Caution: Falling Rocks
by Maygra
Cover art by Marecagee

(continuation of events from False Comforts  and Welcome to Memphis
Ratings: Mature Adult
Pairing: Sam/Dean
Warnings: Incest. Graphic sex. Rape. Mind-fucks The following is a work of fiction. It is meant for mature adults and deals with mature and disturbing themes. Forced to a category, it would be dark fiction and containing both violence and sexual violence. It is a horror story.  It's also a love story.
I strongly recommended that you read False Comforts  and Welcome to Memphis first.

Notes: Many, many thanks to auk and Meghan for the beta work and for playing barometer. Additional (spoilery) author's notes can be found here.
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.

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Caution: Falling Rocks
by Maygra

I'm not asking any questions
That haven't got an answer
I don't need to know the reasons
And I don't want to weigh you down

I'll treat you like a good friend
I'll treat you like a brother

But it's been so long
Since I felt this way
And I would be glad
Just to let it go away
~~~Miracle (Heidi Berry)

Part 1
"Me, Sam…remember who you're fucking," Dean said, his voice even, but the grip he had at the back of Sam's shoulders and around his waist was like steel.

Sam stopped moving, stopped thrusting against the hardness of Dean's pelvis, stopped rubbing his dick against his brother’s. Dean wasn't as hard as Sam was, not any longer. He uncurled his fingers where they'd been digging into the muscles of Dean's ass while Sam fought for leverage, for release.

The tension in his body he'd thought unbearable before ratcheted up another notch and Sam gave up trying to overcome it, to outlast it, to undo it. It felt like cement had been injected into every muscle in his body, the ache ever-present.

Sorry. God, Dean, I'm sorry. The words never made it out of his mouth, his throat as tight, feeling scraped as raw as the rest of him. But he let go, splayed his hands on the bed and let his forehead rest against Dean's shoulder.

The steel of Dean's grip turned to something less restrictive; Dean's hand rubbed the nape of his neck, barely brushed the skin at his lower back. Dean's heart was pounding fast and hard in his chest, and his breath caught in his throat when he inhaled.

Sam's eyes burned and closing them didn't help, and squeezing them shut didn't stop the tears he was tired of shedding. He took his own shaky breath and got his arms under him, eased his body up and over.

Dean was still hard, his cock dark and rigid against the paler skin of his belly, but even as Dean let Sam go he didn't reach for himself to ease the ache there, an ache Sam shared in the length of his own painfully hard dick.

And he'd always thought blue balls were worse when it was a girl who changed her mind somewhere in the middle. That would be more frustrating than embarrassing. This made him feel more ashamed than embarrassed.

He didn't touch himself either. Didn't even try. It wouldn't kill him and there was something about finishing himself off after the nightmares forced arousal on him that made it feel like the shape shifters had won another round.

And they were winning far too many lately.

He held his breath when Dean rolled up behind him, a half-second's warning keeping him from flinching when Dean's still firm cock pressed to his ass. But Dean wasn't asking for anything, wasn't going to do anything that would hurt him. When his brother's hand rubbed across his hip, ready to offer a different kind of comfort, Sam caught his hand, twined their fingers together, and pulled it across his stomach instead.

He didn't know if Dean's sigh was resignation or relief.

Sam should never have let it get this far. Dean was willing to share the responsibility, had, to some extent, but it wasn't Dean who was pushing this. It wasn't Dean who wanted, needed this.

That was all on Sam. On the shape shifters as well, but Sam thought -- prayed -- that he was still sane enough to know that there were better answers than drawing his brother into something they both knew was wrong, a reluctant but willing accomplice. Dean's motives were cleaner than Sam's: Dean did this in the hopes of giving Sam some kind of defense against the horror that kept creeping around the edge of his consciousness.

But it wasn't just in Sam's subconscious any longer. It was in his conscious mind, bleeding over like some infection he couldn't get rid of. It blurred the lines between what was real and what was merely a product of some seriously twisted minds.

Not even atrocities inflicted on Sam alone. The battle inside his sleeping mind had taken some seriously vicious twists tonight, starting but not ending with Sam fucking his brother's blood-spattered and scorched corpse.

Sam swallowed hard and tightened his fingers on Dean's hand, breathing quickly through his mouth to quell the nausea. Dean squeezed back, pressed his forehead to Sam's neck and just whispered. "It's okay…I'm right here."

Like Sam didn't know or couldn't tell. He said nothing, only forced himself to relax. He couldn’t sleep, and that was a problem of a whole other kind. Sam wasn't even sure he could sleep easily again if they got sudden absolute confirmation that every shape shifter on the planet was dead and rotting.

It was exhaustion more than anything. He'd slept relatively well over the previous couple of days, maybe ten hours total. But even when he slept, when there was a lull in the frequency and depth of the attacks, he never woke up feeling rested. Rested enough to function, yes. To remember to shower and eat, to actually be able to hold a conversation that didn't consist of monosyllables, yes, but ‘functional’ was a matter of degrees. Even sleeping without nightmares still left the vague impression that there was something, someone, crawling around the edges of his mind, leaving slimy trails and disturbing things that shouldn't be disturbed. What sleep he got helped his body cope with another day, with whatever needed to be done. But his mind was something else entirely. Just holding a conversation with Dean was difficult even when they talked about nothing at all. Which was most of the time.

He closed his eyes again, trying to let Dean's even breathing and the warmth of his arm across Sam's waist provide some kind of organic sense of security. But behind closed eyes, the images played over and over again and Sam got up suddenly and ran to the bathroom.

The light blinded him, sent sharp stabbing pains into his eyes and that was a kind of relief all its own. A distraction. When he could blink his way back to tolerance, he only barely glanced at himself. He didn't need to see. Other than looking tired and pale under the harsh fluorescents, there wasn't anything different about his face. There were no suppurating sores or scratches, there was no sign of unholy glee on his face, no flicker of color changing his own green eyes to something ghostly and pale.

At least he thought not. He was starting to be none too sure of that as well, even though he thought it was whisper from afar, that he'd merely forgotten who and what he was; a shifter trapped in skin it couldn't shed, rotting from the inside.

Digging his fingernails into the thin skin of his wrist didn't do anything but leave blood filled crescents and red scrapes on his arm. The skin didn’t peel or tear, the bones didn't shift. He was still himself.

The nausea eased. He splashed water on his face anyway, sucked up a cupped handful and spat it out, then drank. He turned the light out before he could look at himself in the mirror again, but when it was dark, he looked anyway. His eyes did not glow.

Fumbling for the doorknob, he blinked again at the change in light. It wasn't bright but there was light enough. Light enough to see that Dean had rolled to his back again, one arm tucked under his head. Enough light to see the reflection in his eyes when he looked at Sam.

Sam said nothing, only crawled back into the bed, face down, gathering the pillow in his arms. He felt Dean roll over again, his hand curving warm and heavy over Sam's shoulder then rubbing his back. He probably thought Sam had been sick. It certainly wasn't a preliminary to any kind of desire or need. It never was. Dean didn't need this. Didn't really want it.

Sam fell asleep wondering how his nightmares would use Dean's comforting touch against him.

All in all, Sam got maybe two hours sleep in fits and starts and the last time he opened his eyes, his head was pounding so hard and his mouth so dry, he knew he wouldn't be able to go to sleep again.

He tried to be careful and quiet, but lack of sleep and the deep and constant ache in his muscles made him nearly trip over the chair where his bag was. He heard Dean draw in a sharp breath and then cough. Dean was too light a sleeper to be able to ignore Sam’s clumsy attempts to be considerate. Sam found clean clothes and retreated to the bathroom.

Over the counter muscle relaxants went down with a double handful of water. Despite the heat in Memphis, Sam stood under water as hot as he could stand for about ten minutes, then gave himself a blast of cold to shock himself awake at least for a couple of hours.

He was twitchy with adrenaline and fatigue, unable to stay still. "I could go get coffee," he offered, when he came out and found Dean rolling to his side. There was a convenience store on the corner.

"Give me a minute," Dean said, voice rough from sleep -- too little sleep.

"I'll be back in a couple of minutes." Coffee would ease the shakes, and fresh air -- even humid fresh air -- would probably help too.

"Jesus, Sam," Dean sighed out and pushed himself up to sit. "Just let me piss, okay? And we'll go." His voice was nothing but kind. Kind and tired.

Sam made himself sit still. Waited while Dean got up and moved past him to the bathroom, stretching his neck. Dean hesitated right in front of him, searched his face and Sam did his best to look calm and together. Dean lifted a hand then dropped it. "Two minutes," he promised and grabbed his jeans and shirt off the back of the chair.

It was less, and Dean wasn't fully awake, but he'd get there. They walked, both of them blinking at the bright sunshine washing through clear skies.

The coffee was strong and cheap, and Sam had half of his down before Dean even finished paying for it. Sam topped off his cup and actually felt some of the jitters fade away, was actually surprised when his hand didn't shake.

Dean drank his more slowly, like he actually liked the way it tasted. At the edge of the parking lot, he nudged Sam toward the phone booth. "Article said the family's name was Kirkstetter," Dean said, passing his coffee off to Sam while he checked the battered phone book.

They took up half a column and Dean tore the edge of the page out.

"Too many to visit them all," Sam said. "Library?"

"Library," Dean agreed, with a grin. "I love Mapquest."

A half hour later they had the location and directions.

The Kirkstetters lived on the outskirts of Memphis, in a new subdivision called Cherokee Heights. Not difficult to find and for once, Dean didn't come up with a fancy story.

"We're trying to find our father," Dean said and offered them the most recent picture he had of their father, a few years old, taken before Sam had left for school. "His name is John Winchester?"

Mr. Kirkstetter studied the picture and then them. "That could be him," he said cautiously, "but he said his name was Richard Harker."

"Mr. Kirkstetter, can you look again, please? We really need to find him," Sam asked.

Kirkstetter studied Sam for a long minute then pulled open the door, inviting them in.

"Most trusted face on the planet," Dean muttered to him. "If your face was a credit card we'd be living it up on Platinum right now."

"Just going with my strengths, bro'," Sam said and they followed their host.

Over better coffee and warmed up pound cake, the Kirkstetters told them what they knew, that Harker had shown up out of the blue. They thought he was another reporter but he'd told them no, only that he'd experienced something similar. He'd asked for no money, hadn't pushed, only gave them a card with his cell phone number and said he'd be around for a few days.

A week later they'd called him, after a particularly violent night when dishes had been shattered, windows broken. No one had been hurt but Mr. Kirkstetter was ready to pack the whole family up.

"We don't know what he did. He was in here for maybe six hours. He didn't take anything," Mrs. Kirkstetter said, then flushed at her last comment. “We thought maybe he was a con artist, but we were so desperate—“

"Haven't had any trouble since," Kirkstetter said, interrupting her but patting her arm.

"Do you still have that cell phone number?"

Dean dialed it and listened. "Dad, it's Dean. Sam and I need to talk to you. Please call us." When he hung up he shook his head at Sam. "Canned message…"

"But he had to have it," Sam said, grabbing for that.

"If it was him," Dean said and glanced at the Kirkstetters again. They wanted to help, obviously.

"He wouldn't take any money. I fixed some food for him," Mrs. Kirkstetter said. "But he was interested in those fires in North Carolina."

"What fires?" Sam asked.

"Brush fires, along the highway. Started a month or so back. No one can figure out how they are getting started…"

"And Harker was here three weeks ago?" Sam asked.

Mr. Kirkstetter nodded. "We haven’t had any trouble in the house since he left." He handed the picture back. "I wish I could say for sure, boys. But the feller who helped us, he looked older. A lot older. Hair was longer, had a full beard, full of grey."

"But neat," Mrs. Kirkstetter said quickly. "I mean, dressed neat in a coat and shirt, beard kept up."

"Well, thanks," Sam said with a smile. "Really. We appreciate your talking to us."

"If that was your father, we owe him a lot," Kirkstetter said as he walked them out. Sam carried a Saran wrapped package of pound cake; Mrs. Kirkstetter had insisted. Kirkstetter offered them his business card. "If it was him and you find him…well, we owe him."

"We'll tell him," Dean said and shook the man's hand firmly. "Thanks for giving us the time."

"You think it was Dad?" Sam asked once they were in the car.

"Except for the fact that it didn't look like him?" Dean shrugged. "I don't know. That's not an alias of Dad's that I've ever heard."

Sam leaned his back against the seat rest. "We could check around some more. He had to have stayed somewhere."

"I think we're going to head to North Carolina. Mysterious fires would definitely be one of Dad's interests," Dean said and glanced over at Sam.

Checking on him. Sam didn't flinch under his regard. Mysterious fires were one of his interests too. "Plus," Dean added, his glance at Sam apparently reassuring him. "I want to get the hell out of Memphis."

Sam stared out the window. "Distance doesn't seem to matter." It didn't. Yes, his nightmares seemed to get worse when there were shape shifters nearby, or that was their theory. But they didn't stop entirely even when they were in the middle of nowhere.

"No, but maybe if it knows we aren't after it -- this time," Dean grated out, “it will leave you the fuck alone.”

Sam looked over at him. The muscle in Dean's jaw was twitching, he was grinding his teeth together so hard. Running wasn’t Dean's answer to anything. That was a personality trait Sam could call his own.

Sam sighed. "We need to get a map. Some information."

They headed east.

The car had become a kind of safe haven -- safe as anything could be. Sheet metal and glass couldn't protect Sam from the things that regularly crawled around in his mind, but it was a place Sam could be reasonably sure that the occupants were, in fact, real, and who they were supposed to be. At least, he was certain his brother was his brother. He had doubts about himself.

Dean didn't blast the music the way he used to. The minute he saw Sam's eyes close, the volume level would drop and while he might sing along a little, he didn't give in to the urge to sing along at the top of his lungs.

Sam missed it. Missed the fact that his brother could sing on key or loud, but never both at the same time. But he didn't say, because it was something Dean could do. One of the things Dean could still do for him and Dean being able to do something, anything was, Sam thought, the only thing that kept his brother from doing something truly foolish…like hunting down things that didn't want to be found and knew too much.

The other things Dean did for him chased themselves around his brain even while he dozed.

Sam could remember a time when he didn't have nightmares. Relatively speaking, it hadn't been that long ago, five or six years. As a kid, having nightmares was kind of redundant. There was something about knowing that monsters in closets, ghosts in old houses, and demons from hell were all real that kind of took all the "oompf" right out of the old subconscious.

Dean said there had been some, mostly when Sam was much younger, but Sam couldn't remember them. He'd never really been afraid of nightfall or dark places either. Wary, alert, and absolutely certain the dark held danger and threats, but most of his fear came from not being able to find the right combination of weapons, knowledge, and strategy to deal with what dwelled in the darkness, along with the occasional anxiety that he really couldn't run fast enough sometimes. Most of the time.

Which pretty much explained his brother's unshakeable stand-and-meet-them-head-on attitude.

Dean didn't back off from much -- Sam wasn't even sure he knew how.

After some dozen or so years of actively pursuing the relics of past evil that lingered for years or decades or centuries, Sam, of all people, should have known that the past never let go. It lingered and festered and mutated and became corrupted until it erupted like the unhealed wound it was to prey on the unsuspecting who passed by it.

You can't unlearn something. You can ignore it, you can avoid it sometimes, but it stays with you. It had taken Sam only four short years to become a master of self-deception.

It had taken less than 48 hours for the blinders to be ripped off and Sam to see again. He hadn't liked what he saw, but he couldn't deny it again. There was something kind of pointed about having the ghost of a distraught woman reach into your chest and try to rip your heart out that just screamed, "reality check!"

Accepting that that much was real made it kind of difficult to deny your own girlfriend's death when it happened right in front of you.

But now, now as he and Dean sped out of Memphis tracking yet another vague trail their father might have left, Sam was finding reality to be a far more slippery slope than he'd imagined.

In his more rational moments, he knew it had to do with exhaustion more than anything. He had experienced the weird separation of mind and body once or twice in college. The first time had been his sophomore year. He'd been sick as he rarely was; a head cold that turned into bronchitis that he'd almost totally missed, thinking he was overly tired rather than sick. So tired, he couldn't sleep until he'd nearly passed out just walking to class. A blurred trip to the campus medical center, an intensive course of antibiotics and an inhaler later, and he'd still been surprised to discover how sick he'd been. There had been no pain, no real symptoms except a weak cough.

Things he thought he'd done, conversations he thought he'd had, turned out to be more illusion than reality. That they felt so real, even weeks afterward, had bothered Sam more than his close brush with pneumonia. The second time it happened, he'd almost missed a crucial exam, waking after a week's hard study to be absolutely certain he'd already taken the test. So positive, he'd accused Jessica of trying to pull a fast one on him when he'd balked at even getting out of bed to go take the damn exam. He'd made it and passed but hadn't aced it as he knew he could have had he been less sleep deprived.

This all felt similar. He told Dean as much of it as he could, but probably not as much as he should, mostly because there was nothing Dean could do that he wasn't already doing. What Dean was offering, had offered, given, surrendered, was far beyond what Sam had ever wanted, asked, expected him to sacrifice.

But he had. Sam had meant it all those months back, the first time he'd kissed Dean, trying to prove a point. Maybe Dean was prescient as well, because his off hand comment had proved more true than not. Kissing Dean, touching him, being with him, had become a proof of reality. It was also a problem.

It was becoming a serious problem.

It had gone so far beyond reassuring himself that Dean was real, that there was actually a difference between Sam's waking and dreaming state, that it had become an addiction all its own.

To want his brother; feel him, taste him, to crave the reassurance that, for all his hard, wise-cracking, fuck-the-world attitude, Dean could be tender and gentle and unselfish when he touched Sam, was killing Sam by degrees.

He was becoming something he'd never wanted to be. His sense of right and wrong, his certainty that he knew what defined him, how he defined himself, was slipping away, becoming as hard to hold onto as sleep without dreams was.

It had gone further than Sam had ever expected or wanted. Except that wasn't really fair, nor entirely true. He needed Dean to anchor him in the here and now, and Dean had done that almost without trying. Sam could only barely explain it or understand it, that waking or sleeping, his brother was a rock solid presence in his life, maybe even in his soul -- storm anchor and shield all in one. Dean was as real and solid as the car they rode in, as the earth beneath their feet when they walked. He couldn't define the sensation really. The difference between the skittering, uneven recognition of other people and the steady constant of Dean wasn't something he saw, or felt, or heard. It was something he knew.

He'd tried. God knew he'd tried to sense that same solidity, that same presence in other people, strangers, people they met in bars or at gas stations. And sometimes he thought he caught a glimmer of something, like a light in the corner of his eye.

With Dean there was a sudden recognition of his thereness, like everyone around him blurred and became indistinct. The world got narrower, Sam's perceptions got incredibly focused. Like a tree in the middle of a field, there was nothing else Sam could see or pay attention to, and even if he looked away, it was still there, solid and real.

Of course, it was entirely possible that Sam was slowly but surely losing his mind. That after several months of this, his grip on reality had slipped just a tad. It certainly made more sense in the grand scheme of things than believing his brother was the only real thing in the world, including Sam himself. He'd had enough philosophy courses in college to know that relativism could only take you so far, that experience had to be rooted in something, usually a person's own sense of self. There was something deeply, deeply flawed about basing the reality of his own existence in his brother's presence.

Yes, there had been days, sometimes whole weeks, when he'd actually managed to get enough sleep that the rest of the world came back into focus. When he dared hope that maybe, maybe it would be the last time, that the shape shifters would get bored, leave him alone, leave Dean alone -- that some great cosmic hammer of justice would come down and turn them into more memory than nightmare.

It was like they knew. Knew when his relief turned to speculation, speculation to hope, and just when Sam thought he could relax a little….

They'd wear him down eventually. His resistance was never as strong after a few successive nights of horrors played through his mind. A few hours of every night where his own mind and body seemed determined to betray him and once set on that course, were disinclined to let him go even when he woke.

When a hint of arousal in his waking state pushed him as close to panic as anything in his life. Had sent him clambering for something to hold onto, something that didn't scare him, something that let him remember that actually being touched by someone didn't always end in pain.

