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Sense, Part 2A/5, PG-13, Dean, Sam, Castiel, GEN

Title: Sense
Show: Supernatural
Author: [info]gaelicspirit
Genre: GEN
Characters: Dean, Sam, Castiel
Rating: PG-13 for language, a mature scene in the first chapter, and some darker themes 
Spoilers: Set in Season 5 after 5.05, Fallen Idol. Anything up to that point is fair game.
Summary: There are things that make him human. Deciding what those are will become the difference between sanity and madness. When a demon forces the issue, Dean and Sam fight back the only way they can: together.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading! Those of you who have gifted me with your reviews, I am sincerely grateful. Those who are just reading, I really appreciate your time. *smile* I’m working to update as quickly as possible. There are five chapters and I don’t want too much lag time between any two chapters, so I’m working to be at least one ahead. I hope you continue to enjoy. 

We're all sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.

~Tennessee Williams

www

Sam could hear something ticking. Slowly, like a stove trying to light.

He couldn't tell what direction it was coming from at first; his whole focus was on his brother, boneless in his arms, sprawled across his lap. Rainwater dripped from the ends of Sam's hair and splashed on Dean's bare shoulder, running in a hesitant river along the slope of his collar bone to the purpling bruise forming quickly around an angry, red puncture wound at the base of his neck.

Someone took a breath. It wasn't Sam. He hadn't so much as exhaled since Dean went limp against him. His chest ached with the pressure of keeping the world at bay until he could register what had happened.

A glint of light caught his eye and Sam looked up to see a large syringe on the wood floor near the chair where Dean had been bound. It rocked slowly with latent motion, the sides of the plunger clicking rhythmically against the wood floor.

There is a virus—created by a demon…they intend to inject it into Dean.

Sam couldn't move.

There had been times in his youth when too many choices yielded no action; he simply didn't know which way to go first. But that had faded somewhat with Stanford, and then further when he'd found his dad dead on the hospital floor. When Dean had been torn apart in front of him, indecision evaporated and left direction in its wake.

But then addiction came into his life. And angels. And one fucked up destiny.

Sam let his breath out slowly when Dean flinched. He'd been out for less than a minute, and Sam resisted the urge to shake his brother to consciousness. The bodies of the two demons he'd killed lay on the floor behind them, blood from the neck wounds spilling freely on the floor.

He could smell it.

He could practically taste it. The salty, metallic tang…the slick slide to his belly…the rush as it surged through him. It was a hit that nothing else had ever matched.

Sam swallowed, carefully adjusting his grip on Dean's shoulder, keeping his back to the blood.

"We need to leave this place." Castiel's gruff, nearly-monotone voice grated across Sam's ears.

"Gimme just a damn minute, Cas, okay?" Sam snapped.

The woman who'd been the unwilling host to a demon lay to Sam's left, motionless, her face turned away. He knew from experience that she was going to have a helluva headache when she woke up. And that the feeling of filth coating her from the inside out would take a long, long time to wash away.

If it ever did.

Dean seemed to sigh a bit, his head rolling loosely, his forehead coming to rest on Sam's belly. Sam moved to lift Dean's face, thinking to try to rouse him, when with no more warning than a strangled groan, Dean suddenly pushed against Sam's body, thrusting himself one direction, Sam another. Dean crashed into the chair that had held him bound just minutes before, sending the furniture flying backwards into a darkened room.

Sam heard it clatter and bounce against the floor as he stared at Dean, trying to catch his breath.

"Stay 'way!" Dean all-but roared, his voice sounding like he'd been on a three-day bender. He held up a hand, not in warning, but in resistance, trying to keep the demons at bay. "Stay the fuck away from me!"

"Dean," Sam said softly, pulling his feet under him and balancing on his toes. "Hey, easy, man, it's me, okay?"

Dean was coiled tight; Sam knew that if he so much as touched his brother, he'd suffer the consequences. He'd seen Dean like this after some particularly horrific nightmares; his throat had carried bruises for several days.

Grappling for balance, Dean's arm stuttered and shifted along the wood floor until Sam saw his fingers touch a pile of clothes. His belly turned to ice when he saw that lying on top of the clothes was Dean's Beretta. If he hadn't seen the clip separated from the weapon, he might've damned the consequences and dove for his brother in that moment.

Sam felt movement nearby and resisted the urge to check where Castiel was. He didn't need the angel's well-intentioned, but often poorly-phrased, encouragement sending Dean over the edge.

Right now, it needed to be them.

"Dean," Sam repeated, watching as Dean's hand stayed up, stretched out, not even a tremor to betray the pain he had to be in judging from the marks on his face, neck, and wrists. "Look at me, okay?"

He kept his voice low, soft, even; talking a trapped animal out of taking his arm off at the shoulder.

Slowly, as if coming back to himself in increments, Dean lifted his face. Sam watched his eyes sweep over Raya's prone figure, then hit Sam. He winced as he saw the swollen skin framing Dean's left eye, the broken blood vessels surrounding the green iris with a painful-looking red stain.

