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.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for your comments! Your feedback is one of the greatest reasons for writing fanfic…and has me wanting to continue to write stories. I will reply to each one, I promise. I'm focusing on getting the story posted on the every-other-day schedule, so I may be late in replying to you, but please keep the feedback coming.
Wake Up and Fight: Part 1
"One should . . . be able to see things as hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
Part Two: The First Four Hours
It was the longest hour of Dean's life, driving the back roads to Bobby's house.
Sam's muffled groans and stifled curses filled in the tense quiet of the rusted, unfamiliar Nova. The car pulled to the right, forcing Dean to hold the wheel tightly, keeping them barreling down the empty stretch ofblacktop, his eyes anxiously scanning the horizon, the rear view, the side windows.
The demons could come at them from anywhere, at any time. And didn't know if the markings on the car would be enough to keep Sam safe.
The moon hung as bright and wide as the Cheshire Cat's grin when he pulled the stolen car to a stop in the scrap yard next to Bobby's house. The smell of night and autumn, rust and fuel drifted in through the opened window and Dean breathed deep, anchoring himself in the familiarity. Shutting off the car, he peered out through the windshield one last time, eying the retreating clouds for any sign of writhing.
"Wherever you are, Cas," he whispered aloud, "Thanks for buying us a little time."
Looking over his shoulder, he saw that Sam's eyes were closed, his teeth chattering as if he were freezing, sweat betraying that image as it an in tiny rivers down his face to collect in his hair. He'd finally gone quiet after muttering disconnected thoughts, curses, and pleas throughout their escape. The only thing that had kept Dean from pulling over into a nearby field had been the sound of Sam's rough breathing and the knowledge that they'd find help at Bobby's.
Dean gripped the handle of the door, hesitating slightly, afraid to leave the protection of the Devil's Trap-adorned car.
"Here goes nothin'," he muttered, grabbing the opened door frame to pull free of the car.
No scream of demonic fury reached his ears, but his wounded leg shook beneath him, threatening to give way. Forcefully ignoring it, he grabbed the weapons bag, then opened the back door of the Nova and put the palm of his hand against Sam's hot face.
"Hey, man," Dean said, patting Sam's cheek gently. "Need to get you inside."
Sam groaned and Dean crouched, tucking his hands under Sam's shoulders and shoving him more or less upright on the seat. Sam gasped at the movement.
"Stop! Stop," he protested. "Please, just…just leave me alone, Dean."
"No way, man." Dean shook his head. "We're getting you inside."
"God, this hurts," Sam moaned, closing his eyes briefly then wincing as Dean tugged once more on him, trying to move him to the edge of the seat. "Shit! Dean, stop. STOP!"
"I know your arm hurts, Sam—"
"Everything…," Sam whispered. "Everything hurts…. It hurts to breathe."
Sam blinked up at him and Dean's heart folded in at the corners. Even after all they'd been through, all they'd learned – after Hell and Heaven and sorrow and death – Sam could still manage to look five years old. Pain swam in Sam's eyes and Dean rolled his lips against his teeth as he found the voice he knew he'd need to get Sam moving.
"Listen to me," Dean said, his voice low, eyes serious. "You listening?"
Sam swallowed, his mouth thinning as he pulled in a shaky breath. His eyes dropped away from Dean's face.
"You are going to be fine. You're tougher than this."
"No." Dean's voice was a bark of sound in the night. He gently grabbed the back of Sam's neck, gripping it with just enough force that his brother met his eyes. "You are tougher than this thing. It's not gonna beat you."
The cautious hope in Sam's eyes came close to breaking Dean's resolve. You gotta believe…in us.
"We're not gonna let it," Dean promised. For a moment he felt lightheaded with helplessness. He gripped the worn, rusted edges of the car's door frame, steadying his eyes on Sam's slumped form. "We didn't make it this far…through all this…shit…just to get beaten by a little…dog bite."
His heart felt like a coiled spring, shaking and bouncing in his chest, rattled by memories too recent to ignore and anchored by those too constant to suppress. They couldn't catch a break. It was all supposed to be over with his sacrifice—Sam was supposed to be safe with Dean in Hell. But time and destiny wouldn't leave them alone and now with angels fighting the tug-o-war of the century over them, showing them a Heaven that was simply a different version of Hell….
Dean wavered, dropping his head, pulling in a slow, steady breath as he braced his hand on Sam's neck.
For a brief moment, huddled in the shadow of a stranger's car at the edge of a graveyard of metal, Dean swam through the sting of Heaven and the suffocation of Hell to find himself mentally at a place he'd never willingly left: next to Sam.
He'd lost himself along the way, left part of his soul on the rack, dripping from the end of Alistair's knife. He may have been pulled from perdition by an angel of the Lord, but he was walking wounded, hollow in so many ways, unworthy, unable, unsure.
But in this moment he wasn't a vessel, he wasn't a righteous man.