Most days it took everything he had not to tense up or lash out if a stranger just casually and accidentally brushed up against him. He couldn’t trust his senses, couldn't trust anything he saw…he had to double check everything against his brother's reaction.

And yet there it was. Without opening his eyes, Sam could feel Dean beside him, knew it with his senses, felt it in his bones. He had half a theory that he could be entirely sensory-deprived and still know if Dean were close by.

The fact that he didn't actually want to test that theory gave him some reassurance that he hadn't entirely let go of reality quite yet. The comfort was hollow, but at this point, he'd take what he could get.

Had been taking what he could get and then some. Sleep had all but completely escaped him last night, as much by choice as the lingering effects of the nightmare. Dean had slept, which was not as rare as Sam doing it but was close. And it was dangerous for both of them: Sam slipping down the reality slope was bad enough. If Dean slipped too, Sam wasn't sure they'd be able to find their way back.

Some part of Dean had to know that, because as distressed and concerned as he was by Sam's lack of sleep, he hadn't tried to emulate him out of empathy or anything. Not that Dean's sleep ever went undisturbed, though Sam could wish it. No, Dean had his own nightmares to deal with, his own fights with his subconscious. He was as reluctant to talk about them as Sam was, like there was some intersection between what they dreamed and what was actually happening between them in the dim shadows of night that shouldn't be crossed. Bad psychic wiring or something, likely to cause more problems than it solved.

And Dean wasn't as prone to talking about what he felt or thought of anything, beyond the most surface of levels, as Sam was and always had been. Only long years of practice let Sam see the subtle differences between Dean scared and Dean angry, between Dean when he was deeply moved by something and when something merely made him thoughtful. It was almost as difficult to tell when Dean was in real pain and when he was milking something minor for a little extra attention. He kept things close,  be it affection or anger, and Sam knew he'd escaped a tongue lashing not dissimilar to those their father was capable of on more than one occasion. That he probably deserved it was beside the point. Sometimes Dean would rather watch him fall on his face than warn him he was about to trip, sure Sam wouldn't listen, or, even if he did, that experience was the best teacher.

That hadn't been as true of late. Dean was almost too ready to haul him back, afraid that if Sam did trip, he might shatter and Dean afraid he was running out of ways to put him back together.

And if Dean snapped? If it was Dean who finally shattered? Sam didn't know what he would do, how he would deal, wasn't even vaguely confident that he could. Especially since Sam was the reason Dean was likely to finally break under the strain of this. And he could see it happening, watch the cracks form, the humor get edgier, Dean’s temper fraying to a thin thread of control.

Knowing his brother's stamina and determination, Sam thought it likely, and even preferable, that his brain would be only so much scrambled perceptions and sensory overload long before then. Wasn't sure it hadn't already happened. Sometimes he was surprised he didn't wake up bleeding from the nose and ears.

Not that he was complaining about that. He bled enough in his dreams.

A glance over showed Sam slumped down in the seat again, head pressed to the window, arms wrapped around his middle and Dean reached over and nudged the volume down another notch.

Another glance at his brother's sleeping face and Dean looked away, eyes back on the road. He caught a glimpse of a sign in the rearview on the opposite side of the road. "Memphis 100."

A thousand miles wouldn't be enough and that thought grated on Dean's nerves like nothing else could at that moment. He'd wanted to slap Sam when he'd suggested they stay and look further for their father, but only because it was what Dean wanted to do and they couldn't. He wanted to lash out at somebody and the only one in within reach was Sam. Yeah, and that would make things so much better. Sam probably thought he deserved it and Dean wasn't sure he could stand yet another apology from his brother. They already cut like knives. Like any of this was Sam's fault.

Although Sam was right: distance didn't seem to help. The attacks seemed worse in big cities which made a torqued kind of sense. More people, easier for the shape shifters to hide, to take what they wanted, find victims without being detected.

But Dean wasn't sure Sam could hold it together for even a couple more days. He did look like a junkie. Or a man coming off a serious binge. Nervous energy seemed to wrap around Sam even when he was sleeping because he was never still. He twitched and jerked, made little sounds in his throat but didn't wake.

That Sam was keeping his shit together as well as he was when he was awake was a damn miracle. Dean wasn't sure he'd be doing nearly as well; wasn't, in fact, although he wasn't as likely to fall on his face.

But he could feel fatigue plucking at his own nerves, robbing him of the sharpness that he depended on. They both needed a break because they couldn't live on caffeine and adrenaline forever.

Sam murmured and shifted, twisting around and half -waking as he put his back to the door.   Sleepy green eyes flickered open and Dean couldn't help himself, reaching across to barely touch Sam's head. "Go back to sleep," he said and Sam blinked and did as he was told.

Been nice if that had worked when Sam was, like, ten, when getting him to go to bed was a major nightly fight.

Dean found himself smiling a little at that. Sam's rebellion. If he could hunt and fight at ten he'd never understood why he had to be in bed by nine most nights when Dean got to stay up until eleven. "So, when you're fourteen you can stay up and watch TV too."   At fourteen Sam had been more likely to go to his room with his books after dinner and be asleep by the time Dean went to bed.

Not for the first time, Dean wished Sam could have that back, if only for a night or two.

The car swerved a little and he pulled it back in line, rubbing at his eyes. He was going to need a solid night's sleep soon, too. That, as much as wanting to see if the shape shifters would back off a little, had pushed him to get them on the road again. And in truth, Sam slept better in the car usually. Not soundly, but at least in increments.

And then there was their father. He wished the Kirkstetters had been even a little helpful. Trying to predict what their father might do wasn't any easier than predicting what the shape shifters would do, and Dean bit off that thought before it could spread. Among other things, Sam's paranoia was starting to rub off on him.

Easy for Dean to admit that he'd always been a bit paranoid, because yes, there were things in the dark that were out to get him. But watching Sam start hyperventilating when anyone looked at him too long put Dean firmly in the amateur category of paranoiac.

If vengeance was what the shape shifters wanted, they'd gotten it. His brother was falling apart right in front of him and short of killing every shape shifter he could find, Dean had not the slightest idea how to stop it. It wasn't even that Dean felt guilty for having killed the first of them and he wasn't buying for a minute that what was happening to Sam was justice in any way, shape, or form, even for a bunch of psychopathic, face-stealing, telepathic, grubs.

What he did feel guilty about was not having acted on the threat earlier. For thinking that they could take at least a little time to recover from the physical confrontation before facing the mental one. It had been stupid and short-sighted and he'd been so freaked out by the fact that his brother had been raped he'd broken his own rule, one his father had drilled into him again and again. You never leave until the job is done. Half-done or done-half-assed could get you killed. It could get other people killed. Or worse.

Dean figured they'd pretty much passed the "or worse" marker somewhere between Colorado and Indiana.

They hadn't tried the reversal trick they'd used in Detroit again. Pulling Sam out of it then had been hard enough and Dean wasn't sure he could do it again. Not because bringing Sam out of it failed, but because Sam said it was kind of like diving into a sewer, for all that the most he got were impressions.

But he didn't know any other way to go after them, and despite hustling Sam's ass out of Memphis as fast as he could, Dean was pretty sure it was the only way, because this was only going to get worse.

And there were no guarantees that even if they succeeded that it would get better, which was a whole different kind of problem and one Dean didn't see any easy way out of. If anything, it was slightly more complicated than even the presence of the shape shifters.

He wanted to blame them for all of it. Could certainly claim they were the catalyst, but the rest…

He didn't have Sam's reasons, or excuses or whatever Sam was calling the growing intimacy between them. And good God, did Dean hate calling it that, like it was some kind of completely freaked out Lifetime Moment of Truth movie of the week. He was all but fucking his baby brother, and he hadn't missed the fact that no matter what his head thought about it, his body certainly didn't seem to have any issues with it. His dick had never been that picky; his hand, someone else's, both worked. Someone -- anyone -- else's mouth just took all the guess work out of whether he'd like it or not.

So easy at first to rationalize it. His hand helping to ease Sam's distress, his mouth to reassure. Could have been enough, should have been enough, but if Dean took out the fact that Sam was his brother -- which he tried really hard not to do -- Sam's kisses were as good as he'd ever had. Maybe better, because Sam could be aggressive and needy and determined, and Dean had always liked that in his partners.   And Sam's hands didn't have any problem figuring out what Dean liked best.

Hands on dicks and mouths together -- he could deal. It was still twisted and wrong but he could deal. It was all part of the same thing: Sam needed him and as much as he hated the contorted logic of the shape shifters, there was some irony in the idea that Dean was perfectly willing to kill or die for Sam, but not kiss him? The reverse was true as well. Dean didn't have to put it to the test to know it. Sam was dying a little bit every day.

His own dreams weren't helping either. At first he thought maybe they'd gotten to him, too. He hadn't lied to Sam -- post-adolescent frustrations accompanied by hormones kicked into overdrive by puberty had brought some truly bizarre dreams to him when he was a teenager. The bulk of them had not involved his younger brother -- pretty much anyone and anything else, but Sam had come into them later, about the time he hit his own puberty, when it seemed like he'd gotten taller, gotten bigger, shed the softness of childhood for a leaner, way more serious person than the child he'd been. Sometimes it felt like it happened overnight. That one minute Sam had been small enough to have to be lifted onto a kitchen counter to bandage a knee and the next minute he was able to clear a fence without help.

And the dreams had been indistinct at best, most of the time. Vague impressions of Sam being there, sometimes supplanting whatever Mystery Date Dean's subconscious had summoned for his nocturnal randiness. He could even explain some of it away by overlapping reality with dreams; sharing a bedrooms more often than not, and Sam working out his own hormonal impulses to the comfort of his own hand when he thought Dean was sleeping.

But a few had been vivid and visceral enough for Dean to wonder, for a few months at least, if he wasn't possessed or a sicko. Sam had been about fourteen, all long limbs and awkward grace, old enough and big enough to refuse to be left out of anything. Agile and fast, and even in his waking moments sometimes Dean had looked at his brother when Sam was grinning and wide eyed, flushed with pride and adrenaline after a successful hunt, and all Dean could think was that his little brother was going to be a serious heartbreaker when he grew up.

He'd dreamed of doing things with Sam he'd never dreamed of doing with anyone and certainly not another guy. He didn't know where they came from or what triggered them and he'd nearly freaked out when Sam had confessed to him that he'd been dreaming about another boy touching his dick. Sam never said who or if the person was real or not.

That Sam had come to him only made it worse. Sam's trust in him was laid out right there, in a few fumbling, embarrassed words. He hadn't gone to their father, hadn't talked to a teacher or a counselor at school. He'd come to Dean, like he'd done with other secrets, or questions, and the only gratification Dean had gotten from it was that at least his own perverted fantasies weren't so obvious that Sam had noticed.

And he'd been determined he never would. He'd put some distance between them then, consciously and deliberately. He'd tried not to make it obvious; to stay out a little later, flirt with as many girls as he could, get laid as often as he could, just like any other guy his age.

The distance hadn't gone unnoticed. Not by Sam and not by his father. At first, Sam still came to him with nearly everything that troubled him, everything that excited him. The reverse hadn't been true. Then it had seemed like the right thing to do. Now, looking back on it, Dean wondered if it weren't when Sam started looking around and realizing the life they led wasn't one he wanted.

Their whole life had been about keeping secrets but they'd rarely kept secrets from each other. Dean stopped telling Sam how he felt, deflecting what had been no more than honest concern from Sam, not willing to push or test the bonds of brotherhood or family. Sam might not have understood why then, or even suspected, as he'd said. But he'd known when the walls went up.

And like a lot of things Sam learned from Dean, he'd learned that one really well.

Eventually the dreams had stopped and Dean figured it was because he was getting laid more often -- often enough for his father to take him aside and have "a talk" with him about the difference between lust and love.

Like Dean didn't know. Like he wasn't completely clear on who he loved and who he didn't. Sam and his father -- that was pretty much it. He'd been more discreet and it hadn't really surfaced again for years and then was as fleeting as it had been when it started.

But he never forgot it.

Better if he had, although he hadn't thought about it in years, and it didn't bode well for what other horrors they might have dragged out of his memories. He had seen some truly weird and creepy shit over the years, including a few things that had nothing to do with the paranormal. But never once had he ever dreamed of hurting Sam, of forcing him…

His grip on the steering wheel left his knuckles white and beside him Sam stirred, mumbled something, and Dean forced himself to take some deep breaths. No…that wasn't the problem. Keeping himself from hurting Sam was definitely not a problem. Keeping himself from asking for more, that was becoming a problem. One he wasn't sure even getting laid would correct if he even dared leave Sam alone that long. And his constant hovering was adding to Sam's restlessness and despair but Dean didn't know how to stop. Leaving Sam for even a few minutes to go grab food, to pay for gas left him with an itch between his shoulder blades, with a sense of impending disaster. He was as jumpy as Sam in his own way, his temper short, his patience for pretty much anyone or anything who wasn't Sam at a record low.

About the only time it ever eased up was at night, in the dark, when hands he kept to himself reached out for the touch that had made them twitch all day. Dean didn't even know how to describe it because it wasn't just contact, and it wasn't just to reassure himself that Sam was okay no matter how often he told himself that. It wasn't just because it seemed like Sam spent half his wakening life in a thwarted state of readiness, craving contact on a whole other level from Dean. That Dean spent his days half hard didn't come from the same place as Sam's arousal. Denying Sam wasn't an option but denying himself was still pretty much on the table.

Only he hadn't. He'd reached for Sam first just to keep Sam from having to ask every damn time. Like it was a favor he needed Dean to fulfill over and over. An obligation.

Dean knew himself too well. He wasn't that noble. Awkwardness and morality aside, his brother was a pleasure to touch, was easy and long past shy in bed if he ever had been. Dean suspected not. And he wanted to know that. It had come over him gradually, need giving way to curiosity, the sheer mechanics of two guys opening to the possibilities.

The first time Sam had put his mouth on Dean's dick he thought he might die from it. "Give back," was what Sam had said. It had felt like Sam had given him pretty much everything. Pride, strength, trust…

And the last was the one cutting close to the bone. Dean wanted Sam in a way he hadn't expected, in a way he thought he'd never want, or never give into.

He wanted Sam pretty much the way the fucking shape shifters had told Sam, the way Sam's all too believable double had implied. Whispering possibilities, planting doubts, all of it tangled up together in the same way Sam was losing the distinction between waking and sleeping, pleasure and pain. But he wanted to see what Sam was like when he didn't need it so badly, when wanting would be enough, when the first priority was to feel pleasure, not find a way to end pain. He wanted to hear Sam laugh in bed, or just see him smile, to see if he could lose himself to Dean's touch and his mouth the way Dean completely lost it when Sam touched him, forgetting why this was necessity and not desire.

Dean hadn't lost the distinctions -- he still knew right from wrong, which made it his job to make sure Sam still knew the difference.

Easier to say than do when he had Sam in his arms, tense and shaken and harder than a man as exhausted as he was had any right to be. Right and wrong lost all their force when Sam would rather suffer than ask for more than he had already.

So there were degrees, a whole litany of things that were incredibly wrong and Sam in pain, physical or mental, was at that the top of the list of the incredibly wrong things in Dean's world.

And right underneath that was the also very wrong fact that Dean would sincerely like to make love to his brother without adding to number one. Not a trick he was going to be able to pull out of his father's journal.

"Need to stop…" Sam muttered and came out of his doze with a shift and a stretch that made him wince and Dean took a breath, tried to recall the dozen or so road signs they'd passed over the last couple of hours.

"We're almost to the state line. Should be a welcome center. Can you wait or should I--"

"I can wait," Sam said and as if to prove it, fished around in the floor boards for a bottle of water and took a swallow. The nap had done him some good, put a little color in his face, eased the bruising around his eyes.

Twenty minutes later Dean pulled into the Welcome Center, unthrilled by parking in the bright sunshine. But the center offered shade under the trees that hadn't been clear cut when it was built and the building itself was air conditioned and double-doored so that it was noticeably cooler inside. Sam stopped by the rack of informational pamphlets and advertisements, picking out a few while Dean found himself staring at the TV monitor over the information desk, watching a live news feed from the fires burning outside Murphy. He nudged Sam who looked. It switched to weather a few seconds later and Sam headed for the bathrooms.

They were crowded, even the men's room and Dean made it in and out while leaving Sam waiting for one of the four stalls.

The women's room was even more crowded as they usually were and Dean put his back to the wall dividing the two sides. He felt a kind of prickle along his scalp and glanced around to see a woman in line smiling at him. She was in her twenties, long brown hair gathered up loosely on her head, a few sweat curled tendrils escaping, long brown legs and shorts that Dean wasn't entirely sure were legal in North Carolina. The red t-shirt she wore would have been considered modest if it weren't at least two sizes too small for her.

Not that Dean was complaining in particular and he smiled back. She tilted her head and gave him a long full body look that made him want to grit his teeth. What was it about the bold ones that just made his brains drop to his pants? She was close to the door but she beckoned him over and he moved, glancing back to make sure Sam hadn't come out and missed him.

"Help you?" he asked, and she grinned and bent her head to his ear.

"Your fly's unzipped," she whispered. "Not that I mind but I thought you should know."

He looked down and then turned to the wall. Like anyone that did look wouldn't see. "Thanks," he said tightly.

"My pleasure," she said. "You do that by accident or you just keep it ready for family?" she whispered. Her eyes glittered and then she was gone, pushing through the women's room door.

It took a second for her words to sink in, Dean not sure he'd heard her right or seen what he thought he'd seen. But then he didn't think about it, just went after her, only to find the other women in line suddenly squawking and protesting and getting shrill and he backed off, swearing, and ducked back into the men's room.

"Sam!" he called and found his brother at the sink. He got a grip on himself and calmed the fuck down. "Let's get a move on. I want to get there before nightfall."

Sam only nodded and dried his hands, followed Dean out and then Dean stopped him and glanced at the line to the women's room. He pressed money into his brother's hand. "You want to grab us a couple of sodas for the road?" he asked.

"Sure. You okay?" Sam asked him.

"Yeah. Just want to get going. I'm going to check at the desk, see if they can recommend some places in Murphy to stay."

Sam gave him an odd look but went.

There was an older woman just coming out of the bathroom and Dean stopped her. "Excuse me ma'am. Could you do me a favor?" he asked in his best, I'm-a-nice-boy tone. "My sister went into the bathroom a while ago and I'm a little worried."

Her face softened immediately. "You want me to check?"

"If you could. I might have missed her. She's tall, dark hair, red t-shirt. Her name is…Kerry," he said and she nodded and went back inside.

She came out a few moments later and shook her head. "I didn't see her and she didn't answer," she said apologetically.

He smiled and thanked her. "She may have slipped by me. Thanks. Excuse me," he said as Sam came back toward him. "I'll check with my brother."

"Brother and a sister? Big family?"

"Something like that," Dean said. "Thanks."

Sam offered him the can, sipping at his own. "You ready?" he asked and Dean hesitated, staring at the women's room.

"Yeah, just enjoying the air conditioning." He should tell Sam. He should tell him and then they should go, except he wasn't sure, now. And even if it was one of them there wasn't a damn thing he could do here, in the middle of the Welcome Center, even if he had his gun, which he did not.

But Sam was waiting, starting to look nervous, and Dean popped the top on the soda can and headed for the door.

Sam didn't push although he gave Dean a couple of sideways glances when they pulled out before he settled in to look more closely at the pamphlets he'd picked up.

And for the next two hundred miles, Dean kept checking the rearview and anyone that passed them, hoping for a glimpse of a red shirt and not sure what he'd do if he saw her. Or if she'd even look the same.

Anywhere and anyone.

They were so totally fucked.

Baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked the floor
used to live alone before I knew ya
But I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Our love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