"Sam?" Dean's voice cracked at the edge of his name, making Sam's gut tighten. His name had always been safe in Dean's mouth; it was the trigger that told him how close to the edge Dean really was—the way his brother said his name.

It only sounded like this when Dean had nothing left.

"Hey," Sam lifted his chin, still not reaching out to touch Dean, waiting for that arm to come down and give him access.

Dean swallowed, eyes moving to take in Castiel. Sam breathed out slowly as recognition smoothed the lines on Dean's face and his arm lowered. Sam scooted closer, putting Raya's prone figure and Castiel behind him with the other bodies, and closing the gap between himself and his brother.

With a helpless groan, Dean dropped to his rear, his knees tented, bloody arms draped across them.

"What the fuck, Sam?" His question leveled the tremor in his voice.

Sam felt his shoulders sag a bit. "So, turns out Kansas City was a bad idea."

Dean reached up and rubbed tentatively at the bruised puncture wound. "She stabbed me with something."

"She injected you with a virus," Castiel spoke up.

Sam looked over his shoulder. "Cas, maybe let's just—"

"Virus?" Dean pulled Sam's attention back. He already knew, Sam realized, glancing at the puncture wound. They told him. "How…how long?"

"Until what?" Sam asked.

"Until l go…28 Days Later?"

"It's not like that," Sam shook his head, shoving the clothes toward Dean. "Put your shirt on; I'll explain in a minute."

It bothered Sam that Dean did as he was told. His face held a stunned expression, his eyes landing on nothing. Sam pushed to his feet, turning to face Castiel.

"Can you go into the bedroom and get the rest of his stuff?" He glanced at Dean. "His boots, I guess?"

"What about the woman?" Castiel turned toward the bedroom.

Dean, now mostly clothed, stood and shoved the clip into his weapon, his face shifting into something more recognizable as Dean when he tucked the gun into his back waistband.

"I got her." He moved toward Raya as if his legs were made of glass.

Sam ran a hand through his hair, ready to help Dean lift the woman to the couch. He was totally unprepared for her to launch upwards, grabbing a small .38 from the couch as she gained her feet, and point the barrel at his brother.

"Stay the hell away from me!"

In unison, Dean and Sam drew back, hands up.

"Easy, honey," Dean crooned, his voice level.

Sam darted his eyes between Dean and Raya, watching as Dean slid slowly forward, his bare feet soundless on the wood floor. Raya's hands were steady, the gun never leaving its target of Dean's chest.

"You don't want to do this," Dean told her.

"Hell I don't," she growled.

"Raya, you don't understand—"

"I don't have to understand." She cocked the gun.

Sam went cold at that sound. "Hey," he chimed in, hoping to draw attention to himself and away from Dean. Raya didn't waver. "Listen, I know what you're feeling right now."

Dean slid forward a bit more. Raya didn't move. Sam had lost track of Castiel, but at the moment the angel's whereabouts were a minor concern; he needed to get that gun off his brother.

"You lost time," Sam continued, "and…and you feel like someone scooped something out of you."

Raya's eyes shifted from Dean to Sam and back, but she didn't lower the gun.

"You feel like you walked out of a twisted dream and everything feels…," Sam swallowed, "…dirty."

Raya's breath stuttered and Sam saw her index finger flex slightly on the trigger. He opened his mouth to try something else when Dean reached forward, lightning quick, and grabbed the gun, shoving his thumb behind the hammer so that it clicked on his flesh and bone.

"Ow!" He cried out, pulling the gun from Raya's hands.

Sam exhaled, but didn't lower his hands. "Why do we always cut these things so damn close?"

Castiel suddenly seemed to materialize behind Raya, a hand raised. Sam knew instantly what the angel intended to do.

"No!" He and Dean cried out together.

Castiel paused, looking confused.

"Cas, just wait," Dean pleaded as Raya buried her face in her hands.

Dean released the hammer on the gun and handed it to Sam, who set it on top of the TV. Putting his hands gently on Raya's arms, Dean guided her to sit on the couch, and then crouched in front of her, his hands on her knees.

"Raya."

"Just…please leave." Raya's voice was muffled inside her hands.

Dean closed his eyes for a moment, then steadied himself with a breath. "I need to know what you remember."

Two days, Winchester.

Sam felt his breath rush out.

"Nothing." Raya dropped her hands from her face. "And I don't want to remember anything, either."

Sam saw tears had smudged her eye makeup and were cutting a track of reflected light down her cheeks. His heart panged. They had seen so much death—had both died themselves, in fact—and destruction that he sometimes forgot what it was like to really be afraid.

Fear was normal. Fear was human.

Raya's eyes tracked across Dean's face and Sam watched her chin tremble.

"Dammit," she sniffed, swiping at the tears with the back of her hands. She looked down, seeing Dean's bloody wrists and cursed again. "I used the zip ties on you?"

"Not you," Dean shook his head. "It was…a demon."

"A demon," she repeated dully.