He was simply Sam's big brother and he knew what he had to do.
"Okay," Sam choked out, bringing Dean's eyes up. He was looking at Dean with a worried, anxious expression, obviously unsure what to do with his pain, with Dean's silence. "Okay…okay, I can do this. I'm sorry…sorry, Dean."
"You got nothing to be sorry for, kiddo," Dean muttered, pulling Sam close to him and slinging his brother's arm across his shoulder. "You didn't ask for this life."
He wasn't sure where it had come from, this honesty, but the words drew a reaction from Sam. Looking at Dean in surprise, Sam shoved himself free of the car, clinging to the door for balance as the motion stole his breath. Dean didn't take the words back, didn't explain. He looked at Sam, waited for color to return to his brother's lips, then nodded once.
"Wh-what's the plan?" Sam gasped, hesitating.
"Get inside. Get Rufus. Get the ritual." Dean's words were punctuated by short breaths as he limped forward, Sam's lanky form draped across him, their bodies shaking from the effort. "Get you demon-free."
"I can feel them," Sam said, his voice reedy. "Like…fingers…claws under my skin."
Dean ignored the jump in his gut at this news. It was too familiar, that feeling, those words. He knew exactly what Sam was talking about. But he couldn't do anything about the pain Sam was in without the ritual.
Until then, well, he was John Winchester's son, after all. Maybe he could use this.
"Can you tell how close they are? How much time we've got?"
Sam shook his head. "No."
"Can you tell…who it is?" Dean swallowed, the icy fear that Lucifer would use this moment, this break in their defenses, to find them, work them over…chip away at Sam, had him clenching his jaw tight enough to break teeth.
"There's like…whispers. Voices. In my head. Talking over each other."
Sam's disjointed reply both worried and reassured Dean. If it had been Lucifer with this mob, if he had a bead on Sam, Dean was pretty sure they'd know about it.
"Well, ignore them," Dean ordered as they reached Bobby's door. "You don't listen to anyone but me. You got that?"
It wasn't until that moment he realized it was strange no one had come to the door already; the Nova hadn't exactly made a quiet entrance to the salvage yard. The folded paper tucked into the edge of the window frame in the center of the door had Dean's stomach dropping. He reached out, his blood-smeared fingers leaving tracks on the door frame as he grabbed the note.
You're out of angelica. Found a guy to hook us up. Witch is in panic room. I'll be back in 24. DO NOT GO IN WITHOUT ME.
"Son of a BITCH!" Dean raged, balling the paper up and throwing it to the ground. They were alone in this fight.
Sam sagged against him.
"No…no no no no…c'mon, Sammy." Dean scrambled to get under his brother and keep him upright as Sam went to dead weight. Sam's head lolled, his face pale in the thin moonlight, eyes closed.
Forced to lower Sam to the ground, Dean tried the door handle, unsurprised when it didn't budge. Taking a breath, he patted his pockets, his mind buzzing, trying to remember if Bobby kept a spare key—
The ringtone of his phone caused him to jump.
He barked into the receiver, "What!"
"Bobby." He heard the relief in his voice.
"You at the house?"
"Yes," Dean snapped. "But Rufus isn't."
"Left a witch in the panic room, though. So we've got that going for us." Dean tucked the phone under his chin, finding his lock pick tucked into his inside pocket, and crouched down to work the lock. His leg began to shake.
"Balls," Bobby muttered. "I was counting on him to…. Okay, forget it. We'll figure this out. Dumbass shoulda just called me…."
Bobby continued to mutter curses at his absent friend. Dean could hear the sound of the road humming loudly through the phone as he worked to unlocked Bobby's door. The older hunter had rigged his lock, making it infinitely more difficult to pick. He tried to crouch, but the muscles under the torn skin began to spasm with fatigue, forcing him to his knees as he worked.
"You see the demons yet?"
"Not yet," Dean said tightly, one of his lock picks caught between his lips.
"Ya…think he's with 'em?"
Dean felt his heart shiver; the fact that Lucifer was at the top of Bobby's panic list, too, had him warring between fear and anger that this being had so much power.
"No," he answered curtly, lacking the energy to elaborate. He finally heard the lock click and exhaled with relief.
"You get Sam in the Devil's Trap?" Bobby was saying.
"Just getting inside, man," Dean panted, holding the door open with his hip and turning around to reach for Sam.
"Get him in the center of the sigil and don't let him out of it, no matter what," Bobby ordered. "Then go to the kitchen. Under the sink you'll find a red lever. Pull it—but remember, once you do, you're only safe when you're inside the house."
Dean gripped Sam by the collar of his jacket, dragging his limp body through the door. "What did you—"
The moonlight suddenly flickered and Dean looked up. "Oh, you gotta be kidding me."
"Demons," Dean gasped. "Call you back."