~~~Hallelujah (kd lang/Leonard Cohen)

Part 2
Sam opened his eyes and stared out the window. He could barely see Dean's reflection in the glass, superimposed over the passing landscape, shimmering in and out as the light and shadows played across the car. If he concentrated, he could hear Dean's finger tapping on the steering wheel, the low timbre of his brother's voice under the music, keeping it low in case Sam happened to doze off when Dean would much rather have the music blasting and the windows down.

How strange that everything about their existence had come down to that; to do whatever was necessary for Sam to get more than a few minutes sleep in a day.

"You can turn it up," he said and Dean glanced at him, then grinned, and Sam found himself grinning in return, even as he hid a wince when Dean cranked the volume. "Smoke on the Water" was cued up, and even Sam couldn't help but laugh at the irony.

An hour later, Dean had cut the music off and turned over to the news. They'd started seeing trailing smoke miles back down the road, and now, as they cut off the four lane and onto a less occupied state road, they could smell it.

The reports and updates repeated about every fifteen minutes and after listening to the same report twice Sam turned the radio off. Even with the windows up, the smell of smoke was thick and if he looked hard enough, Sam could see the flickering of flames along the ground, crawling up the slopes of a road embankment, a breeze pushing the fire and the smoke along the ground. The emergency personnel seemed to think they could keep them under control; the fires were low, and so far, despite the depth of forests along this stretch of the state, they hadn't done more than scorch a few trees. Not out of control…but they kept starting and no one knew why or how.

A particularly strong scent of smoke made Sam jerk even though he hadn't been dozing. Dean rested a hand on his shoulder without glancing at him. "I can find another route," he offered.

"No. No, I'm okay…sooner we get there, sooner we can start checking to find out if Dad's been here."

Dean gave his shoulder a squeeze, then pushed the speed limit a little more.

"Any ideas?" Sam asked him, watching the smoke rise and dissipate.

"Lots of things start fires. Including poltergeists."

"In the woods?"

Dean shrugged and grinned. "Probably not unless there's some kind of bizarre commune way back yonder."

"You know, you talk like that when we get to Murphy, and people will think you're making fun of them.

"If I talk like this when we get to Murphy, I will be making fun of them." Dean pulled his sunglasses off and rubbed at his eyes. Though the fires weren't really dangerously close to the road, the smoke was pretty much filtering in everywhere. "You got the stuff from the welcome center?"

Sam did. The pamphlets tended to be thin on substantiative information, but it gave them a place to start. "Take your pick," Sam sighed glancing over them. "Trail of Tears, Civil War, Appalachian folklore…Giant Leeches."

"Giant leeches?"

Sam grinned. "Yup. In a pool of water."

"I'm thinking that's probably not our fire starter," Dean said.

"Probably not. Something local maybe…more recent. It could also be something else -- arson, meteorites."

Dean glanced over at him. "I think they might have figured out meteorites."

Sam shrugged. "I'm just saying -- it's been dry. Doesn't take much to start a grass fire."

It took them another thirty minutes to reach town. Which, despite being the county seat, consisted primarily of a two or three street business district. Murphy was a tourist town mostly and even though summer was nearly over, what rooms weren't filled by tourists were being occupied by emergency service and not a few news crews.

After the fourth try, Sam sat on the hood of the car and watched Dean pace a little. "We can camp, Dean. There's a place just outside of town."

"I can't believe there's no rooms," Dean said. "Less than two thousand people live in this town."

There were other hotels, but nothing they could afford. "It's just for a day or so."

"I'd like to be able to shower."

Sam double checked the brochure. "They have showers. Bathrooms. Vending area and a Laundromat. It's eighteen dollars a night."

"We could try the next town."

"Dean," Sam slid off the car. Dean looked truly agitated. "It’s not like we haven't done it before."

"Uh, did it escape you, that we're maybe looking for something out there," he said waving his arm toward the mountains, "that likes to set fires for no good reason? Or it could rain."

Sam looked up at the clear skies and then eyed his brother. A breeze tugged at his hair and cooled the sweat on his skin. "Then we sleep in the car."

"It's hot…the great outdoors has no A/C."

"We're in the mountains. Chances are it will be cooler at night here than in Memphis," Sam said. Dean glared at him and then eased back against the front bumper.

"I'd rather have walls between us and ….whatever."

Which made no sense at all, especially not coming from Dean. Sam settled in beside him, shoulders just barely touching.

"Walls won't keep them out," he said quietly.

Dean shoved his hands in his jeans and kicked at the gravel of the parking lot. "I know, but I like the illusion of having something between us and them. Or it…" Dean was almost sulking. It wasn't a good look on him.

Sam didn't know how to answer that. Dean had never objected to camping out before. Bitched about it, yes. Groused about gathering firewood, about clearing rocks away for a decent place to roll out the sleeping bags stored in the trunk. Whined about things being damp in the morning. Those objections were all surface.

"We can check around town first, see if anyone's seen Dad," Sam offered, tabling the discussion.

"I checked the hotels. Showed his picture…" Dean said looking up again. "Nothing."

"Then I guess we check the bars and diners," Sam said, looking along the main street. "I'll take that side--"

"No. We'll do it together," Dean said and gone was the petulance. Sam opened his mouth to argue. "Don't. Sam…seriously. I'm pissed off enough."

Sam felt the heat rise in his cheeks and looked away. "Fine. Let's get started then."

He understood it. He'd understood in Denver but it rankled, rubbed him raw in all the wrong places. Dean thought it was because Sam didn't like to be told what to do and that was part of it.

It had way more to do with the fact that Sam didn't know what to do every time he was brought face to face with the fact that Dean was just as scared as he was.

Like he needed to be reminded.

The sun was setting by the time they checked the last small restaurant in town. No joy, but they picked up some dinner and headed back to the car. Sam took it as sign that Dean got the overlarge thermos he carried filled with coffee before they headed back.

"So, campground," Dean said.

"Just east of town," Sam said and gave him the directions.

It wasn't bad, small but well kept, and also pretty much empty. There were two camper trucks occupying the pads closest to the front of the campground, and another pop up camper close to the cinder-block building that housed the bathrooms, showers, vending area, and Laundromat. "Be filled up in a couple of weeks," the woman at the small permanent cabin at the entrance said as she gave them their windshield pass. She glanced at their car. "You tent camping?"

"Yes, ma'am," Sam said, handing over the money and taking the receipt.

"Might want to pick a spot on the back side of the facilities," she said. "Grass there. Ones up front are all gravel. I got cord wood for five dollars a stack. You should be able to find kindling along the woods there. Storm a few weeks ago, knocked down all kinds of stuff."

It wasn't a bad idea and Sam offered the extra five. It was still less than half of what even a crappy hotel room would cost them. Sam thanked her and got back in the car. They found a grassy pad a couple of hundred yards from the showers.

Dean had a tent too although Sam eyed it dubiously. "Uh, isn't that from your stint with the boy scouts?"

Dean eyed the small pup tent fondly. "It is. Look, real canvas!" he said and tossed it to Sam.

Sam jerked his head away. "Look! Real mold!" he said and then sniffed again. "And…I don't want to know what that is."

"Spread it out. Just need to air it out and here," he tossed Sam a bottle of Febreze.

Sam crowded up against his shoulder and looked into the black plastic container Dean was currently searching through. Mostly it held camping gear but the odds and ends were far more disparate than the rest of the gear in Dean's trunk. "Woolite for Delicates? You have an underwear fetish I don't know about?"

"Hey, now," Dean said indignantly. "It's good for getting bloodstains out of leather…probably works on giant leech slime too."

Sam grinned and shook out the small tent, trying not to breathe too deeply. "I don't think leeches leave slime. That would be giant slugs."

"Whichever. I just like to be prepared," Dean said giving a mock boy scout salute. "Ahhh," he said then, sounding pleased. "Okay…I knew I kept this for a reason."

"It" turned out to be a rolled up foam mattress.

"Now who's being a pussy?" Sam teased and he spread out the stakes. Remarkably, the tent kit seemed to be complete. It was moldy along one edge and barely big enough for the both of them, but the canvas only had a couple of small tears and the ropes looked like they'd been replaced sometime in the last fifteen years.

"Being a pussy does not mean denying myself simple comforts," Dean said haughtily. "It means whining about it when there are no comforts and nothing to do about it. You good there? I'm going to get kindling."

"I'm good," Sam said and was surprised a second later when Dean squatted next to him and offered him a loaded SIG. Sam took it and checked the safety.

"Just in case," Dean said and rested his hand on Sam's head for a second as he got up and headed for the woods.

Setting up camp came back to Sam automatically, even though it had been awhile. The Febreze was a new addition but it worked. Unrolling the sleeping bags, he sprayed them too, then hesitated, staring at them before taking a deep breath and opening both to spread them over Dean's foam pad, then grabbing the extra blankets out of the trunk. It might get cooler but it wasn't like to get cold. The blankets he folded in half and laid one on each side. Let Dean make of it what he wanted.

Between the foam and the double layer of sleeping bags, it felt pretty good and Sam flopped down, head toward the opening and closed his eyes. Just the simple tasks of setting up camp left him feeling exhausted. Well that and a couple of days with no sleep, compounded by stress. His head had been pounding for the last hour, a dull ache behind his eyes that was unrelenting. Closing his eyes helped because everything was too bright. Too sharp.