"They were after something and…." A shudder moved through Dean's shoulders. "Do you remember anything about…the Eye of God?"

"They want the Eye of God?" Castiel spoke up, surprise evident in his voice.

Raya looked up at him, then past Dean to Sam. "Who are you? And what the hell are you doing in my house?"

"I'm an ang—"

"He's a friend," Dean interrupted Castiel. "And that's my brother, remember? They came to get me."

Raya took a breath, rubbing her face. "We need to bandage your wrists," she said. "And I gotta call this in…. I've got two dead bodies in my house and—"

"I will dispose of them," Castiel informed her.

"What?" Raya gaped at him. "You're not…disposing of anything. I'm gonna be looking into this. No way people just break into my house and—"

Castiel reached past Dean and touched Raya lightly on the forehead. Without a sound, she melted into the couch.

"What the hell!" Dean surged to his feet in protest.

With startling speed, the blood drained from his face and he swayed. Sam stepped forward and gripped his brother's arm, holding him up.

"She will be fine," Castiel explained. "I will take care of her—and these two." He nodded toward the dead demons.

With Dean still wavering in his grip, Sam said, "Really take care of her, Cas."

The angel looked slightly offended. "I have not fallen so far that I don't recognize innocence," he said, his eyes seeming to expose Sam's secrets and sins. They shifted to Dean. "Take care of him, Sam. He needs you." Castiel's voice seemed to drop an octave as he finished with, "And we all need him."

Sam glanced over at his brother and saw that Dean's eyes were trained on the empty syringe, his free hand gingerly touching the puncture wound hidden beneath his clothes.

"We'll meet you at the motel," Sam told the angel. "C'mon," he tugged lightly on Dean's arm.

"Boots." Dean reminded him.

"Oh, right," Sam nodded, reaching for the boots Castiel handed him. Once dressed, Dean seemed to have regrouped slightly and nodded his thanks to Castiel as he led the way through the door.

"Think she'll be okay?" His question was almost rhetorical in nature—seeking reassurance Sam couldn't possibly have.

"Cas'll make sure she's squared away," Sam replied as they stepped out into the rain. "But…I don't know if she'll ever be okay."

"Yeah," Dean sighed, sadly. "Yeah."

www

He let Sam drive.

Really, there wasn't much of a choice in the matter. His left eye was so swollen he could barely see out of it, his head felt like tiny men with chisels were carving intricate etchings on his brain, and every time he moved his fingers, the torn flesh on his wrists sang with resistance.

"We'll get you back to the motel, get you fixed up," Sam was saying as the wiper blades shoved bucketfuls of water from the windshield of the Impala.

Dean sat slumped in the passenger seat of his car, his head back, the heavy rhythm of the rain on the roof an echo of his sluggish heart.

I want you to think about the taste of your favorite food…think about how it felt to touch this body….

"Sam."

"Yeah?"

He couldn't see Sam's head pivot his way, but he knew his brother well enough to imagine Sam's worried eyes on him.

"Tell me about this virus."

There was a strange smell wafting up from the air vents. It didn't match the rain.

"Why don't we just get back to the motel fir—"

"You smell that?" Dean sat up straighter, frowning.

"What?"

"Smells like…grass."

"Grass? Like…like pot?" Sam glanced at his brother out of the corner of his eyes.

Dean shot him a look. "No, not pot. You friggin'…hippie. Grass. Like fresh-mown…grass."

Sam shook his head, turning into the motel parking lot. "I don't smell grass. Just…wet clothes."

"It's really strong." Dean shook his head, peering through the side window into the rain, seeking the source. "Reminds me of that time we…," he almost chuckled, but the sound choked off somewhere inside of him, "we ended up camped out in the middle of that empty field…and we drank until we both got sick. You remember that?"

Sam nodded, pulling to a stop. Dean dropped his hand on the door handle, frowning.

"Never mind, it's…it's gone now. Maybe I'm losing it."

"Let's just get inside, Dean." The weight in Sam's voice grabbed Dean by the chin and pulled his head around.

Think about how much you love listening to your precious music. Think about seeing your brother….

"I'm…not losing it, am I?"

Sam closed his eyes. Instead of answering, he opened the door, letting the weather in. Dean followed, blinking through the sheets of rain that separated the car from the motel room door. Sam paused long enough to unlock the motel room door, then led the way inside.

Dean wiped the water from his face, muffling the sound of the storm with the closed motel door. The smell of freshly-mown grass was gone but now there was something else…something sour. It turned his stomach.

"I'll get the first aid kit," Sam said, shucking his wet clothes as he moved toward the duffel bags sitting on the table. "How about you go dry off?"

Dean simply nodded. He was too distracted by the smell to argue. Besides, he was cold. He grabbed some dry jeans and boxers and went into the bathroom, dropping his wet clothes in a pile on the floor. The rain had washed most of the blood away, but the zip-ties had cut raw furrows into the skin on the back of his wrists.

As he reached for a towel, he caught a glimpse of the puncture wound, saw the dark purple of the bruise spilling from the base of his neck over his collarbone and starting to finger down one side of his chest.