Dropping Sam on the floor, Dean shoved the phone in his pocket and kicked the door shut in one move. Blinking blurry eyes through the curtained window, he saw the rolling, seething mass of smoke seem to surround the moon as if disoriented. Running the back of his hand across his eyes, he turned from the window to face his brother's sprawled form in the dark of Bobby's hallway.
Sam was trembling as though a live wire had been shot through his system. His neck was taut, his lips shivering. And a strange, grayish pattern seemed to be climbing his throat, covering his cheeks in thin, branch-like markings.
Move, Dean ordered himself.
The weapon bag pulling at his sore muscles, Dean stepped over Sam and leaned down to grip him from beneath the shoulders, pulling him backwards, Sam's boots thumping noisily on the wooden floor.
As they made their way into the study, an unearthly screech seemed to roll up from the bowels of the house. Dean flinched, looking around, confused as he tried to pinpoint the source. He could tell it wasn't from the demon cloud; it was definitely inside the house. Lying Sam down on the floor of the study, Dean switched on the light and then shoved at Bobby's desk with all his strength, moving the weighty furniture away from the center of the Devil's Trap Sam had painted on Bobby's ceiling several years ago.
The noise of moving the desk seemed to trigger whatever was screeching once more and Dean winced, covering his ears, and yelled back in helpless retaliation.
The screeching stopped for the moment and Dean took a breath. Sparing a glance at Sam to reassure himself that his brother was still breathing, Dean hurried to the couch Bobby kept beneath the window and dragged it to rest beneath the center of the Devil's Trap. Glancing up, he double-checked to make sure Bobby had repaired it from the time Meg – while possessing Sam – had broken it. Plaster patchwork and fresh paint guaranteed that Sam should be safe—from direct demonic attack, at least.
"Hey, man," Dean said gently, crouching in front of his unconscious brother. "Sammy, c'mon, open your eyes."
Sam remained unresponsive, his eyes rolling restlessly behind his closed lids, his body trembling. The gray pattern on his skin had darkened; it looked as if ink were running through his veins, rather than blood.
"Dammit, Sam," Dean groaned, impotent rage welling hot in his chest. "Don't do this to me, man."
His pleas were ignored. Not taking time to check the window to see how close the demon cloud was, Dean grabbed Sam from the floor, pulling his brother's heated body against his chest and lifting. His leg shook, his back protested, but he got Sam up on the couch. Without waiting to see if the movement had startled Sam awake, Dean hurried to Bobby's kitchen.
Thank God you're predictable, old man, Dean thought as he grabbed a bag of rock salt from the cabinet next to the sink. He returned to the office and lined the windowsill and the doorways with salt, intent on keeping Sam on the other side of the line from the demons. No sooner had he finished than the door blasted open, crashing against the wall behind it, the air outside the house a roar of evil.
Sam echoed the sound, his body arching, his eyes closed tight, his hands going up to his head, fingers fisting in his hair. The screech from somewhere below echoed through the house once more, adding to the bone-jarring cacophony.
The dull pounding in Dean's head sparked to vicious life once more as he turned from one threat to the next, his mind whirling as he struggled to figure out which to pay attention to first. The sound of Sam's screams twisted his gut and he stumbled in his hurry to get to the couch.
His brother was bucking, his body shuddering as if something were pulling at it, tearing it. Thrashing in an unconscious fight, Sam fell from the couch, the nearly-dried blood on his arm smearing the wood floor beneath him. Dean bent over him, hands hovering, seeking to stop his brother's thrashing. He froze as the familiar smell of burned matches filled his nostrils.
Sulfur. In the house.
His breath went sour in his lungs as he slowly turned to face the kitchen and nearly fell back in surprise at an almost human-like shape forming out of the threads of black smoke that had begun to fill Bobby's house. It was featureless, but Dean felt the threat keenly as the figure groaned, arms of smoke reaching for them, halted by the salt line across the threshold.
And then Sam began moving.
Dean blinked, uncomprehending, as Sam's body was drug slowly forward, his boots in danger of breaching the edge of the Devil's Trap. The demons were literally pulling Sam from his grasp and Dean felt as if he were coming undone. It was too much—too much noise, too many memories.
It was Hell resurfacing inside of his safe haven, obliterating any sense of security.
"NO!" Dean bellowed, finally coming to life and throwing the remains of the rock salt directly at the smoke figure.
The figure screamed.
The thing in the house screamed.
Dean wanted to scream, but remained deathly quiet as he grabbed his brother up, mustering the strength his tired body had shoved into reserves. He lifted Sam, setting him awkwardly back on the couch, then reached into the weapons bag hanging around his neck and shoulder. His hands never stopped moving; he'd realized his mistake.
No matter what, keep moving.
Pulling the sawed-off shotgun from the bag, he expertly broke the barrel, slipped two rounds of rock salt in, and slammed it shut. His jaw was coiled tight, his eyes narrowed, his lips pursed as he focused on the task. Raising his eyes to the frothing form of the demon, he took steady aim at what would be dead-center of the figure's chest and pulled both triggers.
