why, Bobby?"
Bobby sighed, hearing the unspoken yes in Dean's answer. "The effects can last for some time. You need sleep. Only way to beat it."
Dean snorted humorlessly. "Well, let's get this ritual done so I can check into a spa or something."
He read on. "Okay, here's the part about the marker…it's transmitted through their saliva and their victim is targeted as a demonic host. Doesn't say anything about turning the blood black, though."
"Doing what now?" Bobby asked.
"Sam's blood," Dean glanced at his brother, noting that the darkened veins on his face had faded a bit from black to an almost purplish-gray. "It turned dark…I can track the veins under his skin."
"Never heard of that before," Bobby muttered. "Maybe it's because of the demon blood…."
"Swell. Demon blood. The gift that keeps on giving," Dean muttered, reading on. "Okay here's the ritual," he said, his eyes jumping to the words human blood, demon ash, and burning. "Bobby…what the hell?"
"I told you," Bobby said. "This is not going to be easy."
"Easy? It says I have to burn it out of him," Dean protested, Sam's plaintive I don't wanna burn echoing in his mind.
Bobby was silent.
"Using the ash of a demon," Dean read aloud, "make a paste with the blood of a human, mix in two parts boneset—whatever the hell that is—
"I got some in the garage. Back-up supplies of herbs."
"—three parts caraway root," Dean continued as if Bobby hadn't spoken, "and completely cover the wound before lighting the paste on fire."
Bobby said nothing.
"Did you hear what I just said?" Dean barked.
"Dean," Bobby said patiently. "It won't actually burn him."
"They are messing with his head, Bobby," Dean bellowed, slamming the book shut and stumbling over to the couch to peer down at his feverish brother. Sam was twisting in his sleep, pulling against the ropes and muttering. "I had to tie him to the goddamn couch so he would stay inside the Devil's Trap. All he talks about is that they're going to burn him and you want me to fuckin' light him on fire?"
"Dean." Bobby's voice was firm. "Calm down."
"I am calm, dammit!" Dean snapped, sagging back against the desk and pinching the bridge of his nose.
They're getting stronger.
Dean frowned. He'd heard the words in his head just as before, but this time he'd also been watching Sam. Watching as Sam's lips formed those same words.
But it wasn't Sam's voice in his head.
"The problem isn't burning the paste," Bobby said. "It's getting demonic ash."
"Wait, what?" Dean asked, trying to shake the buzz from his ears. "What did you say?"
His mouth was dry and the room seemed to be growing steadily darker. Blinking his eyes wide, he caught sight of another slim shadow darting around the corner, as if running from the study and down the hall. Reaching up, he rubbed his eyes, then looked once more at the space he thought he'd seen someone standing. There was nothing there.
He needed a drink.
"You need demonic ash, Dean," Bobby reminded him.
"How the hell am I supposed to get that?" Dean groused, reaching for Bobby's liquor bottle.
He took a short pull from the mouth of the bottle, holding the liquid in his mouth for a bit, letting it burn his tongue and the back of his mouth before swallowing. The burn seemed to chase the shadows away from his vision and he took a fire-seared breath.
"Only way I know how," Bobby was saying, "is to trap one inside a human. And then set them on fire."
That snapped Dean's attention from Sam's restless sleep to the phone in his hand.
"Say that again."
"You gotta burn a possessed human."
"No way." Dean shook his head. "No fuckin' way, Bobby."
—It would be so easy to make it all stop, Dean—
The memory of that voice—Alistair's voice…a demon who no longer lived but would forever haunt his dreams—slid oil-slick through his mind and down his spine, a shudder following.
Bobby's voice sounded thin as he said, "It's the only way to save your brother, Dean."
—All you have to do is say the word…turn the knife on them…make them burn, and we will stop the pain—
And he had. He'd said the word. He'd turned the knife. He'd made them burn.
But they'd lied. The pain didn't stop. It just changed.