"Well, that's pretty," he muttered to himself, then pulled on a dry pair of jeans, leaving the button fly open as he sniffed the towel, jerking it away from his face as the stench grew, gagging him.

"Dean?" Sam called from the outer room. "You okay?"

"Dude, what is that?"

Sam appeared in the doorway, barefoot, dressed in dry jeans and a dark T-shirt, his wet hair leaving spots on the cotton. "What's what?"

"Seriously, you don't smell that?" Dean pushed the shower curtain aside, peering into the tub, his stomach tight at what he was afraid he might find.

It was empty.

"What's going on, man?"

"It's…." Dean moved the door to the side, peering behind it, searching, he realized for something…dead. "It's like…a body. A dead body." Dean turned in a full circle, catching his own reflection in the mirror. "Smells like we just dug up a grave."

Sam's hand was on his arm, a warm, heavy pressure of assurance and familiarity. Without a word, he tugged Dean toward him, out of the bathroom. Confused, aching, and more than a little pissed, Dean followed, sitting heavily on the bed.

"Talk," he demanded.

Sam threw him a gray Henley, then sat on a chair across from him.

"While you were with Raya," Sam began, leaning forward, elbows on his knees, eyes on the floor, "Cas showed up, demanding to know where you were. Said one of his brothers told him some demons had cooked up a virus and they were going to inject it in you."

"Why me?" Dean asked, pulling the Henley over his head, then gingerly touching the swollen, bruised skin around his left eye.

Sam shrugged. "'Cause you're Michael's vessel?"

"Why bother with a virus?" Dean's face fisted in frustration. "Seems like a waste of man power. Er…y'know…demon power."

Sam took a breath. "Cas said this virus would…shut down your senses."

Now think about that all going away….

Dean rubbed the bridge of his nose with the flat of his fingers, eyes closing as Raya's voice, tainted by a demon, slipped through his memory. The stench of rotting flesh had abated and he could smell her still imprinted on the palm of his hand. With sudden clarity, their moments of passion slammed into him with vivid force and he could feel her against him, her scent wrapping around him, her sigh echoing in his ears. He blinked rapidly as her dusky curves replaced Sam's face and he felt her fingers dig into his shoulders.

"Dean?" Sam's voice was worried, insistent.

Dean took a breath; he hadn't realized he'd been holding it.

"Yeah."

"You okay? You kinda checked out on me for a minute there."

Dean shook his head slowly. "Something weird's going on, Sam."

A cold hand slipped inside him, stroking his heart with fragile fingers.

"Weird like…."

Dean stood quickly, buttoning his fly lest the intense flash of a moment ago expose more than his fear. "Weird like some demon just shoved a needle the size of your leg into my neck and injected me with some kinda freaky virus. That kind of weird."

He started to pace.

The room was too small. Sam was using too much air.

He needed to get out. Just walk away.

Drive—that was better. He could drive away. Just go somewhere else. Somewhere they wouldn't track his movements.

Where they wouldn't find him.

"Hey!"

Sam was suddenly in front of him, hands gripping his arms, halting what had apparently become very rapid movement. Dean stared at his brother in surprise, for a moment barely recognizing the set of Sam's jaw, the hardened edge around Sam's eyes.

Hell had changed both of them.

When did you stop being my kid brother?

"Just breathe, Dean." Sam's voice was low, even. "You need to breathe, okay?"

Dean nodded, his head bouncing loosely like a bobble-head. "I'm breathing."

Sam released him slowly and Dean leaned against the dresser, crossing his arms over his chest, then jerking them away from his body when the seeping wounds came in contact with the material of his shirt.

He didn't look directly at Sam. He didn't really want to look directly at anything. The lights in the room were doing funny things to his eyes, sending streaks of light across his vision.

He closed his eyes. "What else did Cas say?"

He heard Sam's sigh, a weighted, wary sound that spoke volumes more than his brother ever realized. Sam was always so earnest, so careful with his words. Where Dean just said whatever was on his mind, Sam took a moment to think about how the person he was speaking to would hear the words.

Which was why his words could cut so deep.

"He just said that he'd been told about this virus, that it would systematically shut down your senses until eventually…you suffocate."

"Well," Dean blinked his eyes open. The streaks were gone. "At least I have something to look forward to."

"We'll figure this out, Dean," Sam said, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Dean looked at him, taking in the lines on Sam's face, the bow of his shoulders. His hair had gotten longer—which was saying something as Sam had never been a high-and-tight guy—and his clothes were fitting somewhat looser than they had before. The toll of their time apart coupled with the head-spinning reveal of their apparent destinies had worn on his brother.

"What was that you asked Raya about?"

Dean frowned. He'd been trying to think up a pithy epithet to lighten the mood or draw a half-grin from Sam before he fell face-first with exhaustion on the bed and slept away one of his two days.

"Huh?" He worked his tongue along the inside surface of his teeth; a sour trace of stale beer hung at the back of his mouth. He suddenly ached all over. The kind of ache that came after he'd had his ass handed to him.