Rock salt blasted Bobby's sink and counter and the smoke twisted, the demons screaming as they filtered out, a vacuum of air pulling the door shut in their wake.
"And stay the fuck OUT!" Dean yelled after the retreating demons.
Barely breathing, head pounding from the concentrated effort of keeping them alive, Dean crossed the salt threshold into the kitchen, stepping through the cold space left behind by the figure, and opened the cabinet doors under the sink. He saw the red lever Bobby had told him about, and without hesitation, reached in and pulled it toward him.
The house trembled. The thing below them screeched, then cackled with what almost sounded like delight. Dean pulled himself up, pressing his belly against the counter to peer outside through the small window above the sink. The security light positioned just down from the house above the garage swayed, the fluorescent bulbs flickering for a moment. The moon was covered; Dean couldn't see anything blowing up or falling down.
Then he realized that it was quiet.
Pushing slowly away from the counter, he made his way down the hall to the door, stepping over the scattered books knocked free from the demons intrusion. Parting the curtain that covered the window, he saw nothing but darkness. Carefully, he opened the door, peering through the crack with one eye. At first he couldn't see anything different—simply dirt, night, and the dull glint of old cars off the yellowed security light.
But then he saw that around the parameter of the house lay a fine, white film. Somehow, Bobby had rigged a salt ring. Around the house.
"How the hell…?"
Stepping cautiously out onto the porch, Dean looked around, his whole being searching for the sound, the feel, the smell of the demons. The air was tight, the night thick with malice. The moon was gone, covered not by clouds, he knew, but by creatures biding their time until they could get their tentacles on his brother.
"You can't have him!" Dean shouted into the darkness. "I won't let you!"
Easing back into the house, Dean shut the door, limping from the kitchen into the study and toward Sam. His brother was unconscious, the darkening of his veins having traversed his face, neck, and exposed arms and hands. Dean worked to take a breath, his lungs feeling weighted with impossibility. He had to get that ritual and rid Sam of the poison in his blood or these attacks were going to keep happening until one of them was insane and the other a bloody pulp.
Dean dragged a hand down his face, wincing as he came in contact with the wound on his forehead. Sam turned in his sleep, twisting his body sideways and nearly falling from the couch. His lips hadn't ceased moving, whispering words Dean couldn't—and didn't want to—understand. Words, Dean assumed, Sam was hearing in his head uttered by the demons that wouldn't give him up.
"Two can play at that game," Dean muttered, his mind racing as he thought through his next steps. "You might have us by the short and curlies," he said, making his way over to Bobby's desk, "but I survived Hell, you bastards. You won't win."
He didn't know why he was talked to them as if they could hear him, but a glance at Sam as he rifled through Bobby's desk had him wondering if there might be some way they could. A conduit to the demon world right here in front of him.
The hunter in him wondered for one heartbeat if he should use that to send a message of resistance. The brother in him cared only about getting them away from Sam.
"You won't win," he repeated, pulling a coil of rope from the lowest drawer.
"Won't win," Sam muttered, almost coherently, before dissolving once more into an unceasing, incomprehensible monologue.
"You tell 'em, Sammy," Dean said as he tied the rope around the wrist of his brother's wounded arm, slipping the rope over the edge of the couch, drawing it up beneath the couch to tie Sam's other arm, then secure his feet at the ankles to the legs of the couch.
Sam wasn't going to like being tied up. Dean knew when his brother came out of this fugue he was going to have a fight on his hands. But he was not going to let Sam get pulled from the protection of the Devil's Trap. He shoved the heavy desk against one side of the couch, and a bookshelf against the other, securing the couch in place.
As he dragged the furniture across the wooden floor, the unearthly screech echoed through the house again. Dean went still, listening. It was below him, coming from where he knew the panic room to be.
The witch, he guessed. In annoyance, he stomped his foot on the ground twice. The screech ended.
"That's what I thought," he muttered.
Sam groaned and Dean saw him try to reach for the wound on his arm, the ropes around his wrists halting his movement.
"Yeah," Dean sighed at his unconscious brother. "I bet that hurts, man. I'll find something to help."
Stepping carefully over the salt lines that crossed the doorway, though feeling safer about doing so because of the salt line around the house, Dean made his way to the bathroom down the hall where he knew Bobby kept most of his medical supplies. The house was quiet. So quiet he could hear his own raspy breathing. He hadn't realized he was practically gasping for breath, dragging it into lungs that felt fire-seared.
He closed his mouth, forcing himself to breathe through his nose.
They're coming back.
Flinching, Dean looked over his shoulder, ready to face whoever it was got past the house defenses. He was alone. But the voice…had been so close.
They're getting stronger.
Dizzy, suddenly disoriented, Dean pressed a hand against the wall of the hallway, trying to separate fear from reality. It was real, this voice. Real and somewhere close. A ragged, torn voice destroyed by age and hard living.