"No, Bobby," Dean forced out through stiff lips. His body was cold, shaking. His heart was hammering so loud in his chest it was almost all he could hear. "I…I can't. I can't."
"You have to, dammit!" Bobby shouted. "If you don't do this, Sam will die. They will eat him up from the inside out. They will turn him on himself, and then on you. They will drive at him until they possess him and if they can't do that, they will bring Hell down on him any way they can."
Dean was holding his head, his palm pressed against the raw cut on his forehead. He heard Bobby's words, but saw only the emptiness beyond the rack. The emptiness that was more often than not filled with the ever-shifting form of Alistair. A man sometimes, a woman others, a snake, a dragon—creatures he thought were only myth but brought very real pain.
"Aw, dammit…," he whispered, his heart twisting at the thought of Sam seeing that. Sam in that Hell.
His fingers numb, he let the phone drop from his grip and lifted his shaking hand up before his eyes, remembering the slick of blood on his palm, the heavy weight of the blade in his grip as he followed orders—something he'd always excelled at. He remembered the cold weight of the pain as the hooks had been pulled from his flesh, freeing him and trapping him at the same time.
He remembered each soul, each face, each curse, each scream.
He remembered the fire, the bubble of their skin, the smell of it. He remembered the cold lick of the flames, the hatred in their eyes. He'd been empty, a shell of himself, forgetting who he'd been, who he was, who he loved, who loved him.
He forgot language and meaning. He knew only torture and orders and pain.
Bringing his head up with a sniff, he looked around and saw Bobby's study, not the cold, dark room in Hell. He'd lost track of how much time had passed. He'd fallen to his knees, his wounded leg bleeding once more. Sweat had tracked his face, finding its way to the corners of his mouth. Disoriented, he licked the salt from his lips as he looked around, drawing awareness around him like a blanket, trying to determine who had called his name.
His brother was straining against the ropes, the tendons in his neck tight, his body shaking. The dark lines on his skin had turned from purple to blue, giving him a cadaverous look. On shaking arms, Dean crawled over to the couch, reaching up to touch Sam's cheek, shocked when he found his brother's skin cold.
With a jerk of his head, Sam's body relaxed and he opened his eyes. Dean drew back with a gasp. Sam's eyes were severely bloodshot, the pupils blown wide until barely any hint of hazel could be seen around the rims. Dean didn't recognize the look in them, nor did he see his brother in the smile that twisted Sam's lips.
"They're coming back," Sam said, his voice a rasp. "They're getting stronger."
Dean blamed the pain.
It was the only reason it had taken him this long to figure it out. If his body hadn't distracted him with a mind-weakening ache, he would have followed the trail of mental breadcrumbs from the voice to the mirror image to the shadows to the witch the moment he'd first heard the screeching beneath him.
As it was, the realization drove a surge of strength through his shaking body and he grabbed Sam's arms.
"Sam! Stop it. This isn't you!"
The smile that wasn't Sam's widened, exposing his teeth in an almost shark-like grimace. Dean flinched, horror nearly blanking out rational thought. His brother looked like a ghost of himself, his long hair plastered to his head with dirt and sweat, the blue veins creating tracks across his skin, and his eyes—
"You know where I am," Sam taunted in a stranger's voice.
"How are you doing this?" Dean demanded, releasing Sam's arms and leaning back. "I know you're not possessing him."
It's easy when you have mind willing to believe.
Dean half-turned, his world tipping off-balance, before he realized that the voice wasn't behind him—it was once more in his head.
"Let him go," Dean demanded.
Dean looked back down at his brother. Sam's eyes rolled back in his head and to Dean's increasing horror, he began to seize. The ropes holding him to the couch began to dig into his flesh and his feet pounded against the arm of the couch, cracking the wood further.
"All right!" Dean shouted.