"Yo, Sam. Help me out here," Dean said and Sam woke with a start, rubbing at his eyes to see Dean with an armload of kindling.

"You were the boy scout. You need my help for this?" Sam said incredulously. "You woke me for this?"

Dean grinned at him, but the smile softened. "Yeah, well, fire. Dinner. You need to eat almost as much as you need to sleep."

Dean said nothing about the layout of the tent, only set to building a small fire, more for light than anything. Above them the pine trees rattled under wind Sam couldn't feel and that didn't disturb their fire.

Sam stretched out on the opposite side of the fire, only moving when Dean reached across to offer him his dinner. "I feel like we should have gotten hot dogs or something," Dean commented, taking a bite out of the barbecue ribs he'd picked up for himself. "Marshmallows."

"Make s'mores and sing songs?"

Dean shrugged, and tossed a bone into the fire. When he looked up, a flickering glow passed over his eyes.

Sam scrambled backward, reaching, and realized he'd left the gun in the tent. He was on his feet and dove toward the open trunk for the shotgun.

"Sam…" Dean was on his feet, hands spread wide.

The shotgun wasn't loaded with silver, only salt. Sam hesitated. Dean hadn't been gone that long…

"Sam, talk to me. I'm not moving, but talk to me," Dean said, voice even and low, his eyes not on the gun but on Sam's face. His mouth was set; and there was smudge of barbecue sauce at the corner of his mouth.

"Eyes…" Sam said. It was all he could get out, the constriction in his chest making it hurt, the thrum of panic in his mind making him dizzy.

"My eyes?" Dean asked and Sam nodded. Dean watched him. "Could it have been the fire?"

"I don't know," Sam said, unsure. It could have been.

"Sam…Sammy, take a deep breath. I swear, I'm not moving from right here. Not until you're sure. Just breathe, Sam."

Dean or not, the advice was sound and Sam did. Took one deep breath, then another.

He'd never really tried it before, and, God, if he was wrong… "The handcuffs. In the trunk, put them on," Sam said, voice more steady.

Dean gave him a half smile, encouraging, eyes wide with concern, but his body was tense. Not so surprising seeing as no matter how scared Sam was, he could still hold a gun steady. "Good plan. It is, Sam. Moving now, okay?"

Sam nodded and stepped back while Dean pulled out the cuffs. He held up the key for Sam to see and laid it on the bumper before putting the cuffs on himself. "There…" he pulled the chain linking the two cuffs tight so Sam could see they were really on. "What now, Sam? Because I don't know how you tell…I don't know what it takes."

Sam wasn't sure either but the fact that Dean had done this pushed the panic back a little more. He set the gun down on the edge of the open trunk, and stuck the cuff key in his pocket. Already it was getting easier to think. He moved closer to Dean.

"Okay, this part of the plan -- not so great," Dean said and Sam stopped. "Sam…think, bro'. If I'm one of them, even with cuffs, do you really want to get within arm's reach?"

"It's okay," Sam said and dug the key out. His head still ached, but he was pretty sure. It wasn't even what Dean had said. The shifter could be clever, deceptive…

He unlocked the cuffs, pulling them free of Dean's wrists.

Only to have Dean suddenly thrust a leg behind him and shift his weight forward. Sam went down on his back like a felled tree. Dean crouched over him, expression grim, anger glinting in his eyes -- which remained their own color. "Seriously stupid plan, Sam…Jesus! What if you'd been wrong? What if I had been one of them?" Dean demanded even while he offered a hand to haul Sam back up.

Dean let him go when he was on his feet again and glared at him, then stalked away and put his back to the fire. He was silent and tense for a long time and Sam didn’t move, only watched him, the set of his shoulders, the way Dean stared blindly into the darkness.

Dean was right, of course. Sure or not, Sam needed to be more careful. The relief had hit him as quickly as the fear had. And he couldn’t explain it.

And I wasn’t wrong, Sam thought, but Dean turned on him, face still set.

“Why didn’t you shoot?”

Sam stared at him. “Because I wasn’t sure. What? You wish I had?” Sam asked, jaw dropping.

“It was rock salt, Sam. It wouldn’t have killed me.”

“And if you were one of them it probably wouldn’t have stopped you either!” Sam shot back and shoved his hand through his hair. “Shoot first, ask questions later? What if I’d had the SIG?”

“I wish to God you had,” Dean snapped. “Sam…” He gave a frustrated groan and leaned over, hands on his knees, dropping his head. He swore, pretty loudly and colorfully for a couple of seconds. When he came up, his face was flushed and his jaw set. Fear and anger were so plain on his face Sam took a half step forward. “God, Sam…don’t you think I’d rather die than let them have a chance at you again?” he said, voice tight and hoarse.

He meant it. The fire gave just enough light to make Dean’s eyes shine, moisture making them bright.

The rest of the world slid out of focus so suddenly Sam was dizzy. Dean saw it, was there with a hand on Sam’s arm, raw concern and fear written on Dean's face.

So close. It could happen… A fraction more fear, if Sam had been as strung out as he’d been that morning...a glimpse, a glimmer, the fear that blanked out everything else.

So close, and then Dean had an arm around his waist pulling him back toward the trunk of the car and making him sit, shoving the shotgun out of the way.

Dean should never let him near another weapon. Ever.

Dean pushed Sam's head down between his knees, kept him from falling over, rubbed his back. When Sam pushed up again, Dean twisted away to snag a bottle of water from the case in the trunk.

He took a drink of water and looked up. They were far enough from town that there was no light bleed. The stars were sharp, bright pinpoints of light, the sky deep dark blue. The tops of trees offered a feathered frame for the sky, the wind still rippling but too far up: Sam couldn't feel it, only the damp, heavy pressure of the air on his skin, like he was standing in a steamy room. Dean was still rubbing his back. Some of the tension had bled out of Dean’s body, but he was still unhappy, unsure what to do.

“I’d rather they have me than for you to die,” Sam said finally, dropping his gaze. He didn’t look at Dean. “To be the one that did it…”


“Dean…you have to trust me on this. That I know. I know you don’t believe it. I wish I could tell you what it is, how it feels or how I know, but I can’t.”

Dean drew a sharp breath and dropped his hand. Sam tried not to flinch. Dean couldn’t trust him…no reason at all to. He shouldn’t be surprised. He couldn’t trust himself.

He got up and looked down at his food, kicked the remains into the fire and crawled into the tent, lying down with his head toward the opening and dropped his arm over his eyes.

Dean stayed by the car.

A short time later, he heard Dean move, close the trunk. He sat by the fire for a while and Sam rolled over, resting his head on his arms.

He might have dozed but not deeply because when Dean called him, he heard him immediately. “Come on. It’s late, I want to grab a shower.”

“Go on, then.”

“Sam…” Dean crouched in front of him. “I’m not leaving you here by yourself. I’ve come close enough to having a heart attack once tonight, okay? Plus it'll help you sleep.”

I was  sleeping, Sam though crossly, but he rolled over and got up, crawling out of the tent.

Dean built the fire up a bit and reached into the trunk to pull out towels and their kits. “Gun?” Dean asked quietly.

Sam found it tucked under the blanket in the tent, and offered it to Dean hilt first. Dean made a face but took it and tucked it into the back of his jeans.

The men’s shower was behind the bathroom. Whitewashed cinder block walls and a concrete floor painted grey was scraped in places revealing the slab beneath. Half the lights were out in the shower, but it looked clean enough, smelling somewhat of mold but mostly of bleach. There were metal bars set in the opening of each shower stall but it was pretty much bring your own privacy. Worn wooden shelves were set just inside each stall for clothes and supplies. It looked like a hundred other campground shower facilities spread across the county. Sam wondered if they got a discount on the battleship gray paint.

They took the two stalls in the back corner and Sam smiled while he was undressing at Dean’s “Oh, yes,” when the hot water came on almost immediately.

It did feel good, and despite being ready to fall asleep, the hot water did a lot to ease the aches Sam still felt in his back and shoulders, but it also made his headache worse, so much so he let the water pound on the back of his neck in the hopes of easing it.

He heard a skitter and a soft bump and opened his eyes to see a bar of soap, still spinning slightly on the floor.

"Dropped my soap," Dean said and Sam turned, a prickle at the back of his neck. Dean was grinning, a cold wolfish leer; in his hand he held the SIG.

Before it even registered, Dean rushed him, slamming him into the wall of the shower, grabbing Sam's wrists to pull them behind him, then shoving him hard into the wall again. Sam tasted blood, feeling Dean crowd up behind him, pressing his body to Sam's and pinning Sam to the wall. "Oldest cliché in the book and you fell for it…" Dean sneered at him, and jammed Sam's right arm high up into his shoulder, twisting it until Sam gasped with pain. His other hand clawed at the concrete, trying to stop the twist before it dislocated his shoulder


"Dean can't help you. He never could," the shape shifter snarled and twisted Sam around to look at the open end of the stall. The gun pressed under Sam's jaw. "And when I get done with you, Sammy-boy. I'm gonna do him too." He caressed Sam's jaw with the gun, made him look.

Sam could only stare. He couldn't see anything of Dean but his arm, his wrist with the two black thongs extending beyond the edge of the shower. Water spattered over his skin, tinged pink, a rivulet of red water trickling toward the drain in the center of the room.

"Did you, really, really, really think you would ever be safe?" it whispered in his ear. The arm holding his was bare, without the leather bracelets Dean wore. Sam could feel the thing's dick against his ass, hard and wet, already rubbing between his buttocks. "You are so pathetically easy. You couldn't shoot me earlier. I told you to get the gun and you gave it to me. Jesus, Sam. No wonder your brother thinks you're so much dead weight. He thought so before, but now…'re like an anchor dragging him down. But you got him to blow you, so points to you, Sam. We could not have done a better job ourselves. He's lost his edge, and he's fucking his baby brother…really. Thank you," The gun was between them now, the shape shifter holding his dick, guiding it inside Sam. "Don’t move, Sam…the safety's off and I kind of like your hole nice and tight, just like it is."

Usually they teased and tormented him, eased him into being ready, being aroused and turning it on him. But there was none of it this time. This was the docks beneath Milwaukee's waterfront. The smells were different but the pain was the same. Sam choked on his own blood, feeling the blunt pressure against his ass. The burn in his shoulder told him the muscles were over strained.

"I gotta wonder if Dean's ass is as tight as yours," it said, pushing against him, hard. "You want a report when I'm done?"

"Fuck you…"

"No, no thanks. I'm good with who I'm fucking, right now. You should have shot me earlier, Sam. But you were so sure." It laughed and the edge of a hand spread the crack of his buttocks wider.

He was sure. Sam clutched at that. He'd been sure. So sure and yet…

No. No…this was wrong. This wasn't real… He grabbed for that, forcing the fear and the panic back…he could tell.

He had to be able to tell.

"Get the hell out of my head," Sam snarled and shoved backwards, hard, twisting his body to slam the shifter into the side wall. The gun skittered out of its hand, but Sam slipped, and it reached for him.

"Get the fuck off him!" Dean jerked it back. Dean standing there, fully dressed, not naked or bleeding, but looking murderous. Sam stared at the floor but the outstretched arm was gone. There was no blood…

Only there was, spattering the floor beneath him.

Dean had the thing by its hair and an arm and slammed its head into the wall. More blood, stained the white concrete, mixing with the water on the floor. It went down and stayed down.

"Sam…get the gun," Dean said, watching the creature, the tangled, awkward tumble of limbs. Nothing living could sprawl like that.

Sam wiped at his face and still tasted blood, but he reached for the gun, got unsteadily to his feet.

Was he dreaming? He couldn’t tell, he didn't know. He aimed at the creature only to find Dean right in front of him. Unmarked, unharmed, concern warming his eyes. "No, no, Sam…me. You need to shoot me."


Dean came closer. "Sam, you're dreaming. This is a nightmare. Your nightmare. I'm not me…I'm not even one of them. I'm just a dream, something you constructed to protect yourself. And it's good, Sam," Dean said, voice warm with approval. "You feel safe with me. You know I'll protect you…but you don't need me now. You did this…you got yourself out of it. It's just a nightmare…" Dean stepped forward and the gun pressed against his chest. "But this is it, Sam…this is how you beat them. You know how they say, if you dream you die, your heart stops? That's the way to get them, Sam…kill them in your dreams and they'll die out there…"

Sam stared at Dean's face, at the grin. So sure of it, that this was the answer. And if it was a dream…then this wasn't Dean, not really…just his own mind desperately trying to salvage some sanity.

"Come on, Sam. Be done with it…you'll wake up and I'll really be there." Dean's hand came up to cup his neck. Pressed their foreheads together. Sam held on to the gun, but now it was pressed under Dean's chin, but he didn't seem afraid, seemed so proud, so sure…

"No," Sam said and tried to pull the gun back. "No. I'm not sure. I'm not…"

"It's a dream, Sam. I promise you it's a dream. Trust me."

Dean's eyes were familiar, the gentle stroke of his thumb along the nape of Sam's neck, soothing, comforting…"Come on, Sam. You can't keep going like this. You've got to break their hold on you…you're the only one who can. Just let go…pull the trigger and it will all be over."


Dean covered his hand with his own, tightened his fingers around Sam's where they held the trigger and closed his eyes.

"Just let go of the fear, Sam…"

This wasn't real. It couldn't be…but the fear was. The fear was making him blind, overriding what was real. And it wasn't here…it was…

Sam held his breath, shoved it all away; Dean's voice, the feel of the gun in his hands, the slick, wet feel of the concrete under his feet. He could still taste blood…his own. And it was real…and beyond that…

Like a rock in the middle of sea… a tree in the middle of a field…too big to be ignored, too solid to be torn free… He could be blind and deaf, paralyzed. Unable to taste or smell, and Dean would still be there…

"Let go…come on, Sam… let go…you can wake up…you've got to wake up…"

"Sam, please…God, don't do this…"

Sam's eyes opened to shadows, to the feel of a heavy body on his own, hands wrapped around his, tugging and pulling. There was a cool caress of metal on his throat, the rougher texture of knuckles.

Dean's hand over the muzzle of the SIG, his fingers trying to keep Sam from pulling the trigger.

Not the showers, not the damp. Not a smiling, calm Dean, but a Dean who was almost sobbing in fear and panic and frustration, as he tried to keep Sam from killing one of them. Sam let his hand relax. He tasted blood in his mouth.

"Sam?" Dean felt the difference, let out a breath and carefully pushed Sam's hand back, away from his head. When Dean pulled the gun away, Sam didn't stop him. Once the gun was safely out of reach, Dean dropped his forehead to Sam's chest. "Oh, shit…Jesus, Sam…I couldn’t get you to wake up. I couldn't…"

Sam felt the pain in his shoulder still, the ache further down and deeper but he lifted a hand and threaded his fingers through Dean's hair. "Shhhhh….I'm sorry. I'm awake now…it's okay."

Dean lifted his head, but it was dark, shadows on shadows. They were in the tent, but if Sam tilted his head back, he could still see the stars. He sniffed and tasted blood again…brought his hand to his face and felt the blood from his nose…the taste was bitter and metallic.

The rest of it rushed back and Sam felt the roll in his stomach. "I'm going to be sick," he warned his brother.

Dean didn't hesitate, only heaved Sam bodily up and forward enough for Sam to roll to his hands and knees and empty the contents of his stomach onto the grass. Twice more and Sam collapsed, almost falling in his own vomit. Dean pulled him up again, away from the mess, then pulled off his t-shirt and poured bottled water on it to wipe at Sam's face. Sam watched as Dean stared at the cloth. Dean twisted away and fumbled for the flashlight.

The blood was bright red against white. Sam squeezed his eyes shut when Dean flicked the light over his face. "Oh, Christ, Sam..."

Up again but against Dean's chest. His arm supported Sam's head and he pressed the edge of his shirt to Sam's nose. "Where else, Sam? Where else are you hurt?"

Sam rested his eyes for a moment, before smiling up at Dean. "No place you want to stick your shirt," he said.

Dean didn't think that was funny at all. "I thought you were sleeping…you weren't screaming, or fighting you were just…" Dean looked away and closed his eyes.


"I don’t know…it was just…wrong. Like you couldn't breathe…I thought you woke up. You went for the gun--Jesus, Sam. What happened?"