"Where are you?" Dean demanded, feeling foolish and angry as he called out to nothing. To nobody. "Who are you?"
He didn't receive an answer. A chill ran through him causing him to shiver, his clothes suddenly too heavy for his skin. The weapons bag he had yet to set down weighed on him and he felt as if he was trying to breathe underwater.
"Pull it together, Dean," he admonished himself.
It had been a long time since he felt this helpless. This alone. Not since—
He shook his head forcefully, bracing himself against the wall as the motion tipped him sideways. He wasn't going back there. He'd spent too much energy, too many nights, too much liquor, trying to fill the emptiness, trying to forget the pain, the hopelessness….
He had a job to do. Probably not the job Heaven wanted; definitely not the job Hell wanted. This was a job he'd been given long before he'd had anything that resembled a destiny. Long before he'd been pulled from Hell by an angel.
It was the job that sent him to Hell in the first place. And they weren't going to take him back there.
Pushing forward, ignoring the tickle of the voice in the back of his mind, he turned on the light in the bathroom, drawing away from the sight of himself reflecting back in the small medicine cabinet mirror. Like a fault line, the skin on his forehead running from his hairline to his eyebrow had opened up, blood crossing the bridge of his nose in a dried stain. His eyelid and lashes of his left eye were crusted with blood and the wound itself was gaping and wet.
As soon as he saw it, he realized the pain had been with him all along; he'd just been blocking it. The sight of the opened wound shot flashes of memory through him. Images he thought he'd dreamed until Hell convinced him otherwise.
The memory of his father with yellow eyes. The memory of his heart being twisted from his body. The memory of seeing himself shocked back to life.
Gripping the edge of the sink, he closed his eyes, working to banish the images to the dark corner of his mind he'd shoved all memories too bloody and too painful to focus on for long. But that corner was crowded and the harder he shoved, the more spilled free. Bowing his head, Dean groaned trying to get his balance–
—screams, growls, pain—
—trying to remember how to breathe using lungs that didn't want to cooperate with him—
—blood, salt, blades—
—denying the burn of tears at the backs of eyes that had seen too much—
—hooks, tearing, emptiness—
"Stop," he breathed, his knuckles white on the edge of the sink. Purposefully, he raised his head and stared at his reflection. "Stop it. Now."
Pulling an unsteady breath in through parted lips, he opened the cabinet, banishing the haunting visual of too-wide eyes in a too-pale face, and grabbed antiseptic, bandages, Holy Water, pain killers, and towels.
Swinging the mirror closed, he jerked back, startled, at the sight of a face in the mirror next to his. Stifling a cry of surprise, he turned quickly, swaying with the motion, and confirmed that he was, indeed, alone in the bathroom. Looking back at the mirror, he once again saw only himself. But the memory of the woman—it had been a woman, he knew, with stringing, dirty blonde hair, hollow eyes, pallid skin—was vivid.
Dean's breath was shallow, sweat breaking out across his body. The feeling that he didn't fit in his own skin was a painfully familiar one and he gripped the sink once more, closing his eyes.
He remembered being haunted.
He remembered hearing the voices in his head.
He remembered being hurt and alone and calling for help and finding none. No savior. No solace. And he'd fought. He'd fought so hard….
Like muscle memory, Dean began to instinctively draw upon the first defense he'd fallen to in Hell, when his body was stretched to its breaking point, hooks digging into the meat of his shoulders, his side, his legs, and Sam hadn't answered him. Hundreds of songs, thousands of lyrics had been his companion during the loneliest of nights while alive and they had kept the demons from devouring his mind for years in Hell. He'd whispered them like a prayer, like a curse, like so many of the Latin rites that were powerless in the dark of that cold prison.
Tightening his lips against his teeth, his eyes still closed, Dean whispered quietly, a chant to himself, "Lonely is the night…you find yourself alone…. Demons come to light…your mind is not your own."
He opened his eyes, staring hard at himself, the tune of the song seeping through the cracks in his mind that had opened and allowed the
memories he'd worked so hard to bury claw their way to the surface.
"You feel the time is right," Dean said to his reflection, no trace of melody in his voice. "The writing's on the wall."
Chanting the song steadied him. Stuffing the medical supplies into the duffel he now wore like a piece of clothing, he turned and made his
way to Bobby's mud room. He was staggering, he realized, the room swaying unsteadily around him.
Opening the bag, he swiped his arm along the boxes of ammo and salt rounds. Grabbing two daggers, he stuffed them into the bag just in
case, then putting a shoulder to the wall, he headed back to the study and Sam.
Just as he started down the hall, he caught a flash, a glimpse of a shadow, turning the corner into the study just ahead of him. It had looked
too small to be Sam, but…who else would be running around Bobby's house in the middle of the night?
Dean stumbled forward, turning the corner after the shadow and stared around the room with wide eyes, trying to see everything.