Sam went instantly still, his body sagging into the couch as if all life had been drained from it. Dean scrambled over to the weapons bag and grabbed one of the small daggers from the pile of ammo, cutting the ropes from Sam's wrists. Stabbing the blade into the arm of the couch, he left Sam's ankles tied, but rubbed the wounded skin at Sam's wrists gently.
"Please," Dean breathed to his brother's slack features. "Please stay put this time. Just…just do this one thing for me, okay?"
Running his hand over Sam's damp hair in a helpless gesture, he stood. He didn't have the strength to think about repercussions and reasons. He had to blank his mind to the memories, to the pain in his leg and head that threatened to send him spiraling to the ground. He had a job to do and aside from that—aside from Sam—nothing else mattered. He couldn't afford to let it.
If he did…he'd lose himself.
Sliding the extra dagger into his back pocket and tucking his .45 into his waistband, he grabbed his cell phone, turned, and crossed the salt line, following the same path the wayward shadow had gone toward the basement door and the stairs that led to the panic room.
He'd been in the panic room several times—had trapped Sam in there twice before. The most recent time leading to the last prayer Dean had truly meant. A prayer for help that had been summarily ignored because God wasn't in the mood to listen to Dean Winchester.
Even though His world is folding it at the seams, Dean thought. Even though his soldiers are tearing each other up and taking us with them.
The tiny window cut into the top of the metal door of the panic room was closed and he saw a gleaming new padlock and chain securing the door. Rufus really didn't want anyone in or out without his say-so, Dean mused, approaching the window. He braced himself for what he'd find on the other side, then slid the window open.
His first thought was that she looked like a Kindergarten teacher.
Sitting demurely on the bare cot in the center of the room, legs crossed at the ankles, blonde hair hanging loosely around her shoulders, the witch stared at him through the window with wide, guileless eyes and for a moment, Dean thought he'd made a huge mistake.
Do we need to talk about books and their covers?
The voice was like a fist in his mind, pressing against his ears uncomfortably and taking up the space his too-busy thoughts needed.
"So," Dean said out loud, mainly for the sake of normalcy, "not just a witch, but a psychic witch. Special."
"What can I say?" She smiled and Dean saw a flash of the grimace that had spread Sam's mouth wide moments ago. "It's one of my many gifts."
"What do you want with Sam?" Dean demanded.
"Bullshit," Dean shot back.
His body suddenly throbbed, a shimmer of white-hot pain centering on his wounded leg. He grabbed the protruding hinges of the metal door for balance as his leg shook and his head swam. He closed his eyes, fighting to stay upright, then took a shallow breath and opened his eyes. He jerked back, startled, when he saw that she was now standing directly on the other side of the small window, her eyes no longer calm but as blood shot and manic as he'd seen Sam's eyes earlier.
"He is dying."
"I'm gonna stop that." Dean grit his teeth, reaching down to hold the top of his wounded thigh, trying in vain to suppress the pain that was spiking up to a nauseating level.
"Use me," the witch rasped, her voice both in front of him and echoing in his mind.
"Stop!" Dean found himself almost pleading, closing his eyes and allowing his forehead to fall forward against the bars. He felt the cold metal against his open wound. "Get the hell outta my head!"
"Use. Me." This time, she simply spoke the words and her voice was calm, normal.
He opened his eyes and saw she was once again sitting on the cot.
"Is super-speed one of your gifts?" he asked irritably.
"I know what you know, Dean Winchester. I know what you need."
"Oh, yeah?" Dean arched an eyebrow. "This oughta be good."
"I will be your vessel." She tilted her head and for a moment Dean's breath stopped.
He swallowed. "What?"
"I will be the vessel for your demon."
He frowned. "Wait…you want me to kill you?"
"Yes." The amount of desperation and hope wrapped around that one word shook him.
He took a step back from the window but his leg refused to hold him. Leaning heavily against the wall, he looked down at the make-shift bandage wrapped around the cuts the Neresit had left behind. The towel was dark with fresh blood and the knotted gauze was twisted and loose from his struggles with Sam earlier.