"I'm not sure," Sam said and swallowed. "We were in the showers…you and me, only they had you…you had you and me." The taste of blood made him nauseous and he rolled over just in case. Dean's hand rested on his head and shoulder, stroking lightly. "They're getting desperate maybe…I think…I don't know…they wanted me to kill you. You saved me, and they wanted me to kill you. In my dream. Did you dream?" he asked, tilting his head back to look up.

Dean shook his head. "I've been sitting out there. You fell asleep but it's like…ten o'clock, Sam. I had a …a drink." He sounded guilty.

"If I felt any less likely to hurl, I'd want one too," Sam said. "So you were awake." Not Dean then….not really, but summoned, either by Sam or the shape shifters, to step in. That was odd. Dean was usually his tormentor, not his savior. But they'd twisted that too somehow.

"Yeah. You were…talking, but I couldn't make out the words. I came to check on you and it was, you weren't breathing right. Not like you were choking, just…so long between. I tried to wake you…" Dean wiped at Sam's face again and swore when his hand came away bloody. "It's not stopping, Sam. Maybe we should find a clinic."

"It's okay."

"It's not okay! Jesus, Sam! You nearly blew your own head off!"

But he hadn't. Or Dean's.

He pushed himself up, planning to stand and made it as far as his knees, before he sat back, suddenly and without really meaning to.

"Who, whoa…whoa, Sam? Are you going to pass out?"

He should be so lucky, but Dean held onto him, sat next to him, gave him something to lean against. The wind rattled in the trees, making them clack and drum together and Sam stared at them, wanting the breeze to come lower to touch him but he still couldn't feel it. Even when it rushed through the grasses he couldn't feel its touch, just the steady pouring of heat and fear off Dean.

Everything shimmered and shook and he looked for solid ground, something to hang onto.

"Sam…Sam… Come on, man. You are scaring the shit out of me. What's going on? What are you doing?"

He didn't know but Dean was there, fear and anxiety on his face, showing it like he rarely did and Sam tried to pull it together not wanting his brother to freak out or break. If Dean broke, if he lost it, Sam wasn't sure what he'd do. Dying was easier than seeing that.

He wasn't sure the earth wasn't moving under him but this was North Carolina and not California. He closed his eyes. It had all felt so real. More real than most of his dreams, when some part of him knew they were nightmares, even if he couldn't break free of them. This had been different. They'd turned on each other…to get him to do something that would…that would…

…have real consequences. Like everything else…like the murmurs and touches that kept him unsettled and desperate. That had made him turn to Dean as his only solace and comfort. That was turning Dean into someone, something, he'd never wanted to be, making him edgy. He was losing his edge. They were wearing them down. Worry about Sam was wearing Dean down.

It was what they wanted. One of them was going to slip, turn their back for a minute…Dean would be too busy worrying about Sam and he'd miss something. They couldn't get to Dean in his sleep they way they could Sam, but they knew how to get to him. Knew how to break him…they wouldn't have to even touch him.

Sam could just have easily blown Dean's head off tonight. The gun was real, the struggle mirroring what he'd been dreaming.

Sam's nose was bleeding even though it didn't feel sore. His face had never slammed into the wall. The aches in his body weren't from real trauma…

God, he was helping them.

They told truth in their lies, walked the fine line between telling him things he'd never believe and things that could be true, and while he was denying everything as a lie, they told the truth.

And they knew…knew that Dean would rather die…

So would Sam.

"Come on, Sam…" Dean was pulling his arm up and over his shoulder, urging Sam to his feet. "Come on…there has to be a hospital or something--" Dean was muttering. "Help me out here, bro'. You're a little too big to carry."

"It's just a nosebleed…"

"Right, and we're just going for a little ride." Dean said and got Sam to the back seat, shoving stuff off it. "Put your head back and hang on."

The seat wasn't long enough for Sam to stretch out but he got a knee up and the other foot on the floorboard.


"Shut up, Sam. We're going. Make sure you aren't hemorrhaging into your brain or something."

"I'm still talking," Sam pointed out.

"Yeah, but you aren't making any sense."

"I don't think that has anything to do with a nosebleed."

Dean sighed and stroked his hand through Sam's hair. "Sam…Look. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's altitude sickness---"

"These are the Appalachians not the Himalayas," Sam pointed out. Dean's other hand crept to his chest gripping Sam's shirt.

Sam covered his hand there, felt the fingers in his hair slip along the side of his face, curve under his jaw. Dean took a ragged breath.

"Okay," Sam said. The hitch in Dean's breathing was more than he could take. Given what he'd just been through, that seemed really strange. "There's a medical center on 64. We passed it coming in."

The fingers on his shirt tightened but Dean didn't move for a second. The next breath he took was deep and slow. "Right. On 64." He got up but then leaned over Sam, his face gray and pale under the car's dome light. His hand brushed over Sam's forehead, then down pushing the towel away before he pressed his mouth gently to Sam's. It lasted only a moment and then Dean was gone, closing the door, moving quickly to gather up their stuff.

Dean tasted of blood and fear.

They tasted the same.

The woman who'd checked them in had been right. There was plenty of debris and fallen branches and they probably could have saved the extra five for the amount of wood close to the campground. There was only so much Dean could carry in his arms but a second trip and something to carry the wood in would have them set for the night and the morning too.

Sam had finished the set up and Dean moved quietly, easing the first load of wood down on the far side of the fire ring, before checking on Sam.

Sam was asleep on his side on top of the sleeping bags and foam. The SIG was tucked under the edge of the sleeping bag within easy reach. Sam had one arm tucked under his head and the other pulled to his chest, palm spread on the blanket. His fingers clutched at the blanket like he was clawing at something and Dean frowned and watched, tempted to wake him, but Sam so desperately needed the sleep that he hesitated. Sam twitched once but then exhaled and seemed to settle. Still restless but he wasn’t so agitated it was worth waking him. He'd make his second foray into the woods a fast one, get a fire built, let Sam sleep as long as he could. It wasn’t even dark yet but it would come soon.

He stood up and glanced around the camp. His own gun was tucked up tight against the small of his back, a comforting weight but probably useless.

The campers looked like they'd been here a while, a couple of days at least, which gave Dean some slight reassurance that everyone staying here was who they were supposed to be. He'd been studying faces all through town, still uncertain and wary after his little encounter at the state line. He wished he could be even as sure as Sam seemed to be but now, hours later, he still wasn’t sure what he'd seen or heard.   But he wasn't an idiot. Treat it as real until proven otherwise which it probably never would be.

And deal with the fact that if she'd been a shape shifter, she could have long since shed that particular face and body.

He had to get some sleep. One more reason not to wake Sam. Let him sleep as long as he could so if need be he could stay up later and Dean could grab three or four hours without having to worry about Sam's nightmares.

He grabbed up the square of canvas covering a wooden box loaded with herbs, but then couldn’t stop himself from kneeling, reaching down and just barely stroking through Sam's hair. Sam turned his head and Dean closed his eyes. "Be right back, Sam. Just rest," he murmured, so low, even awake Sam wouldn't hear him. But Sam settled again, like he knew anyway.

Maybe he did. Dean got up and quickly headed back to the edge of the woods, chasing the light.

Sam's nose stopped bleeding before they got there and they sat in the car in the parking lot of the Murphy Medical Center for a good ten minutes. It was a small facility but it had an emergency room. The drive had calmed some of Dean's fears, but Sam wasn't going to object again if Dean wanted to go in.

Finally Dean swore softly, glanced over the seat at Sam and backed out of the parking lot. There was a small motor lodge down the street, a place they hadn't checked. The vacancy sign was on.

It was a compromise.

The light in the room made Sam's head pound, but he stripped off his bloodied shirt and jeans, used the bathroom to clean up some and didn't bother getting dressed in case it started up again. Easier to get blood off skin than cloth. He tried to ignore the fact that Dean was hovering protectively close, like he was afraid Sam might still pass out on him. Sam thought Dean looked more like he was ready to crash than Sam actually felt.

The bed was too soft but it was clean and Sam would have been perfectly happy to stay in the tent. Dean turned off the light and slid in beside him, laying silently on his back for long minutes before he rolled over to face Sam.

The hand that touched Sam's face was shaking. Dean's mouth tasted of salt and Sam couldn't tell if it was the lingering taste of blood, or if it was sweat, or tears. He supposed it didn't really matter.

His body had not the slightest interest in responding to Dean's touches, to the reassurance his brother sought by tracing his hands over Sam's face and chest and ribs, along his hips, over his arm. And Dean wasn't hard or urgent, didn't touch Sam's dick or his own, but he kissed and he stroked, like Sam was something not quite real. When he'd finally reassured himself enough (or finished reassuring Sam – it was hard to tell), Sam was laying half on his chest, the sheet twisted between them. Dean slept with one arm around Sam and the other curved under the pillow where his knife and the SIG rested. Ready for anything.

Fatigue pulled at Sam like a strong current, but sleep was a something a little more distant, even after Dean had dropped off, his breathing shallow and steady.

Dreams made real. Nightmares brought to flesh. Sam supposed it didn't really matter any longer if he could tell the difference between dreaming and waking. The shape shifters seemed to move between the two easily enough. But Sam wasn't one of them. There might come a time when he would believe he was, when he disassociated himself so entirely from everything that it wouldn't actually make a difference what was real and what wasn't.

Maybe then he could shape his dreams himself, learn the knack that had, for the most part, eluded him thus far. He didn't know what he'd dream. Maybe that Jessica was still alive. Maybe that he'd finished his degree, moved into a nice house in the suburbs, big yard, getting up every morning to kiss his wife and head into the office. Get old defending the innocent, or working on custody suits, litigation…Laid out like that, it was like a long stretch of road through the Midwest, where nothing changed except the colors of the cows and the shift of seasons indicated by whether the corn was green or brown.

That was a long road. Empty for the most part, a sameness that was both mind-numbing and comforting. He could see himself standing on it, looking down both lengths of the black top, no clear indication which way would lead him anywhere.

But he knew the rumble of that engine like the beat of his own heart. The black finish was shiny, glimmering with heat from the road. Dean must have just washed and waxed it. He slowed down when he saw Sam, pulled to a stop, and leaned over to pop the door. "Where do you want to go?" Dean said with that disarming grin and life in his eyes instead of hollowed fear and anger. Like the road was all he needed, but he wanted someone to share it with.

Sam got in and closed the door, settled back against the familiar leather. "Home," he said, but didn't mean Kansas or Stanford, it wasn't a place to go back to, it was a place that was.

"You want to drive?" Dean asked him and Sam smiled. This had to be a dream. Dean would let him drive but it always took some convincing and he never asked. Occasionally he might tell Sam he was driving because Dean was tired or hurt, but it was always reluctantly.

"No. I'm good," Sam said and he was.

The landscape changed, shifted, became less fields and more flats, that stretched out up into hills. The road rose to a sunset that was gold and purple and vanished beneath an indigo sky that had stars enough to shed light on everything.

The odd light made Dean's eyes darker, hid the lines Sam knew were etching themselves into his skin at his eyes and around his mouth. His fingers traced over Dean's lips trying to smooth the lines away. Dean's fingers wrapped around his and drew them into his mouth, tasting him and Sam felt the ache start deep inside him. Arousal or regret, they were pretty much tangled up and hard to distinguish. "This is not your fault, Sam."

Dean's lips didn't move but Sam heard him anyway, certain and sure.

Part of him was tensed, waiting for this to shift, to twist into something ugly. But it didn't feel the same. He was dreaming and he knew it. The landscape and location kept changing and yet it made sense even though it shouldn’t. It changed without Sam finding a linear place from point A to point B. From sun to stars, to the low 40-watt glare of a bedside lamp and yet still the ceiling was framed by pines, the rustling of needles making a sound with no wind to brush over his skin.

There were no regrets in Dean’s face, even though his smile was little mocking, like he knew it was a dream and was just waiting for Sam to catch on. And he could see Dean’s face, straight on; no sly, sneering half glimpses from behind, or the corner of his eye. His hands were free to move, to feel the muscles in Dean’s arms, the rougher slide of the hair on his legs against Sam’s.

There was no desperation here, just a slow build, lazy but inexorable, Sam’s heart pounding a little harder as Dean’s hands and mouth urged him on and teased him. And he could touch, felt and heard Dean hiss against his throat in appreciation when Sam stroked his dick, thrusting his hips steadily against Sam’s hand. Dean’s hand curved around him too, the palm broader than his own, with more calluses, more firm and sure than Sam’s touch on himself had ever been.

Even as Sam’s breathing grew shallower and shorter, panting through the waves of arousal and stimulation, he knew this was familiar, that he’d made love to Jess this way, slow and easy, more interested in the ride than stopping point. Only he wasn’t dreaming of Jessica and there was no mistaking the press of Dean’s hard, hot body for hers, even in a dream.

“You really need to give it a rest, Sam,” Dean chuckled in his ear, teasing. “I mean, I know I got the looks and you got the brains, but you are seriously pushing it, here.”

“Why don’t I dream of her?’

Dean’s lips and teeth scraped across his throat an up under his ear. “You’re dreaming of someone you love, who loves you, Sam…isn’t that what makes the difference?”

It did, and for just a second, Sam could feel her, see her, smell her hair…see the way she moved. Her laughter. She liked to be on top, to tease Sam that way…and once they’d started doing it that that way, Sam loved it too. Jessica on top of him made lovemaking last longer…

“Knew I liked her…toppy, just like me,” and Dean sounded so serious and yet so not, that Sam could only laugh. Dean grinned at him and shifted, pressing between Sam’s legs.

And Sam tensed when he felt Dean’s fingers? His dick? between his legs. The touch was gone that fast, a flickering impression. “Not going to hurt you, Sam…”

Still a dream, his own, but he almost struggled out of the dream, clawing for the surface of it, just for that brief flash of fear. Dean’s presence faded.

It didn’t matter. It was a dream and Dean wasn’t going to hurt him…and it wasn’t the touch that hurt but the fear of it that made him tense. But it hurt because he didn’t want it, because it was being forced…

Some part of him knew it wasn’t that way all the time…for everyone. He edged away from the thought of how he knew, afraid of drawing something else into his dream that he didn’t want.

“Then do me, Sam…” Dean said, suddenly beneath him, looking just as cocky and confident as ever.

“I don’t know what it feels like,” Sam said, like they were talking about the differences between fabric, cotton or silk, calf leather versus alligator hide, and hadn’t they talked about that once, in some Western wear store in North Dakota? In the shadow of the Black Hills…he could see the wind ruffling the grasses but he couldn’t feel it.

“It shouldn’t scare you, Sam…” Dean said, squatting beneath those shadows, his new boots barely scuffed, jeans torn out at the knee. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. “We can’t live in fear – I mean, we do.” Dean shrugged. “But we have to be more than that, Sam. It’s how we do what we do. How Dad does it…”

“You never seem afraid…” Sam said and knew it wasn’t true. Dean had looked and smelled and tasted like fear for a long time now. “And how come you’re so smart in my dreams?”

Dean laughed at him. “It’s your dream, Sam…I don’t think it’s me that so smart. Although, you know…I am. Smart, that is…”

Smart ass was more like it. “I figure if you’re mad at me, you can’t be mad at yourself,” Dean said and the Black Hills were gone and Sam thought the room looked familiar...but nothing distinguished it from a hundred others.

Dean was pressed against him, laying along the full length of Sam’s body, but he didn’t feel heavy. If anything, while he felt solid and real there was no sensation of weight at all. . “You know what it feels like, Sam, to have someone love you, make love to you. You’ve just forgotten…”

Had to be a dream. His brother would never in a million years, ever be so quietly tender with his words. Tender yes, gentle – Sam already knew that. And if he could lose that fear…the less he feared the less of a hold it had on him.

"You can stop it any time, Sam…"

Except he hadn't been able to, in the past -- only he had. When anger overrode fear…

"You'd never do this…"

"I'm not doing it now…I'm sleeping, Sam…right beside you."

Dean was…and that Sam could feel, the press of his brother's body along his side, the weight of his arm across Sam's chest, the heat between them prickling his skin with sweat. The same narrowing of focus while the rest of the world, his dream, bled out at the edges…the pressure was there but insubstantial, like a memory of it.

And that was a very strange feeling, to be so aware of Dean sleeping beside him and yet to feel the same familiar presence press him down. Like an echo…and to know what it was like without pain…or fear.