Sam hadn't moved; trussed up as he was, Dean was fairly sure he wouldn't be able to without help. Legs shaking, Dean stepped over the undisturbed salt line and dropped the bag next to the couch where Sam lay. There was no one else in the room, no shadow.
He must have been seeing things.
Wearily, Dean slumped against the desk, trying to steady his sight. He couldn't figure out why he was so dizzy and it was starting to piss him off. He had a job to do. He reached blindly into the bottom drawer of Bobby's desk, breathing a sigh of relief when his fingers closed around the neck of a bottle. Not bothering with a glass, Dean took a long pull, letting the whiskey burn his throat, heat his belly, then set the bottle back down on the desk before moving to Sam once more.
Giving in to the tremble of his legs, Dean sank to his knees beside the couch. Sam was shivering, sweat beading on his forehead and upper lip, his fingers twitching into claws, his legs shifting against the ropes that held him tight. The dark lines on his skin contrasted with the pale of Sam's flesh, making him appear almost luminescent in the dim light from Bobby's desk.
Dean suppressed the panic at seeing the poison tattoo his brother from the inside out. He knew enough about the bite of a Neresit to not be afraid of the poison killing Sam. As long as he could keep the demons at bay. As long as he could get to that ritual.
Groaning, Sam rolled his head toward the sound of Dean's voice.
"Hey, man," Dean said, resting his hand on the top of Sam's sweat-dampened hair. "Wake up, Sammy. Need you to open your eyes."
Sam blinked slowly, his eyes heavy-lidded and bleary.
"There you are," Dean smiled, patting the top of Sam's head affectionately. "I'm gonna clean off your arm, okay?"
"I can see the fire…," Sam muttered, his voice sluggish, distracted. "Inside of me. They're gonna make me burn."
Dean closed his eyes, knowing now too well what Sam was feeling. And why.
"You're not gonna burn, Sam," Dean said, opening his eyes, surprised to find his brother looking back at him. He met Sam's eyes squarely."You're not, I promise. They're trying to trick you, play on your fears."
"Fears? Of…of fire?" Sam croaked, his brows pulling together, turning him young.
Dean reached out, gripping Sam's hand, thumb to thumb. Sam held on, tight, as if Dean was a life raft and he was drowning. It made Dean catch his breath, the force of his brother's grip.
"Mom burned," Sam whispered. "And Jess. I saw her. I watched her burn."
Dean tried to steady his breath, tried to banish the immediate memories of so many bodies, so much blood, all of them licked with flame, fire a cruel mistress….
"They're gonna burn me just like—"
"Don't listen to them, Sam," Dean broke in, desperation turning his voice rough. "Sing. Or chant a rite or…hell, pray if you have to."
"Pray?" Sam asked, his voice young.
"You used to pray," Dean pointed out. Sam blinked in surprised agreement. "Do it again. Anything to block the voices out."
"Who is it, Dean?" Sam demanded, anger slipping through the cracks in his voice, demanding to know why this was happening to him. "What is it?"
Dean swallowed, his eyes stinging. "Demons, Sam. They're trying to find your cracks. Trying to get in…get to you."
Sam's breath shook as his voice leaked hopelessness. "You hear them?"
"Not right now," Dean replied. "But I have. Before."
Dean released Sam's hand to reach for the bag, quietly cursing Castiel for sending them on this hunt in the first place, even though Dean knew he'd practically jumped at the chance…even though he'd been the one to say they could take it down. Not that different from a werewolf, right? We can take this thing, easy. So much evil. So little time.
"I don't like fire," Sam confessed. "I don't wanna burn."
"I'm gonna fix this, okay?" Dean's voice was tight, choking on his guilt. He hadn't been fast enough, hadn't paid close enough attention…. "Just…let me clean your wound and—"
"They're so loud," Sam practically shouted, trying to reach up to his head, but prevented by the ropes. "God, Dean. They're so loud. Laughing. They're laughing and…. They're gonna burn me, man!"
"NO!" Dean grabbed Sam's hand again. "No, Sam. No one is gonna burn. Listen to me. You're tougher than this. Okay, hey, hey! Sammy! Look at me." He shook Sam's hand until his brother turned toward him. "Stay looking at me. Look at my eyes. Okay?"
Sam nodded, breathing hard, visibly working to bring himself under control.
"They can't have you, okay? Remember?" He poked Sam's chest where he knew the tattoo was. "They can't get you and it's pissing them off."
"They're st-strong," Sam protested. "It's worse than when—"
He stopped as if unable to find the words.
"When you drank the blood," Dean guessed.
Sam nodded again. "I wanted…back then I wanted to…but this—" He broke off, gulping in a breath and trying once more to reach up to his head and prevented by the rope. He frowned, staring at his hands as if just realizing they were there. "What the hell—"
"Hey, don't," Dean tightened his grip on Sam's hand. "Had to keep you on the couch."