Looking back over at the door he called out, "What's the catch?"
"No catch," she said, her voice muffled by the door, but, thankfully, not in his head. "You set me free, I allow a demon to possess me, trap it inside of me. You burn me and save your brother."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "Or…I set you free, you run amuck, and I kill you anyway."
"My way, Sam lives," she countered.
"How do I know you won't try to kill me if I let you out?"
Limping back to the door, he peered at her. "I don't buy it. Why would you want to die?"
She was looking down, her hair covering her face. At his question, she slowly lifted her head, her hair turning stringy and dingy, her eyes hollowing out, her face paling until she looked exactly like the image of the girl in the mirror. Dean, who had seen enough horror in his life to find Romero movies tame, shivered at the sight, thankful for the heavy steel door that separated them.
"I know what you know, Dean Winchester," she repeated, her voice that of a corpse. "I know there is only one reason you don't want to die."
Dean swallowed, feeling as though he should protest but unable to find the words.
"I know you are haunted by the things that want your brother. And I know," she stood, her movements stuttering, stilted, as if she'd forgotten how to coordinate limbs and motion, "that if they win…you lose everything."
"We're…," he croaked, clearing his throat, "not talking about me."
"I want this to end," she rasped, moving closer.
He could suddenly smell her, smell her age, her rot. "Why don't you just off yourself if you want it that bad?"
"I cannot," she lamented. "I've tried."
"So what's this? Suicide by hunter?" Dean narrowed his eyes, suspicious.
"Use me," she pleaded, her voice once more echoing in his head, tilting him off-balance, causing him to lose his grip on the door. "End this!"
Dean's knees buckled and he went down hard to his hip, catching himself with one hand. His cell phone clattered free from his pocket and lay gleaming in the dim light of the basement, taunting him. He stared at it for a moment afraid to reach out, afraid of the hope he felt sparking to light inside of him.
He needed real hope in this moment, straight up, no chaser, and something inside him knew the moment he called Bobby, any chance of that would be destroyed. But Dean was a hunter. And a soldier. And he had a job to do.
He picked up the phone.
"Bobby?" He choked on the plea that surrounded the name.
"Oh, thank God," Bobby breathed. "What happened? Are you okay? Where's Sam?"
"I have an idea."
Bobby made a strange noise in the back his throat. "Dean. Where are you?"
"Sitting outside your panic room."
"We can use the witch."
"No, kid," Bobby's voice was urgent. "Listen to me. I want you to get up, go upstairs, and wait. You just wait for me."
"We don't have that kind of time, Bobby."
He knew it was true the moment the words left his mouth. Time was breaking apart in his hands, an hourglass of moments slipping like sand through parted fingers. And Dean could feel his body slowly giving out; he wasn't going to be able to hold them off until Bobby arrived.
"Dean." Bobby snapped an order around his name as if calling him to attention. "I found Rufus. He's on his way back, but it's going to take a little time. Listen, there's a reason he didn't want me going in that room without him."
"Yeah, I know," Dean said tiredly, peering up at the opened window, knowing she heard every word. "'Cause the witch is a psychic."
"Yeah, a very powerful one," Bobby told him, not bothering to ask how he knew. "But she can only work one person at a time."
"Work them how?"
"She tells you want you need to hear, shows you what you need to see, just so's she can get what she wants."
"Right now? I'm guessing she wants out of that panic room."
The words were a whisper, a caress on his mind, so similar a touch to Castiel's voice that Dean found himself instinctively looking for the trench coat-wearing angel, his mind slipping and catching on the fine line between reality and memory.
"She wants me to use her, Bobby. She's offering herself up as demon bait."
"Dean, no. Listen to what you're saying!"
Dean sat up a little straighter. "Hey, it ain't my ritual, Bobby!"
"She's playing with you, Son. Using you to get free. You gotta…block her out of your head. Don't let her get to you."
"You got a better idea? Someone here in town you don't like much you want me to burn up for you?"