"You asked her something about an Eye of God?" Sam tilted his head quizzically.

Dean rubbed at his left shoulder. It had been dislocated more than once in the past and that same bone-deep pain suddenly had him slightly short of breath. "How the…the hell should I know? Sounds like something out of...mrrph…out of Indiana Jones."

He leaned forward, his gut on fire.

"Dean!"

Sam was up, standing close. But Dean was too busy gripping his belly and hoping the knives there made quick work of him so that he could pass the hell out already.

"What is it?"

"S-Something…stabbing me…."

Dean felt the weight of Sam's hands on his back, cupping his chin, lifting his face up. He couldn't open his eyes; the light was too bright, too much, and it was melting all over him. The taste of dirt filled his mouth, gagging him.

He heard Sam's voice, knew there were words attached, but there was suddenly too much noise in the room, filling the empty spaces with the driving beat of electric guitars, demanding drums, and rough-throated cries. The pain in his belly slipped free only to be replaced by cacophony such that he'd never heard before. Screaming, screeching, crying, begging…it was as if someone had turned the volume up on Hell.

And just as suddenly as it hit him, it was gone.

Gasping, Dean dared to slowly lift his eyes. He was on the floor, on his knees, Sam next to him, a hand across his back, fingers curling at his waist, another holding his hand in a vise-like grip.

"Dean?"

"Yeah," Dean gasped, turning to take in the fear leaping from Sam's eyes like a cliff diver. "Yeah, I'm…I'm okay."

"You're shaking."

Dean slowly released Sam's hand. "I'm okay," he repeated, trying to convince himself. He reached for the foot of the bed and pulled himself up. "That was…weird."

"The virus?"

Dean dragged the back of his hand across his upper lip as Sam stood, hands on hips, looking for an explanation.

"I thought you said…it was supposed to, uh," he glanced around the room for a bottle of water or a glass, "take away my senses?"

"That's what Cas said," Sam nodded, grabbing a plastic-wrapped glass and moving toward the bathroom faucet as if reading Dean's mind. "Systematically take them away."

"Well, I think he might've got his wires crossed." Dean worked to steady his breath, nodding his thanks as he took the glass and drank deeply. "That was like…senses on memory over-drive."

"We gotta figure out what we're dealing with." Sam ran a hand through his hair. His eyes dropped to Dean's wrists. "Need to clean those."

"Won't that be fun," Dean muttered, touching his bruised eye gently.

The room was blessedly quiet as Sam worked, efficiently cleaning the remaining blood from Dean's wrists, then wrapping the wounds with white gauze. Dean swallowed the pain pills Sam had set next to him and allowed his brother access to the places that hurt. The places Sam could see, in any case.

His body grew heavy, his eyes slipping closed for longer periods of time. The combination of alcohol, sex, and a beating was taking its toll.

Not as young as I used to be.

"There," Sam declared, sitting back.

"I look like I should be on suicide watch," Dean grumbled.

The look Sam slipped his way said volumes about that statement.

"I'm calling Bobby."

"Dude, it's like," Dean shot a look at the digital clock between the beds, "three in the morning for Bobby."

"You've only got two days, Dean," Sam reminded him.

"I know that, Sam," Dean snapped, slowly pushing himself back on the bed toward the headboard. "I just need…just a couple hours, man. That's all I'm saying."

Sam's eyes narrowed. "You think they'll pull you out of this, don't you?"

"Huh?" Dean looked up at his brother in surprise. "Who?"

"The angels," Sam said. "You think they'll save you."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Sam."

"What? Why aren't you more freaked out about this!"

"I am!" Dean shouted back. "I'm fuckin' scared shitless! That what you want to hear?"

Sam audibly swallowed, looking down and away. "No," he said quietly.

Dean pressed two fingers to his throbbing eye. "I just…. I'm beat, man."

There was complete quiet in the room for a moment.

"You want a cold pack for your eye?"

"We got one?"

"Yeah," Sam's voice faded slightly as he turned away. "I stocked up while I was still working at the bar."

"Thanks," Dean sighed, letting his body slip sideways until the pillows cradled him. He closed his eyes, feeling the cooling pack gently set on his bruised face. "Just…coupla hours."

"Okay, Dean," Sam sighed.

It was just that easy. Sam said it was okay, consciousness departed.

For what felt like a delicious eternity, all was black, quiet, cool. The part of Dean's brain that never really shut off registered the healing peace his body needed.

But he felt it coming. Felt the darkness receding, but not truly go anywhere. It was so familiar, this pattern. It was every night, to varying degrees.

He never truly left Hell. Castiel may have pulled him free, but it waited for him. In places he couldn't escape.

He smelled it.

Rot. Filth. Stagnant water. Death. He'd expected sulfur—but that was the one thing Hell hadn't smelled like. He imagined that scent to be the culminated result of blending the sewer of Hell with the freedom of life.

At first he'd been cold.