Sam pulled at the ropes again, unable to move his hands much higher than his sternum. "Dean. Lemme go." He didn't bother to disguise the panic in his voice. His eyes darted from Dean's face to the rope and back.
Dean worked to keep Sam's hands still as his brother fought against him, desperate to free himself. "Sam, easy—"
Sam kicked at the arm of the couch hard enough to crack the frame, his raspy voice deepening, growing out a harsh demand for freedom.
"Lemme go, dammit!"
"Hey!" Dean barked, rising to his knees and jerking on Sam's arms, making his brother meet his eyes. "Stop it! Those bastards almost
pulled you out of the Devil's Trap earlier."
"Wha—they did?" Sam stopped fighting, staring at Dean with clear-eyed surprise.
"I didn't tie you up to trap you, Sam," Dean told him, his voice gentling, knowing how he'd feel if he'd woke to find himself similarly bound. "I'm trying," his voice broke, "to keep you safe."
Sam pulled again on the ropes, but with weaker force, his lips trembling as he clamped his eyes shut against the voices in his head, the dark lines of the poison in his veins standing out against his pale skin in the weak light from Bobby's study.
"They won't stop! They won't shut the hell up!"
Dean let go of Sam's hand, rubbing his calloused palm over his own lips in thought. "Just…you gotta think of something else, Sam. Anything else. A…a rhyme or a—"
Sam turned his face away, burying his nose in the back of the couch as he groaned with frustration. Dean's mind scrambled, skittering on thoughts and chances, searching blindly for something to ease the lines of pain around Sam's eyes, wanting to throw him some kind of rope.
And then, suddenly, he knew.
"Watch out," Dean started, trying to turn the words into a tune Sam would recognize. "You might get what you're after." He gently shook Sam's shoulder. "C'mon, Sam. You know the words."
Sam turned sluggishly to face him, his eyes unfocused and lost, his expression confused. "What are you talking about?"
Dean continued to sing in a low voice, tugging on Sam's hand to keep his brother's attention. "Strange but not a stranger."
A smile ticked up the edges of Dean's lips as he saw recognition in Sam's eyes.
"This is stupid," Sam mumbled.
"Worked for me," Dean told him.
"It worked for you…when?" Sam asked, wincing from an unseen pain.
"Y'know…," Dean glanced away. "In Hell."
"You…sang?" Sam's voice cracked around the word. Dean knew he hadn't brought up his tour in Hell in months. "That kept them out of your head?"
"For a while, yeah," Dean told him, using one of the daggers to cut Sam's long-sleeved shirt free and carefully pulling it from under Sam's body as Sam lay still, allowing Dean to treat his wounded arm. "I know it sounds eight kinds of crazy, but when nothing else worked…this did." His confession was keeping Sam's attention, keeping his brother still. The words like razors in his chest, he continued, "I mean…sometimes I couldn't remember my own name."
He exposed Sam's filthy gray T-shirt, smeared with dirt and blood, and more of his black-veined skin.
"I didn't know where I was…or why I was there. I couldn't remember Dad or Mom…or sometimes even you," Dean quickly shifted his eyes up to Sam's face, meeting his brother's fevered expression directly, letting him see the pain in his eyes, the pain he'd tried to shield everyone—even himself—from seeing.
"But no matter what they did to me…what they said to me…I could always remember these damn songs."
Sam's eyes moved to Dean's mouth. Dean watched as his brother gave in, desperate to hear something other than the voices, to feel something other than their reaching fingers beneath his skin.
"I'm an ordinary guy," they said together, barely above a whisper, "burning down the house."
"There ya go," Dean nodded. "Keep it up. Keep singing; you can't hear them. Even if you just have to sing in your head. You keep it up."
Sam closed his eyes, focusing on the words of the song and not the images and fears Dean knew the demons planted in his head.
"Hold tight," he muttered. "Wait till the party's over."
"Hold tight," Dean said with him. "We're in for nasty weather."
He gently slid a towel under Sam's wounded arm, wetting another towel with antiseptic. He'd already soaked the wound with Holy Water, but now he needed to clean it from actual germs, not just the supernatural poisoning contaminating his brother's blood.
"There has got to be a way," he sang softly with Sam.
"Burning down the house," Sam finished, his closed eyes squeezing tight.
"Think you can drink something?" Dean asked as Sam's breathing steadied.
"Depends on what you're talking about," Sam replied with a bleary-eyed frown.
Dean grinned tiredly. "I was thinking ibuprofen with a water chaser."
"That'll work," Sam sighed.
Pushing himself unsteadily to his feet, Dean staggered to the kitchen, filling a cup with water, and peering out through the window. The moon had returned, it's light thin and weak, but there. However, in that light, Dean saw the edges of the trees shifting and his heart stuttered in his chest.
Shifting trees meant wind. Wind meant a break in the salt line.
He hurried to the door and peered out. So far, from this view at least, he couldn't see a break in the line. But he knew it was only a matter of time.
They're getting stronger.