"I know this is awful, Dean. I know what you're going through—"
Dean pushed to his knees. "No offense, Bobby, but you don't know shit. You have no idea what you're asking me to do."
"I'm asking you to save your brother!"
"Fuck you! You don't get to tell me that, Bobby, not you!"
Dean felt a give in his chest as he roared the words; they rasped against his throat, tearing against the flesh there. His eyes burned and he heard his breath tremble has he exhaled.
"You don't know," he said quietly, his lips brushing the mouth of the phone as he held it close, unable to find a way to tell Bobby that he could still remember how it felt to kill, to burn, to torture. The memories of that horror were as close as his next breath. "I would do anything for Sam, Bobby."
"I know you would, kid," Bobby replied, his voice matching Dean's in volume.
"I just—" He couldn't complete the sentence. Just what? Found a line he wouldn't cross to save his brother? Had there ever been such a thing before?
I'm gonna figure out how to get the demon ash," Bobby was promising him. "But you cannot use the witch."
"Why?" Dean lifted heavy eyes to the opened window at the top of the heavy metal door. "You guys are going to kill her anyway."
"It's not that," Bobby said, static cutting across his words. "Don't want…lose you…."
"She'll kill you, Son," Bobby said quickly, as if afraid he wouldn't get the words out completely. "She'll play with your mind, get her way, and kill you before you have a chance to sic a demon on her."
"What am I supposed to do?" Dean asked his friend helplessly. "I can't let him die, Bobby. Not—" again, his mind whispered a finish to his choked sentence.
He'd lost Sam too many times already. To Jake's knife. To demon blood. To doubt about his purpose in life. To the shotgun blast of a hunter bent on revenge. He'd turned himself inside out to keep Sam safe and it seemed that if there was any destiny he was sure of, it was that of losing Sam. And he was not going to let that win. Heaven and Hell be damned.
"Let me think. We'll figure it out. Dean?"
"Yeah," he grunted.
"Block her out. Don't let her get to you. Trust me on this."
"What are you going to do?" Dean rubbed his face tiredly. He needed a plan. Action. A path to follow.
"I'm gonna make a few calls. I'm only about four hours away. I'll call you back."
Dean sat listening to the dial tone for a moment before slowly closing the phone and letting his hand fall by his side. His eyes were heavy, too heavy, almost, to lift up to the window at the top of the door.
"You heard all of that, didn't you?" He didn't even bother raising his voice.
"Of course," the witch answered him.
"So, is he right? You gonna try to kill me?"
"There is always that possibility." A smirk twisted the shape of her words as they filtered through the heavy door. "Some things you just hav to take on faith."
Dean almost laughed. "Faith," he repeated bitterly. "I thought you said you know what I know."
"Yes," she replied. "As it pertains to this situation."
"Well, sister," he grunted as he pushed himself slowly to his feet, putting most of his weight on his right leg, "you're short a few key facts, then."
He peered through the window, observing the fact that she'd returned to her Kindergarten teacher form. Or maybe she'd always looked that way and the rotting hag with the dead, blood-shot eyes had been a horrific image she'd projected into his mind—along with the mirror reflection, the shadows, the voice in his head….
"Do tell," she prompted, raising an eyebrow at him, but not moving.
He gripped the door hinges for balance. "Lost any faith I might've had right about the same time God pretty much gave us the finger."
She tilted her head, her eyes softening at the edges until she looked almost normal. "Well, if it's lost then it can be found."
Dean blinked at her. "What?"
"It hasn't been destroyed," she pointed out. Then, with the grace of a dancer, she stood from the cot and approached the metal door with small, measured steps. "You still believe in something. The Neresits are called Hell Bearers because they bear the souls of the marked to Hell. The demons erase any evidence of humanity and the person who once was, burns for eternity."
Dean watched her eyes, unable to tear his gaze from her face.