The phrase 'bone chilling' really didn't do the feeling justice. He'd shattered his own arm simply flinching. He'd broken off his fingers, disintegrated his nose. And the pain had overwhelmed him. Fire through ice. He'd always come back from the emptiness, brought back for their entertainment, for his punishment.

He'd paid in pain and blood for Sam to live.

When they cut him, he'd been able to scream loud enough that everything else had been blocked—every memory, every hope, every wish. There was only now and pain.

Then they took away his mouth. Removed it completely, as if it never was.

It was when they stopped cutting him that it truly hurt. Because they'd leave him. Alone. For days. Bleeding out slowly, the only sounds those of other souls screaming in pain, laughing in madness, or weeping with regret.

And then there were the skins.

He'd died quickly when they began to skin him. But each time he opened his eyes, each time they brought him back, he was shown evidence of their success. Stretched on the walls around him, like trophies, were tortured, empty images of himself.

Color was leeched and then infused into his surroundings. The absence of it drained his fight; the over-abundance of it fed his frenzy. But the one thing he could always see—no matter if it was a gray day or not—was his own blood. It was everywhere, permeating everything.

He had coped, slowly going mad, welcoming the insanity, telling them to fuck off, keeping the pain close, his one companion.

Until the boy.

It was inconceivable to him that a child should be in Hell. His compass spun, his resolve crumbled. The boy—could have been Sam's twin—stood before him, eyes empty, dead, uncaring, and began to cut. But not Dean. He hadn't touched Dean.

He'd cut himself.

A voice whispered that it would stop. It would all stop if he wanted it to.

And he'd said yes.

www

"Unnnffff!"

"Hey, hey, easy!"

Sam had heard the tell-tale signs of the nightmare. He knew when Hell worked to reclaim his brother. No matter how often Dean denied it, no matter how much he drank, there were sounds he'd make when gripped in the throes of those dreams that he'd never allow to escape if he'd had any control.

Moving to the edge of his brother's bed, Sam had started to lean down, shake Dean awake, when a sound like a trapped, injured animal emitted from Dean's throat and Sam drew back, his skin puckering with horror.

He didn't want to know what had made Dean utter that sound. He didn't ever want to know.

When Dean shot upright with a strangled cry, Sam dropped down beside him.

"You're okay, Dean. Hey! Hey, you're okay."

Dean turned his wounded eyes toward him, the bruised one kicking Sam in the gut. He waited, holding his brother's gaze, breathing slowly until Dean's frenzied rhythm matched his once more.

"You with me?" Sam asked quietly.

"She was there," Dean said, his voice not really his own. It was too raw, too rough. The cocky control that gave Dean an edge over the bad guys was still waiting to be remembered.

"Who?"

"Raya," Dean replied, rubbing his forehead. "No, not Raya…the demon."

"The demon that possessed Raya?" Sam clarified, his brow bowed as he tried to follow Dean's path.

"Yeah," Dean swallowed. "She was…there."

"Where, there?" Sam asked. The light bulb of realization nearly gave him a migraine. "In Hell? You met her before?"

Dean nodded. "She was...I, uh…on the rack, I…."

Sam put a hand on Dean's shoulder, sparing him. "I got it."

"She said she killed the guy who gave it to me," Dean said, pulling his knees up and resting his head in the palms of his hands.

"Gave what to you?"

Dean shot him a try to keep up look. "The Eye of God."

"Somebody gave it to you?"

"According to this demon." Dean's voice was muffled as he hung his head, talking toward the mattress.

"Well," Sam sighed, standing up. "That would be something, seeing as how it doesn't really exist."

Dean looked up at him, his expression coupled with the sleep-mussed hair making him look all of twelve. "What do you mean?"

Sam darted his eyes to the side. "The storm knocked out the wireless, so I, uh…called Bobby. We think we might've figured out what they're talking about."

Groaning, Dean moved to the edge of the bed and rested his elbows on his knees. "I'm out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur."

Sam couldn't help but huff an abbreviated laugh. Leave it to his brother to quote a movie in the middle of mayhem.

"Bobby wasn't pissed that you called him at three in the morning?"

Sam shrugged. "I didn't ask."

"Nice." Dean rolled his neck. "Okay, so…how does this thing not exist?"

"Well," Sam hedged, pulling out a pad of yellow, lined paper he'd taken notes on as he talked to Bobby. "There is such a thing as the Eye of God—it's a religious symbol. It's also what some people called the Helix Nebula which really isn't anything more than a dying star and a trillion-mile long tunnel of glowing gasses."

Dean turned his head sideways, resting it on his upturned hand, his bruised face puffy from nightmares. "How 'bout you dial it down for those of us who didn't watch every episode of Star Trek?"

"Okay, so," Sam bounced his head slightly, conceding the fact that it was good Dean had connected even this much, "it's early Christian. Masons use it in some of their symbols. Supposed to represent an omnipresent God, or an all-seeing God."

"So…what's a demon want with it?" Dean frowned, rubbing distractedly at his nose, then straightening his spine. Sam heard it crack all the way down.