There would still be pressure, even the stretching and the fear rode up then making it worse, only to ease. "Relax…relax…" His own voice.

"It's not a test, Sam…" Dean said, only he sounded like one of his advisors from school. "Figuring out what you want isn't a test you have to pass…although Health Law and Policy…that one you have to pass."

Dean's hand curled around his dick again and he chuckled, stroking him, Sam's hand resting on top of his. "Kind of like a dream where you wake up naked in a lecture hall."

There…there, Sam could feel the tension coiling in his belly. So good, so very good and he was startled when he felt fingers at his hole again. Not pushing, not blunt…Jessica, who'd proved to be as good a teacher as lover, as good a friend…touching him in places he didn't know he wanted touched. And he'd lost all that…forgotten it, in the horror of her ---


A stronger mouth, wider than Jessica's, more aggressive but not brutally so. A hard dick against his own, Dean's hand covering them both, squeezing and stroking until Sam was panting… fingers…bigger, harder, pressing in and the pants of pleasure got faster as panic set in and it was gone again, the whole sensation. Only he still throbbed, ached, and it wasn't the pain at all. It never had been…it was the fear.

And without that…he shifted, raising a knee, twisting restlessly because he couldn't admit it here even in his dreams. A shimmer and flash, like lightning across closed eyes and he felt it again, pressing into him, stretching him wide. There was a burn, not of fire, just of friction, of skin against skin and he gripped his dick, the mixed sensations making it easier.

Opened his eyes to see the underside of Dean's chin, his throat, holding himself up so he wouldn't press Sam down, lip caught between his teeth as he moved slowly, easing his way in.

Sam gasped sharply as the pressure and the burn gave way to something sharp and delicious that made his cock leap and his spine arch. "There…Oh, God…"

The burn eased, the pain faded, and Sam couldn't stroke his cock fast enough to keep up with the pleasurable sing along his nerves every time Dean thrust. And he was thrusting harder now, more steadily, the strain in his chest and arms showing in corded muscle and gleaming skin. The pleasure in his face obvious and endearingly goofy. "Sam…God…Sam…"

Sam groaned, tried to meet him, wanting the elusive falling off a cliff feeling that was just out of his reach. Something wet hit Sam's face, but it was only sweat, Dean being so careful, so deliberate and Sam lifted his hips to the next thrust, feeling the sensation explode behind his eyes.

He wanted Dean to open his eyes and reached up, thumb stroking along Dean's jaw. Dean's head tilted, following that caress, and he opened his eyes, looked down at Sam's face.

The air conditioner kicked on, stirring the drapes and Sam waited for the cool to come between them, to touch his skin, but he felt only heat. The color drained from Dean's face as he stared; before horror and outright anguish chased all the pleasure from his face.

"Oh God…Sam...oh, my God," Dean said and squeezed his eyes shut tightly, pulled back jerkily and sent a wave through Sam that made him jerk and come even while Dean was scrambling backward. Then Dean was pushing back, putting space between them, right up until he slipped off the end of the bed and hit the floor.

Sam could hardly put the two things together, and rolled to his side. There was still an ache inside him, but of strained muscles and unfamiliar movements, but it was only a memory, not pain.

"Fuck…fuck…Jesus…" Dean was pushing himself upward when Sam could get strength enough to look. "Oh, God, Sam! I'm sorry. Jesus I'm sorry."

It made no sense. "It's okay. Dean…I'm okay," he said, only Dean wasn't. He stared at Sam with such stark fear and disgust on his face that Sam jerked back like he'd been struck.

"Dean…" Sam had come on his hands, on his belly, his own. Between his legs there was a sticky moisture and Dean was looking at his own come-slicked dick like he wanted to throw up.

"Sam…Sam… I didn't…" then he was moving, rolling over, heading for the bathroom.

Sam fell back on the bed and listened to his brother vomit, the sound wretched and painful.

Not a dream then. Not all of it…Dreams made flesh. Nightmares made real.

Only it hadn't been a nightmare either. Not even close.

Sam twisted and stared at the half open bathroom door. Dean had stopped but he could hear him, breathing harshly, taking in great gulps of air.

Sam got up. He was sore but the sensation didn't fill him with disgust or make him want to hurl. He pushed the door back and Dean looked up at him, face garishly pale under the flickering lights, half of them not working.

He was horrified, the revulsion so plain Sam almost stepped back, only it wasn't Sam Dean was repulsed by. "Sam…Sam. God. I'm sorry. I swear…I thought I was dreaming…I would never…I never…" Dean's eyes squeezed closed and he dug the heels of his hands into his eyes and thrust his head back against the tiles with an audible thud. "I didn't think they could get to me…that I could…"

Get to him. Sam gripped the doorframe and then slide down it, ignoring the catch of the metal frame against his spine. "It wasn't them," he said, as sure of it as he could be sure of anything. "It wasn't…them."

It didn't help. Dean groaned and leaned against the toilet, like he might be sick again. "Sam… please. I know what I did. But you have to believe me. I could never, ever …r…rape you. I couldn't hurt you that way. I can't…"

The edges bled away and Sam put his head back, closing his eyes. "It wasn't rape."

"Jesus, Sam! I just had my dick up your ass and I don't remember asking you!"

No, he hadn't. "Dean… it wasn't--"

"You were asleep, Sam! Last time I heard, consent involved being able to, you know, hear the question..." The disgust was turning to anger now and Sam flinched under it.

"You were asleep too," Sam said, pulling his knees up.

"I was fucking you!"

"I knew it was you." Sam looked over and Dean stared at him.

"And that makes it okay? Are you out of your fucking mind?" Dean yelled, then shook his head and took several deep breaths, obviously trying to calm himself, get some control back. "Sam…you were asleep," Dean said through gritted teeth, and clutched at his hair. "Any way you look at this…I never asked, I just…took what I--"

Sam didn't want to hear it, even if it were true. "Gave me what I wanted?" he said evenly and Dean met his eyes, mouth open to protest. "I was asleep. So were you…And I did ask."

"Well, guess what, Sam? I didn't hear you!" Dean snapped.

Probably not. Not consciously and Sam turned that over in his mind. Not…them. Him…it made more sense but it wasn't any prettier, that he could have done this, influenced Dean some way, urged him to something Sam was pretty sure Dean would never have sought on his own.

His dream had been the safest place he'd been in a long time. Sure of where he was. Mostly sure of who he was, and that it was a dream.

Only now it wasn't, and waking nightmares could be worse than sleeping ones, Dean grabbing for the washcloth to wipe himself clean, body tense and tight and he couldn't look at Sam at all.

Until he did and it took everything Sam had to meet his brother's gaze, to force himself to look at the disgust there, the revulsion. Better if it had been aimed at Sam, but it wasn't.

"Sam…I need…I need some time. Some space," Dean said haltingly and dropped his gaze again. "We can't…Jesus, Sam. I'm not better than them. Worse…I can't do this to you. I'd rather you put a bullet in my brain."

And then he was moving, stepping over Sam, into the room, dragging on clothes, covering up his nakedness like he was ashamed. "Just stay…" Dean said over his shoulder, pulling on a shirt. "Don't let anyone in. I won't be far."

He was already so far away Sam wasn't sure he'd ever see him again.

But he couldn’t move, not even when Dean grabbed his shoes and the room key and left.

He sat there staring at the whitewashed concrete walls. The concrete below him was peeling, the paint worn thin under the industrial gray, the drain in the middle of the floor rusting at the edges. The cold of it soaked deep and he shook, tried to hold himself together and stared at the door willing Dean to come back so they could talk. So he could absolve his brother of whatever guilt he carried -- guilt he shouldn't have to carry. So Dean could absolve Sam, if it were even possible.

A spot of bright red appeared on his arm, vivid against his skin. Then another. He could taste it on his lips. When he wiped his hand under his nose, the blood smeared, painting his skin.

He was bleeding to death literally and figuratively and he put his head back and let it flow.

Dean was better than them. So unlike them Sam didn't even know how his brother could think that. Dean wasn't the problem, Sam was the one they'd poisoned.

But Sam was infected now and he didn't know how to keep his plague from spreading.

Only he did. He could see it from the door, the gun laying on the end of the bed, half hidden under the covers. It wasn't a good answer, but it was an answer and one within reach.

It was harder to reach for it than he thought, to stretch his fingers out and curve them around the stock. To ease the safety off. To stand up and reach for the shower head and turn it on. Water turned the blood on the floor pink, chased it toward the drain.

Dean would hate him for this if he didn't already, but there would be relief too. They couldn't get to him through Sam. Couldn't use Sam to make his brother pay over and over again.

And he was tired.

The gun metal tasted like blood.   The blood tasted like forgiveness.

They tasted the same.