"The only cure is to kill. And by killing, you mark your soul." Her voice softened as she drew closer to the door. "The demons destroy any chance at salvation. And yet," she reached up and wrapped slim, white fingers around the short bars situated in the small window, "you are still trying to save him. Because you have faith."
She said the last in his head, her lips closing around her teeth in a tight grimace of a smile.
"What are you doing to me?" Dean asked in a low growl.
"Merely pointing out that you aren't as empty as you believe yourself to be."
He felt the room shift around him, his body weighted with a bone-deep ache. "Quit messin' with my head," he muttered, stumbling back from the door.
"Use me and I will," she snapped. "It's already a mess in there anyway. All twisted paths and brick walls."
"Hey," Dean protested. "Who asked you anyway?"
"He is dying," she told him once more. "Use me and end this."
"No," Dean shook his head, limping back another step. "Bobby's right. You just want to get the hell out of there."
He closed his eyes and pressed the heel of his hand against the bridge of his nose. The wound on his forehead throbbed as his skin brushed against it.
They're getting stronger.
"Stop it!" he ordered.
They're coming back.
Dean reached into his back waistband and pulled his .45 free, pointing it helplessly at the door. Logic was slowly dying inside of him. He knew he wasn't going to shoot her through the door, but he had to get her to stop. Even if it meant setting her free.
"Burning out the day," he tried, his voice wavering as he backed up one more step, the barrel of the gun aimed more or less at the padlock on the door, "burning out the night."
She began to hum, picking up the rhythm and tempo of the song he was quoting, her voice somehow both innocent and evil. Dean felt his blood slip cold beneath his skin, raising gooseflesh on his arms and neck and snapping his spine straight.
She wasn't using this. Not this. He wouldn't let her.
"I'm living for giving the devil his due," he whispered, and then before he could talk himself out of it, he fired.
The bullet ricocheted off the metal door, missing the lock. Sparks reflected in his eyes for a moment. He fired again, the lock bouncing loudly against the door from the impact of the bullet, but not breaking open. He blinked wide, trying to focus. The room seemed to tilt, throwing shadows across the lock and making it impossible for him to aim.
I'm burning, I'm burning, I'm burning for you.
"Dean!" The voice was far away, above him.
"Sam," he whispered, staring at the black mark his bullet had made on the metal door.
"Use me, Dean!" The witch's voice was ragged and desperate. "I'm your only chance!"
"Dean! Where are you?"
Ignoring her final plea, he turned at the sound of Sam's panicked cry and limped up the stairs.
"I'm coming, Sam," he called out to his brother, his mind slipping on the disappointment of lost opportunity, grappling for purchase on another option, something that would still give him the chance to save Sam.
Dean pressed his hand against the wall for balance, the gun still gripped there thumping noisily as he made his way down the hall. He was in a world of hurry to get to Sam, but it was becoming increasingly hard to move when the world hung at an angle. He turned the corner, blinking against the light from the lamp on Bobby's desk.
Sam was half-sitting on the couch, his ankles still tied, and holding his arm out before him. He'd ripped the loosely-wrapped gauze from the wound and was staring with horror at the bite marks. By the expression on Sam's face, Dean half-expected to see teeth protruding from the wound when he limped closer, but other than the black-veined markings having faded a bit, everything looked exactly as it had when he left moments ago.
"What is it?" Dean asked, worriedly.
Looking up, Sam gasped. "Oh, my God, what happened to your face?"
Dean instinctively reached up, touching his own cheek. "What? Did she turn me green or something?"
"You're covered in blood!" Sam exclaimed. "What the hell happened here?" He looked around, sounding completely bewildered. "Why are we at Bobby's? Why am I tied up? What happened to you?"
Dean stared at his frightened, confused brother for several seconds before he was able to take a breath. "Sam," he said, his voice as calm as he could make it. "We were on a hunt. The Neresit, you remember?"
Sam blinked at him, his eyes wide, young, and terrified. "The…what?"
"It bit you," Dean went on. "Marked you for possession."