"Turns out there's this ancient…rumor, or whatever, of an amulet-type-thing with the Eye of God on it that will protect the wearer from…well, anything."

"Amulet?" Dean said, standing, a look of confusion etched deeper on his face than his question warranted. Sam felt himself tense as he watched his brother move to their duffel bags. "What's with amulets being…meaningful all of a sudden?"

Sam watched as Dean lifted a T-shirt and sniffed it, then reached in the bag for something else.

"I don't know, but the fact is, this amulet is nothing more than a pretty piece of jewelry. The rumor is false."

"Wonder if the same is true about my God-beacon," Dean muttered, picking up his Colt 1911 and sniffing the slide, then the chamber.

"What the hell are you doing, man?" Sam finally asked.

Dean didn't answer. Instead, he turned and made his way to the bathroom, staggering slightly. As Sam watched, Dean picked up a bar of soap and pressed it close to his face, then tossed it over his shoulder. Next, he twisted off the shampoo lid, sniffed it, then dropped it onto the floor of the bathtub.

"Dean?"

Returning to the duffel, Dean dug out his flask, removed the cap and sniffed it. Before Sam could say anything, he took a long pull, then lowered it, gasping slightly.

Realization sank in. "Oh, God," Sam said softly.

"I can't smell it," Dean said. "I mean…it still tastes like…but…I can't smell it. I can't…," he cast about the room, his eyes searching, seeking, landing on nothing. "I can't smell anything. Gun oil, gun powder, sweat, soap…."

"Okay, it's okay." Sam stood up, rattled by the panic in Dean's voice.

"How is this okay?" Dean turned on him, his eyes hot. "How is this even in the remote vicinity of okay?"

"We'll figure this out, Dean! We always figure it out."

Dean threw the flask across the room where it crashed into the wall, tearing the wallpaper, and sliding to the ground with a wet-sounding slosh.

"What kind of goddamned fairy tale are you living in, man?" Dean shouted. "We're not super heroes. We don't always figure it out."

"We will this time," Sam yelled back, needing Dean to believe him so that he'd believe it himself. "We just—"

"Just what?" Dean snapped. "Just gotta find an amulet that's made up so that we can get it to a demon that I fucking took apart and hope she wasn't lying about an antidote?"

"Wait, what? Antidote?" Sam grabbed Dean's arm, stopping him from beginning his frenetic pacing maneuver again. "There's an antidote?"

"She said the only way I'd get it is if I brought her the Eye of God which I obviously can't do since the damn thing doesn't exist so I guess I just fade out slowly until—"

"Stop!" Sam shouted, hands up. "Just…just stop. Let me think a second."

"You better hurry the hell up," Dean told him.

"Why?" Sam frowned.

"'Cause I can't smell anything Sam. How fast does this thing work, anyway?"

"I don't know! Cas didn't know, either. But if she said two days—"

"Son of a bitch." Dean rubbed his face, then brought his hands away quickly, staring at them. "This is just…I can't even smell…me."

"You've had a cold before," Sam said, distractedly, his brain working to find connections in a hedge maze of possibilities. "Think of it like that."

"You think of it like that, smartass," Dean countered. "It's not like I can't breathe through my nose. It's not like having a cold. It's like…nothing…," he touched the duffel bag, the table, his chest, the edge of the bed, Sam's arm, "nothing is here. Nothing."

Sam suddenly recalled Dean's instant memory of their spontaneous campout—how the smell of grass had reminded him of that night. Sam had always thought Jessica smelled like lilies. Each time that scent caught his attention, he'd see her smile, that half-quirk of her lips, the way she'd look up at him through her lashes with eyes that held promises.

If he couldn't smell lilies…would he forget Jessica?

"Sorry," Sam said, genuinely contrite. "I'm sorry."

Dean sat heavily on a chair next to the duffel-covered table. "'S okay," he muttered. They were quiet for a minute. "Least this way…I don't have to smell you every time you eat a burrito."

Sam pulled a face at him. "Whatever."

"Dude, you're…you're lethal."

"Okay, Mr. Silver Lining," Sam muttered, flipping through the pages of notes he'd taken while Dean slept. "Let's break this down. If this amulet thing doesn't exist, then why does Raya—"

"The demon," Dean corrected. "Only reason Raya's involved is because I wanted to get laid."

"Fair enough," Sam nodded, choosing his words carefully. "Why does this demon think some guy she apparently killed gave it to you?"

Dean sighed, rubbing his forehead. "What does it look like again?"

Sam showed him his crude sketch of a triangle with a single eye in the middle, beams of light emanating from all sides. He watched as Dean's eyes seemed to practically fold inward, searching the endless database of his mind.

Dean's memory was like flypaper; Sam had learned when he was quite young that there wasn't much his brother didn't remember. He simply chose what to apply to any given situation.

"Okay, there was this one job," Dean began, sitting back, pushing the sleeves of his gray Henley up to his elbows, his eyes lost. "Dad was…who the hell knows where. With Adam, maybe," Dean flicked a glance to Sam and the flinch caught in that look was obvious only to a brother who echoed the sentiment. "You were at Stanford. My friend Richie—remember him?"