Putting the heel of his hand against his forehead, he forced himself to block out the taunting voice.
"'m coming," Dean replied, moving forward.
Keep moving, he told himself. Don't stop. Don't stop and they won't find you. Don't stop and they can't get to you.
He knelt next to Sam again, lifting his brother's head to help him swallow the pain meds. Sam thirstily gulped the last of the water. Dean promised him more soon.
"What's all this…black stuff?" Sam asked, his eyes looking clearer than they had since the Neresit attacked.
"Pretty sure it's the Neresit poisoning."
"I look like a mutant," Sam groaned, dropping his head back and tugging weakly on the ropes.
Dean was slightly surprised that Sam hadn't freaked out more, seeing the black tracks across his skin. He simply seemed...weary. Weary and scared.
"Yeah, well," Dean shook his head, carefully cleaning the blood from around the wound on Sam's arm, "too bad you lost your cool super power. You coulda sent these guys packin'."
Sam went still and Dean heard his low hum of Burning Down the House.
"Persistent bastards," Dean muttered.
"What's…what's the plan, Dean?" Sam gasped, opening his eyes and finding Dean's face.
"I fix this. You stay here," Dean said, glancing up.
"Devil's Trap," Sam remembered, his words slurring, his expression tangled. He tugged on the ropes.
"You're safe here." Dean reached into the bag and grabbed the antiseptic.
"But they can find me," Sam guessed. "Can't sing forever."
"Once we do the ritual, they'll be gone," Dean said. "Hang on. This is gonna sting."
Not giving Sam time to protest, Dean poured the antiseptic over the open wound, holding Sam's arm still as his brother tried to jerk away.
"Aw, shit," Sam groaned. "Shit, that hurts."
"Well, I did warn you," Dean pointed out. He blinked, his vision blurring once again. "Gonna wrap it kinda loose until I know how we fix you."
"Where's Bobby?" Sam gasped, looking around, confused.
"He's…on his way," Dean promised, wrapping gauze around the wound carefully, not wanting to alarm Sam further by telling him their friend was at least six hours away. "How you doing?"
"Tired," Sam confessed, his heavy-lidded eyes slipping closed.
"Rest while you can," Dean said. "This is going to be a long night."
Sam nodded, and Dean sensed him sink a bit further into the couch as he gave in to exhaustion. Leaning back against the desk, Dean knew he had to see to his own wounds or he wasn't going to be much use to Sam.
Using the small knife on his jeans, Dean cut out a patch of denim from around the wound in his thigh. Four gouges of exposed skin, each about three inches long, stared up at him, sending his stomach in a twist and rushing a wet taste to the back of his throat. Closing his eyes briefly against the nausea, Dean started with the Holy Water.
The kick of pain had him crying out and squeezing his eyes shut, thumping his head back against the desk. His hand shook, his leg trembled, and he could smell a sour, almost rotted stench coiling up from his skin. Panting for breath, he stopped for a moment, looking down at the marks and frowned as he saw a froth of blood and pus begin to build inside the wounds, reaching the outer edges of the cuts and slip down his skin, soaking his blood-crusted jeans.
"What the hell?"
The poison wasn't in him—it couldn't be. The Neresit only marked those it bit. Didn't it? Turning his shaking hand over, he searched for the dark lines he'd seen on Sam tracing a tale-tell pattern over his own skin.
Finding none, he took a slow, uneven breath and began to pour again. Once more the sensation of standing outside himself overwhelmed him and he was staring down at a battered man, pouring Holy Water from a silver flask over a mangled leg, his body trembling, his head bloody, mouth pulled into a tight grimace of pain.
When the flask was empty, Dean dropped it, rushing back to himself with disorienting speed, his head dropping down to his chest as he fought to stay conscious.
"Well," he gasped out loud. "That was fun."
They're coming back.
He flinched away from the voice, cursing with the realization that he couldn't get away from her; she was in his head. She'd found a way in and she'd dug a trench and he wasn't going to shake her.
He wasn't going to get free.
They're getting stronger.
"Shut up, bitch!" Dean yelled to the quiet of the room. He rubbed his face, carefully avoiding the cut on his forehead. "Stay outta my head."
Using the opposite end of the towel he'd used to clean Sam's wounds, he wiped down his leg with antiseptic, swearing loudly as he did so, each curse growing in strength until the wounds were simply angry gashes in the meat of his leg. Grabbing the last rag from the pile, he folded the cloth over the deepest part of the cuts, pressed down and hissed loudly as the ache went into his bones.
The remaining gauze went around his leg as an anchor for the rag. He'd worry about bandaging it better after he'd ritualized Sam. He wasn't going to be able to deal with his head, but as it had stopped bleeding and wasn't blinding him any longer, he figured that could wait, too.
"What's one more scar," he muttered, shrugging out of his jacket and patting the pockets in search of his phone.
Continued in Wake Up and Fight: Part 2b