Sam's eyes dropped to Dean's bloody leg. "Did it bite you, too?"
Dean shook his head. "Scratched me. I'm okay."
"Okay? You look half-dead!" Sam searched Dean's face with bleary, fever-bright eyes. "Where's Bobby?"
"He's on his way," Dean limped closer. "You…you really don't remember?"
Sam rubbed his face gingerly, as if he were afraid of pushing his head free of his shoulders. "I…it's like a really…messed up dream."
"It isn't a dream, Sammy," Dean said softly. "It's real. And I'm working on a way to fix it."
"Fire," Sam whispered, his hands still over his face. "They said I would burn. I could see it. I could see me burning."
Dean swallowed, nodding. "It's the demons. Or maybe that witch, I don't know. But it's not real."
Sam dropped his hands, his dark-lined face pale as he lifted his eyes back to Dean's face. "What? What are you…. Is it real or not? Everything is tangled up and I—"
He broke of the words with a gasp, his eyes suddenly going wide and scared.
"Sam?" Dean reached out, resting his hand on Sam's shoulder. "What is—"
Sam's head snapped back. The scream seemed to come from his gut, shaking through him and bowing him backwards against the couch. It wasn't a scream of pain as much as of fear, but it was enough to send Dean to his knees, his hands pressing on Sam's chest, shoulders, face. Trying to get his brother to stop, to open his eyes, breathe, something.
After what felt like hours, Sam's scream faded and he lay trembling on the couch, his face wet from unbidden, desperate tears, his hand fumbling for Dean's dirt-covered T-shirt. Dean found his brother's fingers and closed his fist around them, anchoring Sam's grip in his shirt.
"No more," Sam whispered, "please."
"I'm trying, man," Dean told him. "I swear to God I'm trying."
"Just let 'em take me," Sam begged, blinking up at Dean, tears flooding his eyes, gathering his lashes. "Just get it over with."
"You remember now?" Dean asked, relieved to see the weight of awareness replace the confusion in Sam's expression.
Sam nodded, the tears running sideways down his cheek and dripping onto Bobby's couch. "You're gonna be next," he sniffed. "They're gonna make me kill you, man."
"Nobody's doing any killing," Dean told him harshly. "And there's no fuckin' way I'm letting them take you."
"Dean, we could end this," Sam said, opening his eyes wide with the possibility. "All of it."
Dean shook his head. "No."
"But, Dean," Sam almost pleaded, his mouth tipping down at the corners in a broken-hearted frown. "If you let them take me, the angels lose."
"Everybody loses if we lose you, Sammy." Dean's voice broke through his clenched teeth; tears built at the back of his throat, the hot threat of defeat choking him. "Don't you give up on me, man."
"I can't block them out anymore, Dean," Sam closed his eyes. "I'm not as strong as you."
"Yes, you are, dammit. You are."
Sam shook his head slowly. "I feel them pulling at me. From the inside. It's making me crazy."
Dean dropped his chin to his chest, only then noticing the slide of a tear from his burning eyes as it gave in to gravity and dropped to Sam's shirt. Pressing his lips tight against his teeth, he pulled a breath in through his nose and slowly lifted his head.
I wanted so badly to believe there was a way out of this. His entire being felt as if it were made of lead.
In that moment he felt that if there really was a destiny for him, it was that he would lose: Sam, his life, his salvation, his soul. That is what the universe expected from him. That is what God designed for him.
Over my dead fuckin' body, he thought. You're. Not. Getting. Him.
"If they want you," he said, his voice aged, "they have to go through me."
"Dean." It was a shadow of Sam's usual tone. "No."
Untangling Sam's hand from his shirt, Dean pushed himself to a shaky stance. "I have an idea."
It was the only way. The only way to save Sam.
"Don't leave!" Sam pushed himself up to his elbows, the inked lines of his veins drawing paths of pain across his face.