Maybe there’s a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
It's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not someone who's seen the light
It's a cold and broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah...

~~~Hallelujah (kd lang/Leonard Cohen)

Part 3
He'd hoped Sam would sleep longer and the frustration of watching Sam make his way across the grass toward the bathrooms and shower made Dean want to invent a whole new vocabulary for swearing. He didn't look steady and Dean only caught a glimpse of Sam's face to see the blood there.

Shit. What happened? He dropped the wood in the middle of the gravel that marked the driveway running beside the camping pads and jogged toward him. "Sam…"

Sam didn't acknowledge he'd heard, but his hand rested on the edge of the building and Dean saw the glint of metal and silver. At least Sam had taken the gun but to carry it out in the open like that…

His jog turned to a dead run. Sam wouldn't…he wasn't that reckless, or stupid. Not awake anyway…

If Dean's nerves had alarms they'd be ringing like the bells of Notre Dame right then.

Sam wasn't in the bathroom and Dean scanned the room, shoving the brightly painted blue doors of the stalls open as he passed. "Sam? Sam?" he called, loud, then heard the water kick on in the showers beyond and ran, bouncing off the dark blue concrete that offered the shower area privacy from the bathrooms.

It barely even registered, what he was seeing. He only moved, diving for Sam, pulling his hand down, the gun away from Sam's mouth, hitting him hard enough to slam him into the wall and out of the scalding hot water. They both slid against the concrete, ending up in a tangle of arms and legs. Dean pulled on the muzzle of the gun.

He missed the sound of the shot under his own scream, didn't even realize he'd been shot until his hand left a bloody print on Sam's shirt.

The heat of the water made him move them both and it all settled in his mind like a snapshot.

Sam, fully dressed, standing under water hot enough to scald his skin, with the barrel of the SIG shoved obscenely into his mouth.

Pain hit him then and Dean bit back a second scream, trying to curl his fingers around the hurt and staring at the bloody tear in his hand between his forefinger and thumb. He pressed his other to it, the blood flowing freely but not gushing. Not pumping like he'd hit an artery, only welling and filling, and his finger and thumb worked though they hurt like hell.

Sam's hand covered his, adding to the pressure and Dean stared at Sam's hand, already turning red with blood, but the skin was red too. He looked up at Sam's face, at the blood covering his upper lip and chin. Sam was staring at Dean from wide glassy eyes, face pale under the smear of crimson. "You came back…"

Dean forgot his hand, forgot the hot water spattering both of them and pulled Sam down, an arm around his neck. He didn't need to know what had happened, he could guess, and Sam's words made less sense than his tone, than the total incomprehension he saw in his face, the confusion so acute it sliced deeper than any blade Dean owned.

His hand felt raw and the wound itself filled with glass but he used it anyway, pulling Sam hard and tight against his chest, his own breath coming in short, sharp pants. "I'd never leave, Sam. I never would. No matter what. Oh, Jesus."

"I'm sorry…I'm sorry…" Dean could barely hear him, Sam repeating it over and over again until Dean wanted to shake him to make him shut up only he couldn't, didn't, only held Sam tighter, got blood in his hair trying to calm him down, calm himself down.

"Hey! Hey…you all right in there?" A man's voice and Sam jerked and pulled away, up on his knees, Dean as well; and Dean scanned the shower floor and found the SIG, reaching out for it. He didn't know what to do with it until Sam took it from him with shaking hands and stuck it in the back of his jeans and tugged his shirt down over it.

"Yeah. Yeah! Just an accident," Dean said and could think of nothing better even when he heard the man's footsteps.

He was older, fifties maybe, carrying a gun of his own, although he lowered it on seeing them sitting there, his eyes widening at the blood spattering the walls and floor and them.

"Why the hell'd you bring a gun into the shower?" he asked.

"In case there were rats," Dean said and pushed himself up, trying to get to his feet. Harder than it seemed and his hand was aching now, sending a throb and lance of pain up into his shoulder. Sam pushed up as well, coming up under Dean's shoulder, neither of them steady, but providing enough leverage between each other and the wall to get to their feet. "I really hate rats."

The man looked openly skeptical, and stepped in, reaching under the still steaming spray to turn it off. "Looks like you could use a doctor, son," he said eyeing Dean's hand and reached into his pocket to pull out a bandana. "You want me to call an ambulance? Celia's got a phone up at the office."

"There's a hospital on 64, right?" Sam asked, sounding more steady as he watched the man wrap Dean's hand.

"Wouldn't know. Celia would."

"Could you ask?" Dean asked. "I can get this wrapped at the car."

For a minute Dean was sure the man would do something else, eyeing them both like they were escaped convicts or something. He couldn't figure it out though. Dean couldn't either and he knew what had happened.

"I'll ask," he finally said and walked out with them, heading toward the cabin and the woman there while Sam stayed close but let Dean walk on his own.

The pain made Dean nauseated and he ground his teeth together, not surprised when he found Sam's arm around his waist, guiding him. Sam was soaked to the skin, his face a bloody mess and only when Sam pushed him to sit in the open passenger seat did he realize Sam's nose was still bleeding.


"I'll get the kit," Sam said backing away but Dean reached out and grabbed his wrist.

"What were you thinking…Sam?"

There was nothing on Sam's face; no regret, no surprise:  he could have been made of stone. "Sam, talk to me. What happened?"

Sam stared down at Dean's hand and unwrapped his fingers, pulled his wrist free. "I thought I was sure. I was wrong," he said and backed away.

Dean tried to follow him, twisting in the seat but Sam only went to the trunk and pulled out the first aid kit and brought it back, kneeling on the gravel next to the car like he couldn't feel it. Just like he didn't seem to notice his nose was bleeding.

Sam pulled out the peroxide and a stack of gauze pads but Dean grabbed the first couple and pressed them under Sam's nose, soaking up the blood. Again, Sam pulled his hand away. "It'll stop," he said quietly and uncurled Dean's fingers.

Dean squeezed his eyes shut and clamped his jaw hard. Sam was as gentle as he could be, rinsing the wound liberally, palm and back, with the peroxide. "It needs stitches," Sam said. He cleaned it carefully, soaking the gauze with betadine and then padding them before wrapping it tightly.

Movement at the front of the car caught Dean's attention and he saw their friend from the shower and the small, plump woman who ran the campground. "You want me to call an ambulance?" she asked looking put out and concerned all at once. She wanted no trouble here and neither did Dean. Chances were she was a friend to, mother of, or wife of some state trooper or local cop the way their luck had been running.

"No, thanks," Sam said and his voice was so calm, so steady it was hard to reconcile this brother to the one Dean had pulled the gun away from.   "There's a hospital on 64 right? Emergency room?"

She nodded. "Yeah, Murphy Medical Center."

"Thought so. We passed it coming in. I'll take him. Our stuff be okay here?"

"You paid for the night but I don't take responsibility--"

"Got it," Sam said and stood up, turned back to jerk the sleeping bags and blankets from the tent and shove them in the back seat. The tent was stowed with about as much care.

"You want me to call ahead?" Celia asked him and Sam nudged Dean's legs into the car and closed the door.

"No, thanks. You've helped enough," Sam said with no trace of sarcasm but the woman set her mouth.

Sam got in on the driver side. "Keys," was all he said and Dean couldn't get to them.

"Left pocket," he said and bit back the rest because for right now, Sam had it under control and yes, they needed to get the fuck out of here before the woman's better sense or suspicion got hold of her and she made a phone call they didn't want to deal with.

Sam didn't hesitate to dig the keys out of his pocket and cranked the car. Dean glanced back, seeing the two of them standing there, the remains of the fire still burning.


"Do you need the emergency room?" Sam asked him as he pulled up to the front of the campground.

Dean tested his hand. It already felt unbearably swollen and stiff, the shock of it only lessened by the fact that he hadn't yet bled through the bandages. Sam sniffed and wiped at his nose. "No. It'll hold," Dean said and twisted around, digging through the tangle of canvas and sleeping bags. He couldn't find a towel but he found a shirt. He shoved it at Sam. "Nose," he said tersely.

Sam took it and wiped at his face, making a left turn onto the highway, toward Murphy.

"Sam, talk to me. What the hell was that?"

"Just a dream."

"Bullshit. Sam, you had the fucking gun in your mouth."

Sam nodded, eyes on the road, bringing the head lights up as he hit a curve. For someone who had just tried to kill himself, who was soaking wet and bleeding, his hands were remarkably steady on the wheel.

"You stopped me. You can't make me kill him. You'll have to settle for me," Sam said without ever looking at him.

What? "Sam, you weren't trying to kill me," Dean said and blinked as an oncoming car's lights nearly blinded him.

"I know that," Sam said reasonably.

The Murphy City Limits sign shone green and silver and a few blocks up Sam eased to a stop sign.

"Sam…Pull over. Find a place to park," Dean said, and Sam glanced at him before pulling into the parking lot of the same diner they'd gotten dinner from earlier. Dean couldn't even think, the pain in his hand and arm was a steady ache and throb. But he had to because steady or not, Sam had nearly killed himself and  was now acting like it meant nothing. "Now talk to me. What happened -- no, what do you think just happened back here? You said I came back."

Sam leaned his head back and closed his eyes, wipingd at his nose again, which only smeared the blood further. "I'm tired. Whatever it is you want…I'm done," he said and rolled his head to the side to look at Dean.

"And killing yourself is the answer? Sam…no, no…Jesus," Dean said and lifting his arm was enough to make him sob out loud but he got his arm around Sam's shoulders and pulled him over. Sam didn't resist at all, almost fell over, twisting on the seat. "That's it…come on, put your head back," he said when Sam's head ended up on his thigh. He found the shirt, wiping at Sam's face. Much of the blood was dried, in Sam's hair, on his shirt. Dean rested his bandaged hand on Sam's chest, felt the slow thud of his heart.

He'd been asleep, the last time Dean had checked he'd been sleeping. "Sam…what did you dream? What happened in your dream?"

"You were there," he said.

"Okay... I was there…where?"

"In the shower, in the hotel…you're always there. Dean's always there and you can do anything, but you can't make me kill him. It doesn't matter what you do…" Sam twisted onto his side.

You. You… them. Sam didn't even know he was awake, he couldn't tell. Couldn't make the distinction. He tried to curl his fingers into Sam's shirt but they were stiff and cramping and Dean squeezed his eyes shut, forced himself to breathe, slowly, deeply, before he lost it completely.

His eyes stung and he blinked, wiped at them and stared down at Sam's head, fingers pulling through Sam's hair like it might actually help.

Dean had waited too long. He didn't have a bullet for this. No rock salt would cure it or dissipate it. They'd pushed something in Sam, broken something, maybe irrevocably.

They wanted Sam to kill him. He'd do the job himself if they'd just leave Sam alone. And maybe that was they'd wanted all along, what they'd said: a brother for a brother, a sister for a sister.

And Sam had refused. No matter what they'd done, how they'd twisted it, they hadn't been able to convince Sam to kill Dean, waking or sleeping, on purpose or by accident. Sam had put the gun in his mouth for a reason. So there was a limit. There were lines they couldn't force Sam to cross or even trick him into crossing.

But he had no doubt Sam would have pulled the trigger -- had, and it was by the merest luck that Dean had gotten there in time.

And now Sam couldn't tell. Where he'd been sure, thought he was, now it all blurred into a dream he couldn't wake from. Only he was awake. Either the dreams had gotten more real or Sam was just so far past exhausted he couldn’t tell. The cycles between dreaming and waking had gotten mixed up somehow.

Dean wasn't sure how to sort them out or if he should, and maybe that was the problem. He kept waking Sam, in the middle of whatever horror or fight he was in. Jerking him back because watching him was too much, too painful. And maybe that had been his mistake. Well meant or not, he hadn't let Sam pull himself out of it.

Easy to think now, to see now, that he'd been doing it more for his benefit than Sam's. Like everything else…making Sam the excuse for going against everything he knew, everything his guts told him was wrong. Sam had a nightmare and Dean couldn't watch so he woke him. Sam had a need and Dean answered it, not because he wanted Sam, or needed him the same way…not what Dean thought or needed. No…Sam might be having some problems telling between waking and sleeping but Dean wasn’t above twisting reality either, when it suited him. Couldn't barely admit to himself that touching Sam…tasting him, having Sam return that contact and crave it, had as much to do with the fact that Dean wanted Sam as it did with Sam needing him.

The blood from Sam's nose was soaking into his jeans; he could see it, the dark stain of it, feel the tacky wetness.

He was not giving up that easily. He wasn't going to let Sam do it either. They were fucking with Sam's mind and through him, Dean's; making it hard to think, to know what was right, which way to turn. They'd orchestrated the whole fight to their advantage. And Dean had fallen for it, stepped into it, forgetting that they knew him as well as they knew Sam. His weaknesses, his own selfishness, his own fears.

Fuck them. He wasn't blind to his weak spots, didn't shy from his own self-interest, but that had always been countered by his love for his family, for his brother.

And they'd hit that same wall in Sam. No matter what else, they hadn't been able to force Sam to hurt Dean -- not physically. Which meant there was fight left in Sam.

"Come on, up. Get up man. We're not done yet. They aren't winning this, bro'." He fumbled for the door latch and elbowed it open. "Slide over, " he said and closed the door behind him, watched Sam pull himself across the seat, long legs tangling around the gear shift then clearing as Dean got the driver's side open.

Driving was gong to be hell, but he'd driven with worse. Finding a place to stay…there were other hotels, ones they wouldn't usually stay in because a hundred bucks a pop was going to cut through their cash really quick. "We need to find a place for the night."

"There's a motel across from the medical center."

Dean glanced at him but Sam was looking straight ahead. Okay, they'd passed it when they came in even if Dean hadn't noticed, but his brother's toneless answers were really creeping him out, edging his own mood toward outright panic and he gripped the wheel hard with his injured hand, letting the pain of it take center stage for a few seconds.

"I could drive…" Sam offered.

"You have got to be shitting me," Dean said. "You don't even know if you're awake or not."

"Well, if I am I can drive and if I'm not, it doesn't matter," Sam said.

"It matters to me," Dean muttered and caught Sam looking at him, with the first flicker of expression Dean had seen. It didn't reassure him that it was confusion. "I can drive. And you said you could tell…I need you to work on that. You said you knew when it was me…"

"I thought I did…" Sam said.

"No. You were sure. You asked me to trust you and I do. But you have got to trust yourself. You've got to try."

Sam leaned back again. "I'm tired…"

"I know you are.I know, man," Dean said and reached across to grip his shoulder. Reached up and threaded his fingers through the damp hair and made Sam look at him. "You can't give up on me, Sam. You can't. Please."

The same confusion chased across Sam's face but he wiped at his nose again and nodded. "Okay."

It was good enough -- it would have to be for now and Dean tightened his grip momentarily before   letting go and putting the Impala in gear. Shifting wasn't the issue but steering was a bitch and Dean felt like he was driving like 90 year old grandmother by the time he found the medical center and hotel. As little as he wanted to go there if they didn't have to, just yet, having a hospital across the street had its pluses.

Seventy bucks a night wasn't great but he'd take it and Sam didn't resist at all getting out of the car, carrying what needed to be carried. Dean locked all the guns and his knife in the trunk.

The pain in Dean's arm kept him distracted from Sam's passive acquiescence to pretty much everything, including stripping down and getting under the shower. The shower and fresh clothes made some difference; at least there was color in Sam's face that wasn't blood. His nose finally stopped bleeding but Dean kept a towel handy.

He had no plan and only the barest sketch of an idea, not sure where to start without knowing what Sam had dreamed, what he'd seen and done. But to get to that Sam had to find something to hold onto and Dean didn't know how to give him that. Sam was going to have to find it on his own.

"You need to sleep," he told him and Sam laid down. Dean eased on the bed beside him cradling his arm, sitting up. He wasn't sure he'd be able to sleep, the ache was more pronounced and the bandage on his hand was starting to show blood.

Sam fell asleep almost immediately, and almost immediately it started; the twitching and the whimpers, but Sam didn't wake and Dean squeezed his wounded hand until the blood soaked through to keep himself from stopping it.

This time it had to play out. Sam had put a gun in his mouth to stop it and watching him, Dean wasn't sure which was crueler. He turned the light off but left the bathroom light burning.

It was way easier to say than do, and Dean found himself pacing and settling, afraid to move too much for fear of waking Sam, afraid to settle because the urge to reach over and shake Sam out of it was like needing to breathe.

After a solid twenty minutes of it Dean couldn't watch anymore and Sam thrashed while Dean stared at himself in the mirror and Sam protested whatever was being done to him. He left a bloody handprint on the counter that he didn't wipe off immediately but he made himself wash and re-bandage his hand. If he couldn't help Sam, the least he could do was bleed with him.

Sam called out his name and Dean made coffee in the little room service pot and drank it black, flexing his hand until the bandages were soaked again.

Somewhere around three a.m. Sam's nose started bleeding again and Dean watched him wipe clumsily at it in his sleep, smearing blood on the sheets, and Dean re-wet the towel in case Sam woke up. He didn't and Dean wondered if he ever would. He didn't know how long he could wait, how long he could stand it, but he was still sleeping. There had to be something to it, to Sam's dreams… some door that was opened while he slept and the lack of sleep was keeping him from closing it again.

Sam panted against the sheets and reached out for something, anything, and Dean stripped off his own bloodied shirt and took a spit bath in the sink and watched while Sam jacked off in his sleep.

He didn't wake him, didn't touch him, bit back reassurances a dozen times, not sure if it made any sense to do so and felt helpless watching Sam fight a battle Dean couldn't help him with. It was dawn before it stopped, before Sam curled up on his side and sobbed brokenly in his sleep and Dean sat on the end of the bed and watched him, wiping at his face.

I hope you can forgive me, Sam, he thought. Not sure if he could forgive himself. Sleep tugged at him too, the ache in his arm had receded to something less than excruciating but he took a couple more ibuprofen in the vain hope that it wouldn't swell any further.

But Sam was quiet as the sun broke and Dean looked out. Clear, sunny, probably hot as hell again. He sat back down on the bed and shoved a pillow under his back. Sam had blood smeared on his cheek and the sheets were kind of grossly brown but Sam's breathing was even and steady. He still didn't look all that rested for all that it had been nearly nine hours and Dean told himself that had to count for something

He jerked out of a doze when he felt movement and watched Sam roll over to his back, staring up at the ceiling. He almost held his breath waiting for Sam to notice him. It took Sam a few minutes before he even looked and then he blinked.

The confusion was still there, the fatigue, but he moistened his lips and Dean passed over a bottle of water.

Sam rolled to his side and sipped only to stop and stare at Dean's hand. The blood on the gauze had dried brown, like Sam's blood on the sheets. Sam finally pushed himself up and Dean clenched his jaw again because it looked like just moving hurt.

"Your hand…"

"Hurts like hell but so far so good. No infection," Dean said evenly and didn't jerk it back when Sam took the bandaged hand in both of his.

"That was real…" he said but then looked at Dean for confirmation.

This was going to be hard, maybe impossible. "It's real to me. But I don't think that's what matters. Are you awake or asleep?"

"I'm…I'm awake, I think."

"Not good enough," Dean said and closed his good hand over Sam's. "You have to be sure. You've got to find a way to be sure. What happened last night?"

"I couldn't wake up…or…I though it was you…but it wasn't. I did this?" Sam said looking at Dean's bandaged hand.

Dean wasn't as good at verbal fencing as Sam -- not this kind. Diffuse and deflect, yeah. At changing the subject he was aces, but this was a little more delicate. "Do you remember putting a gun in your mouth?" Dean asked him.

Sam considered it then nodded. "Yes. In the shower."

"Right. At the campground."

"No…no. At the hotel."

"Which hotel?"

"Across from the hospital."

Had Sam dreamed it or predicted it? "This is the hotel across from the hospital. We got here last night."

Sam looked around and let go of Dean's hand, sliding off the bed, steadying himself against the wall. "It didn't look like this," he said and made his way to the bathroom and stood in the door, hands braced against the frame. Dean got up and followed him, standing behind Sam. Sam was staring at the walls, the green and white trim, a kind of puke green striped wallpaper, the standard tub and shower. "This isn't right."

"What's not right.?"

"It's whitewashed concrete and a concrete floor."

"That's the campground…Concrete, only it was painted blue. Dark blue for the men's side. Wall, bathrooms." The women's side was probably pink and Dean wiped at his face. "Come on. You dreamed. You had a nightmare…"