"Unfortunately," Sam replied, thinking of the man's demise at the hands of demon lovers. He chose to skim over the recollection of killing a female demon Dean had managed to find some kind of weird, cosmic connection to.

"He had this…vengeful spirit thing. House in Boston. It was a two-person job and I didn't have anything else going on." Dean's shrug was nonchalant, but there was something buried in his tone that had Sam snaking a hand over his belly and pressing back an ache. "There was this old guy…it was an easy job, really. With the two of us."

There was a quick glance before Dean continued, but in that glance Sam heard so much and felt even more. Phrases Dean had never expressed, but that Sam had understood. Guilt suddenly perched at the back of his throat, acid burning through him and threatening to choke him if he tried to speak.

He'd left his brother so many times. He'd run away at least twice in their youth, simply needing, he thought, an escape. A breath. A moment that was just his.

Stanford was the greatest escape, the one he knew Dean always looked to.

But there were others—times when he'd left Dean while his brother slept. Times when he turned to a demon for help or solace rather than face the man who'd sold his soul so that he could live. And a time just weeks ago when shame and insecurity had him retreating, tucking himself away in the false security of solitude.

"Sorry I wasn't there," Sam said suddenly.

Dean looked at him, surprised. "You were at school, man."

That's all that mattered to Dean, Sam realized. Sam had been okay, had been living his life. It didn't matter that Dean had been alone. But it should have. And it did now.

"Still." Sam lifted a shoulder.

"Anyway, this old guy," Dean continued, sniffing, pausing, then looking away, "he gave me and Richie these trinkets as payment. I'm pretty sure mine was a triangle."

"Where'd you last see it?"

Dean looked at the floor. "The Impala."

"Great! Let's just—"

"Before the accident."

The accident, Sam thought.

The semi-truck that had almost erased his family and the only home he'd ever known. Dean had practically turned himself inside out putting her back together, trying desperately to seal up a hole that their father's death had drilled into both of them.

"Oh," Sam said softly. "Think it's at Bobby's?"

Dean closed his eyes, dropping his head back. "Maybe. Somewhere. In two tons of junk."

Sam rubbed his lip. Asking Bobby to search through his junkyard for an amulet that may or may not be there—hampered by his wheelchair—didn't seem like a very viable option.

Besides…if it doesn't actually work then….

"So, let's give them a ringer," Sam shrugged.

Dean looked at him out of the corner of his eyes. "A ringer."

"There's gotta be some kind of…magic shop or store for weird antiquities here, right?" Sam opened his laptop.

"We're in Kansas, Sam," Dean reminded him. "We're more likely to find a…religious—"

"Bookstore," Sam finished, slapping the laptop and its dead Internet connection closed, then moving to the dresser, pulling open drawers. "Or some place with religious artifacts. You think?"

As if channeling in on Sam's enthusiasm, Dean stood. "Worth a shot, I guess."

"Where's the damn phonebook?" Sam groused, standing up and catching sight of Dean in the mirror.

For one moment neither of them moved. The contrast of Sam's proximity and his brother's distance from the mirror gave the illusion that Dean was fading, retreating.

"We'll figure this out," Sam told Dean's reflection.

Dean lifted his chin, his face a mask, eyes giving away nothing. "Well, if we don't," he lifted a shoulder, "guess those angels are going to have to step in…or find themselves a new vessel for their grudge match."

Sam felt his lip curl in disgust, not really liking the tight feeling he got in his chest when Dean brought up angels, then turned to the nightstand between the beds. "Ah-ha! Phonebook."

He thumbed through the book, looking under different categories until he found what he was looking for.

"Call them first," Dean instructed. "Make sure they have something like what we need."

Sam glanced at the clock. "It's eight in the morning—think they're open?"

Dean simply shrugged. His expression remained impassive, his movements minimal. Watching him with worry, Sam dialed the local number, frowning when he got a recording.

"Don't open for an hour."

"So, we've got time for breakfast." Dean lifted his chin and moved around Sam to get his boots.

"You want…I don't know…a shower or something?"

"I'm clean enough," Dean muttered, pulling the laces tight, then standing up and grabbing his blue canvas jacket.

He hadn't worn the leather jacket in weeks, Sam had noticed. Not since Sam came back.

"Still raining?" Sam asked as he mimicked his brother and slipped a weapon into his waistband, sliding the demon-killing knife into its make-shift holster.

"Yeah," Dean sighed as he opened the door, then paused, his body rigid.

"What is it?" Sam asked, stalled behind him.

Dean was completely still, his quiet unnerving. Sam was about to touch his shoulder when Dean spoke up.

"I can't smell the rain."

Sam knew there was nothing he could say. He stood still, waiting, aching. His skin felt stretched too tight. If he breathed too loud, they would shatter.

After a moment, Dean seemed to pull himself together. "Let's do this."

Continued in Part 2B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/94430.html 

 


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