"You stay here, man, okay?" Dean glanced up at the Devil's Trap. "You stay safe, you hear me? Do it this time," he pointed at his brother, "no matter what you hear. You don't come after me."
"I'll be back." Dean dropped his .45 in the weapons bag and picked up the sawed-off shotgun and a handful of rounds. Straightening he turned to look over his shoulder at Sam. "I swear I'm coming back."
Sam didn't say another word as Dean stepped back over the salt line, but his eyes followed Dean as he walked from the room.
"Bobby's so gonna kick my ass," Dean muttered to himself, loading the rock salt rounds into the shotgun.
All he needed to remove the padlock and chain from the panic room door was a pair of bolt cutters. He knew Bobby had some in his garage, but he also knew there were some even closer: the tool belt on the front seat of the stolen Nova.
He just had to get across the salt line, get to the car, grab the belt, and get back again.
Without getting swarmed by demons.
He cocked the shotgun, the echo of the chambered round bouncing off of the silent walls. Even the witch had ceased her seemingly relentless pursuit of his sanity. Opening the door, Dean spared a breath for a small prayer.
"Cas…if you're still out there…sure could use a friendly face right about now…."
He didn't expect an answer; part of him feared his friend had been overwhelmed by the demons back at the abandoned hospital. But as he stepped out onto the porch, the barrel of the shotgun held at a right angle from his body, he felt less alone then he had since they'd set out in pursuit of the Neresit. He saw the Nova parked directly across from the house, roughly eight feet away from the salt ring.
The moon was slipping lower in the pre-dawn sky, the earth coloring it with a yellowish tinge. The wind stroked his hot cheek like the backs of fingers and he pulled his brows close, peering into the dark corners of the shadowed salvage yard. The dried blood on his forehead and around his eyes seemed to crinkle with the motion, the still-opened wound stinging as the cooler air brushed it.
One leg trembling so badly it was practically useless, the other aching from the strain of holding his weight, Dean limped forward, pausing at the edge of the porch to look down either side of the lot, eyes thirsty for light, both wanting and not wanting to see the frothing, purple-tinged clouds indicating demonic activity.
The words of an exorcism rite poised on the edge of his tongue, Dean stepped off the porch into the lot, his entire body taunt. He felt like a guitar string twisted one turn too tight. Another step toward the edge of the salt line, a pressure built in his ears and he began to whisper the exorcism. He doubted it would do any good, not with Sam providing an anchor for them to stay. But much like the bullet-proof covers of his childhood bed, whispering the words gave him the courage to go further into the night.
As his boot hovered over the edge of the salt line, he heard the decidedly inhuman shriek cut across his ears and rumbled the Earth. He put his foot down on the other side of the line and he could suddenly smell them. The curdle of sulfur overpowered the crisp scent of dried leaves and rain.
Dean tried to look everywhere at once.
He couldn't see them yet, but he knew they were close. He broke into a weak, lurching run, eyes pinned to the Nova, shotgun gripped in his hand. Seven feet. Six. Five—
This time when they hit he was sure bones broke. They crashed into him with the force of a speeding car, slamming him into the dirt so hard the breath exploded from his lungs. He would have gasped for air had he not been twisted around, turned, and rolled. Unsure which way was up, he pulled both triggers of the shotgun, remembering how they'd retreated before.
But there was no angel to keep them away this time.
The tentacle-like reach slapped him, stinging him with a touch so hot it was cold. He felt as if he were freezing to death and burning alive at the same time. He lost all sense of direction, of time, of reason. He couldn't breathe, couldn't see, and the only thing he could hear was the click-slice of the demon cloud as it worked to devour him whole.
When darkness finally claimed him, his last thought was end this….
a/n: Thank you for reading! I hope you're enjoying; there's more to come!
Lonely Is the Night by Billy Squier
Burning Down the House by Talking Heads (cover on soundtrack will be by The Used)
Burning For You by Blue Oyster Cult
And a reminder, a story fanmix/soundtrack will be available with the final chapter.