Sam looked at him, put his back to the door frame and stared at Dean's hand again, eyes wide and clear although Dean still didn't know if Sam was completely sure he was awake. "I shot you."

"No, no, you didn't,” he said firmly, sharply, making Sam focus on him. “You had the gun in your mouth," he said and had to fight to keep from shouting it, to keep from shaking at the memory of it. He pulled Sam's hand up, his arm, showing him the angry red skin. "You turned the water on hot, hot enough to scald yourself. You put the gun in your mouth. I pulled it away and it went off. You never tried to shoot me."

Sam's eyes closed for a second and he shook his head. "I thought you were one of them at the fire…I pulled the shot gun--"

"Never happened," Dean said, shaking his head again. "Although if you thought I was one of them, I'm glad you got the gun. Glad you didn't shoot me, but still."

"You were mad that I didn't shoot you," Sam said, studying his face intently.

"I think I'd have been madder if you had…"

"You said you'd rather die than hurt me…"

Oh. Oh fuck them, Dean thought viciously. They had twisted Sam up but good and they'd done a seriously excellent job of it. "Sam…listen to me. I would die to keep them from hurting you if it would make a damn bit of difference. I'd die for you if there was no other choice, but I gotta tell you, man, dying is not the top of my list. Me dead? Does nothing for either of us. You dying does nothing for either of us…and it would…Jesus, it probably wouldn't kill me but do you really think it would be easier on me? What were you thinking?"

A dull flush filled Sam's cheeks and he looked down and away. "I wasn't thinking about you, I just wanted it to…I couldn't…"

Dean crowded up close to him, touching where he hadn't before, curving his good hand around Sam's neck. "Sam, God, Sam. I know you're tired. I know this is…this so fucked up. But you don't get to give up, you understand me? You don't get to quit. Not on me and not on yourself. And I don't either. I'm never gonna give up on you, bro'. There's nothing you could ever do that would make that happen."

Sam nodded but he wouldn't look at Dean and Dean tightened his grip, shook him a little. "Come on. You dreamed it. Whatever it was…"

"It wasn't what I did," Sam said softly. "I thought…" he pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes like he could block out the sight of something and grimaced. "You left…you thought you'd…"

"I'd what…I left why? In your dream I left you. Why?"

Sam's throat worked but he met Dean's eyes finally. "Because you fucked me. And you thought it was rape…you. Not one of them with your face."

That took a moment to sink in. "It was still a dream," Dean said but his mind spun. They did know him. Too well. Jesus, no wonder Sam was confused. Sam was absolutely convinced Dean would never hurt him, so the physical assaults, dreamt or not, the torment, those Sam was clear were not him, even while dreaming. But to take Dean's own fears and guilt and desires…they were a lot more twisted and subtle than Dean had given them credit for. “So, in your dream I fucked you, thought I'd raped you.” Dean felt ill saying it, felt sicker having to ask. “Did I?"

Sam shook his head. "No…you were asleep. We were asleep…and we were…it wasn't rape but then you woke up."

Dean stared at him. "I was asleep when I was fucking you? Like not dreaming it, actually doing it? Sam, I don’t even think it would be possible for me to fuck someone in my sleep and not know it." Just talking about it was making Dean's head hurt. Dreams in dream, layered with nightmares and just enough of what could be true to make it all feel very real. If Sam had been dealing with this over the last couple of months it was a wonder he hadn't totally cracked earlier.

Sam nodded and then the same confused look came over him. "Dreams made real, nightmares made flesh," he said.

"What's that mean?"

"It's what I kept thinking. That somehow…I was becoming one of them, that I was influencing your dreams…making you do things, you didn't want…that you never wanted. I wanted them but you didn't."

Dean let him go and felt Sam flinch but he only moved his hand, pressing it to Sam's chest. "Ah, Sam…Sam…" How to even say this, to admit it? Dean wanted all on his own but hadn't admitted to it. Secrets were going to get them killed or worse. He felt a flare of triumph at that. They'd used what Sam didn't know, but what he expected against him, used his own guilt the same way they’d used Dean’s. Well, Dean could put a stop to that shit, right now. "It was never you. I promise you, you aren't making me want things I don't."

"You have nightmares…my nightmares," Sam said.

"No. I have nightmares about you having nightmares, because I keep seeing them. But they aren't yours. I promise," Dean said firmly. "I have nightmares about you being…about you being hurt and me not being able to stop it, but I'm not…it's not the same," he said and only prayed it was true.

Sam still looked unsure but he also looked steadier, like things made sense. He covered Dean's hand with his own. Clutched at it. "So," Dean said curving his fingers around Sam's and clearing his throat. "Tell me now. Are you awake or asleep?"

Sam took a breath and stared at him from a long moment before closing his eyes and resting his head against the door. "Awake," he said finally.

"You're sure?"

Sam nodded and he looked calmer but there was still doubt lurking.

They had no room for it or time for it and Dean stared at him, searched his brother's face and then his own mind, his own urges. It was still, still, completely fucked up. There was no way it couldn't be and nowhere for it to go, really. But this was here and now and there was no use in looking to the next fight before this one was finished. It wasn't like they didn't both already need years of therapy.

Desire was only part of it and not really at the top of Dean's list at the moment. Sam still looked like warmed over death and Dean's hand throbbed to the beat of his heart.

But he dug his fingers into Sam's shirt and pulled him closer, lifted his head and found Sam's mouth. Sam tensed and almost pulled back, lips parting in surprise. "Don’t…" Dean said and pulled back only enough so he could see Sam's eyes, see the increased confusion and wariness. "Don't think I don't want this. And not because you need it, and not because those fucking grubs have all the answers. But the lights are on and you're awake and I'm no dream. You're my brother and this is wrong and I really don't give a shit at the moment," he said and saw surprise flare in Sam's eyes just before Dean closed the distance again.

Sam still resisted, uncertain, but Dean didn't give up, didn't hold back from pressing his body to Sam's, didn't ease up on trying to coax Sam into opening his mouth again.

When he did, it was Dean who groaned, wishing he felt even a tenth better because when Sam gave it up, he really gave it up. His tongue was hesitant at first then bolder and Dean caught it, teased it, sucked on it and felt Sam's whole body shudder. Dean dragged his mouth away, licking along Sam's chin and then down along his throat. Sam made a small sound in his throat and Dean felt his body respond. Not completely but the desire was there and he let Sam feel it, hissed when Sam’s body hardened and tightened against his own. It was only fatigue and pain that kept him from just dragging Sam to bed and testing his resolve not to resist at all.

"Dean..." Sam sounded breathless with wonder and his fingers gripped Dean's shoulder. "This is…"

"This is what it is, Sam," Dean said flatly. "This is what we have. How we got here is extremely fucked up, but this is what we have. Trust me when I say that if we fuck, I am going to be totally awake and loving every minute of it. And those things in your brain? Can take that and shove it up their collective asses."

Sam's eyes met his and searched his face, flexing his fingers on Dean's shoulder as some of the tension left him, as his gaze became less stunned and hopeful and settled back toward something like Sam-stubborn normal.

Dean leaned into him when his legs started to shake; hours of tension, pain, and fear-driven nausea hitting him all at once. Sam caught him, shaking too but he felt sturdier, and the shoulder he got under Dean's and the arm across his back were strong enough to get Dean back into the other room and onto the bed that didn't look like the aftermath of a horror movie. Sam didn't say anything but he offered water and then he left long enough to get the first aid kit and fill the ice bucket with warm water. Dean let him fuss silently, laying back with his good arm over his eyes, not really wanting to look at the mess that was his hand.

"You're going to make somebody a great nurse someday," he muttered and Sam gave a couple of stuttered breaths that could have been laughter.

"Can you make a fist?" Sam asked him and Dean tried, still not looking and felt Sam's hand curve around his. He could, but only barely and he thought it was more swelling than muscle damage but couldn't be sure. He felt something cool on his skin and flinched but then it was gone and Sam packed the wound again and wrapped it tightly and Dean pulled his arm away long enough to look at him.

Sam looked more thoughtful than worried, chewing on his lower lip, like he was turning stuff over in his head, sorting through it, but the vacant look was gone, and at some point Sam had washed his face, pushed the too-long hair back.

Dean had been right all those years ago, his brother was a heartbreaker, if you went for the moody, broody type. It surprised Dean not at all that apparently he did.

Sam finally realized he was being stared at. "There's a coffee shop here in the hotel and I'm gonna need it.  Food too."

The thought of food made Dean want to throw up. "You should rest."

"I think right now, you need to sleep," Sam said evenly and smiled a little. "I promise not to get kidnapped. I won't be gone long. Can you stay awake that long?"

Dean rolled to his side and sat up and felt the nausea twist through his guts again but it passed the minute he stopped moving. "Yeah. Pay for another night, Sam," he said and that was going to be an issue but Dean thought he might have a way around it.

Sam nodded and got up, checking Dean's wallet for cash and putting it in his own wallet. And looked down at the blue t-shirt he wore with its stains. "I should change."

"Sam…take a gun," Dean said quietly, distracting him. The fear flared in Sam's eyes again.

"I'm not sure--"

"I am. Yesterday, at the Welcome Center, I think…I think there was one of them following us. Take the gun. I'm not leaving the room," Dean said holding his gaze until Sam nodded and picked up the car keys, he came back a few minutes later and handed them to Dean.

"You need anything?"

"Naw. I'm good. Be careful, Sam," Dean said and Sam gave him an odd look.

Dean dug his fingers into the mattress to keep himself from going after him and the sweat that broke out on his skin had nothing to do with the pain in his hand and arm nor the relative temperature of the room. He gave himself five minutes and then he moved, gathering up their stuff, getting it back in the car. He checked the parking lot, noting the rooms, the cars parked close by.

The last thing he did was load his own gun with silver then went inside and grabbed the pillows off the opposite bed to prop himself up and left another on his lap.

The window would be small because Sam would be hurrying, and Dean was pretty sure he knew what Sam would do and when without ever talking to him about it. Sam would pay for the room first so he wouldn't have to juggle cups and lunch things. It would be the loss of money they couldn't afford if Dean was right, but a small price to pay it if he was wrong.

But he tried not to think too hard on it, just in case.

After fifteen minutes he thought maybe he'd been wrong, but then he heard a knock on the door.

"It's Sam," Sam's voice, and Dean closed his eyes.

"It's not locked," Dean called out and Sam pushed in, carrying a paper bag.

"Why not? Why didn't you lock it?"

"I knew you'd have your hands full," Dean said and looked.

Sam looked bruised and annoyed and the skin on his arms was still red. And his shirt was blue but not the same and there were no stains.

Even before Sam could turn around, Dean was moving, slamming Sam against the desk and chair, the pillow between them and the gun behind that, and Sam twisted and stared at Dean.

A pillow wasn’t a perfect silencer, but it muffled the report and Dean found a certain satisfaction in the angry glare and surprise in the flickering gold of its eyes, almost disappointed because it died too fast under the onslaught of silver and the well-placed shots. Dean would have liked to tell it that this was just the beginning, let its brothers and sisters know that there would be no backing down, that if they wanted to keep this war going, they'd have to be smarter.

He let the body fall and almost fell himself, jerking the bedspread off the bed to drop it over the thing with Sam's face. Then stumbled back and sat down hard on the floor.

It took another thirty minutes for Sam to actually get back, and Dean sincerely hoped he'd drunk at least some of the coffee that ended up on the floor because he was going to have to drive, at least for awhile. Sam checked beneath the coverlet, mouth tightening in revulsion at the sight of his own sightless face.

Dean totally understood his reaction and he offered his gun to Sam, grip first. “Be sure, Sam. Be really, totally sure,” he said and leaned back against the bed and closed his eyes again. The throb in his hand had kept him from either falling asleep or passing out but now he was really ready for it to stop. He opened his eyes when he felt Sam take the injured hand in his, unwrapping the bandages carefully, all the way down to the swollen and discolored skin. There was a piece of tape across his hand and he could see the outline of a dime under the adhesive.

Sam peeled the tape up carefully and then pocketed the dime, looking at Dean while he re-wrapped his hand. “I’m sure.”

“Not bad,” Dean said. “But not…”

“I was sure before. Just a backup plan,” Sam said.  “You knew.”

Dean shook his head. “I thought…they tried to get you to kill me twice. They’re nothing if not persistent.”

“We can’t stay and we can’t leave the body.”

“I know. The car’s already packed. We take it with us. We’ve got hundreds of miles of mountains and overlooks. We’ll find a place.  Put the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door,” Dean said and Sam nodded and got up.

Sam pulled the car up as close as he could to the door but it still took both of them to get the shifter into the trunk, wrapped up in the turned out bedspread. They’d have to come up with a better plan, Dean knew, although there would be some irony to the having the cops keep turning up similar bodies here and there. Might cramp the shifter’s style for a bit.

“What about Dad?” Sam asked when they were finally pulling out. “And the fires?”

Dean didn’t know. He wasn’t sure it was their father they’d been following but they hadn’t checked as thoroughly as they could have. “It was a long shot to begin with,” he said and Sam didn’t press it. “The fires…nobody’s died.” Yet.

“We’re still running.”

“Maybe. But not from them,” Dean said, and gave Sam a grin. "Let's go dump the trash and then start cleaning house."

Sam's smile was fleeting and not nearly as confident. "That won't be easy."

"Easy is for eggs," Dean said, settling back and closing his eyes. "And we don't break easily, my brother."

"You come up with the worst analogies," Sam said.

Dean only smiled. He fell asleep to the blasting sound of Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam.".

Sam hated that song.

It took Sam a couple of hours of driving to find an appropriately deep gorge with an accessible overlook. He cruised it twice without stopping, checking for access or forestry roads. Between the depth of the pass and the late summer heat, if and when anyone found the body, hopefully it would be impossible to identify.

They didn't need to worry. The smell from the trunk when they opened almost sent both of them to their knees. Apparently, the skins really didn't last, or at least not after spending a couple of hours in an overheated trunk.

"I will never get that smell out," Dean said, panting and sweating while leaning against the bumper after the body had made a satisfyingly straight drop past the guard rail into the woods below. Sam offered a few desultory squirts of the Febreze but decided that they'd have to unload and wash everything and then put it back.

"We still have the room we paid for in Murphy," Sam offered and Dean was tempted to take it, if only because Sam was already pushing for him to cross the street to the emergency room. Dean had slept for most of the drive, through the music Sam had cranked as loud as he could stand it. Dean had slept like a baby, but he was feeling a little pinched around the edges and holding his arm against his stomach to keep it still. Of course, helping Sam lift the body out of the trunk and over the railing hadn't helped.

They both needed rest and food and the money already spent on the room they couldn't spare, really. He'd wanted to move on in case the shifter wasn't alone, but that had been then. If they were going to take the fight to these things, they'd have to be smarter too, and stranded in the middle of the deep south with no money wasn't smart. "Okay, but I want to stop in town first."

Sam didn't argue with him. But he was surprised when Dean pointed him to the Pawn shop on the edge of town. Dean popped the trunk, gave the smell a few minutes to dissipate before pulling three handguns and a .22 out of their sheaths.

"What are you doing?"

"Making us some money," Dean said resolutely. "I've got about a hundred bucks left, which is just enough money to get us back to Memphis and get us a room. And then you, little brother, are going to polish up your pool skills."

Sam looked away. Dean was a better player although Sam was no slouch, but Dean wouldn't be winning anything until his hand healed up some and that wasn't going to happen unless they had money for first aid supplies.

"Take this," Dean said and handed him the .22. Sam did but he held it, smoothing his fingers over the stock, over the "DW" inexpertly cut into the wood and then shellacked.

"You shouldn't pawn this," Sam said, recognizing the rifle.  "You shouldn't have to. You've had it a long time."

Dean closed the trunk, put the handguns in a canvas carry all along with a couple of other things and handed it to Sam. "True. But I also haven't pulled it out to do more than clean it in about three years. It’s not a big deal," Dean said and took it back, touching his initials. They didn't have the luxury of sentiment. He headed toward the shop and Sam got in front of him.

"It was the first one you owned. Dad gave it to you, when you were twelve."

Leave it to Sam. "I know. But it's a gun. One I don't use and haven’t for a long time. Really. I've hung onto it because it isn't worth much. I don't even think I have ammo for it."

But of course he did. Sam gave him a hard look and then moved, unbuckling his watch. Dean stopped him. "What are you doing?"

"This is worth probably a hundred-fifty retail," Sam said.

"Uh, you having a watch is a good thing, you know, for when I tell you to meet me in ten minutes," Dean pointed out but Sam handed it to him. It was a nice watch and Sam was right.

"I'm sure this guy's got one that's cheaper but still keeps time," Sam said and headed inside.

Dean fingered it and then flipped it over, not surprised to find an inscription on the back. He closed his hand over it.

Sam was already at the counter, the owner looking over the Glock and the two small caliber Colts.

Dean pushed the watch back into Sam's hand. "No," he said and Sam chewed his lip for a second before offering it to the pawn broker to examine. "Sam…"

Sam didn't look at him. "I'm not going to forget her, Dean. I don't need the watch."

It was the stubborn tone that Dean hated so much, but also knew was almost impossible to get Sam to back off from -- especially when Sam knew what the rifle meant to him. Except it was a little different.

Nevertheless Dean made Sam take a ticket for the watch. They had a month to redeem it.

They stopped to pick up food and Dean didn't protest when Sam picked up a bottle of Southern Comfort at the ABC. It wasn't codeine but it would work.

At the hotel, they loaded up the SIG and Dean's other Glock, locked the doors and drew the curtains. Sam rebandaged Dean's hand but didn't say anything else about the hospital, only offered him Tylenol and then the bottle. "I can stay up," Sam offered and Dean decided the rebandaging had helped and being still and not moving his arm helped more.

They shared the second bed since they'd kept the maids out and Dean was not really surprised at how quickly Sam dropped off. Fatigue pulled at him but he waited; a half hour, nearly an hour, but Sam didn't move except to get more comfortable and Dean was willing to take what he could get. An hour's reprieve was still a reprieve.

The pawn tickets were on the nightstand and Dean rolled over to hold them up. A couple of hundred bucks but it would see them through the next few  days. The watch brought more than the rifle but Dean didn't regret pawning it. He had no intention of redeeming it.

Yeah, their Dad had given him the rifle, the first weapon that had been totally Dean's even though he'd been using guns for years. Dean didn't need the rifle to remind him of his father any more than Sam needed the watch to remember Jessica.

He set the tickets aside and rolled over, resting his bandaged hand across Sam's back and feeling the Glock under his pillow. His father had given him something -- someone -- that was a lot more valuable to Dean than the rifle.

And Dean knew exactly how to hold on to what was important to him; with both hands and everything he had in him.

Or die trying.



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Spoilery Author's notes further down

Author's notes: I'm putting a codicil I here to say that some 20,000 words of this were written well before the episodes "Home" and  "Asylum" aired and that I'd gotten them back from beta earlier the day "Asylum" aired, so there are some parallels and divergences from canon that show up here that probably wouldn't have been noticed or even remarked up had I posted this story prior to "Asylum" airing. Notably, that even aside from the fact that this is so obviously an AU, from probably about "Skin" on, this also isn't a tale of possession as we saw in "Asylum".

The only reason I remark upon it at all is that there was  quite the lively discussion going on as to whether Sam (or Dean, for that matter) could be influenced to actually intend actual bodily harm or even killing each other and the correct answer is, that in canon, yes, they absolutely could be. Granted, as of this posting, only Sam has actually pulled the trigger, but until proven otherwise, I'm guessing that Dean under full possession could also be capable of killing his brother.

That in mind, this is an AU and Sam is being influenced rather than possessed, so the same rules do not necessarily apply -- although if I were to retrofit it to canon, chances are Dean might not be a quite so sure of Sam's ability to withstand the persuasion under torture.

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