Characters: Sam Winchester, Dean Winchester
Rating: T (PG-13)
Spoilers: Possible spoilers for any of Season 1-2.
Disclaimer: Supernatural and its characters belong to Eric Kripke. No infringement intended – just dabbling in your sandbox, Mr. Kripke, sir.
Summary: Sam works to stop a deadly vision of his brother.
Read Chapter 1/Chapter 2/Chapter 3/Chapter 4/Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Holding it Together
Dean slammed his eyelids shut against the laughter echoing in his ears – this is what it would be like if he couldn’t find a way to save Sam. Don’t be scared, Dean…You have to save Sam…if you can’t, you’ll have to kill him. Panic bloomed within, blocking reason and resolve and he gasped for the air it stole. His eyes widened as he struggled for a breath. Blackness, thick and heavy, greeted him, pressed in until the need for air burned his lungs.
Hands clamped down on his shoulders and shook him hard. Dean did his best to twist out of them, to get away, but his captor had a strong, sure hold. All he could think to do was fight. Frantically, he jerked an arm free and jabbed his fist into something solid, momentarily causing the hands to falter. Before he could move away, though, the hands were back…and with them, a voice.
“Dean! STOP!” the voice shouted, equal parts pain and fear.
The hands shook and squeezed hard, pinching flesh and leaving marks as the voice continued, this time pleading.
“Please, wake up. Please.”
Sammy. Not the other Sam, but his Sam. Struggling against the chains of the nightmare, he forced his way back to his brother. His eyes flew open. He drew in a deep, whooshing lung-full of air. Looking up, his vision filled with the sight of a pale, frantic Sam. A Sam who still clung to his brother with a death grip. A Sam with a bruised and bleeding lip. He was going to tear apart whoever had hurt his brother.
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?!” Sam shouted, emotion fueling his words.
Dean trembled beneath Sam’s touch, but at least the foreign, wild look on his face was gone and he seemed focused.
Dean reached up and touched Sam’s lip.
“Who did this to you?”
“It’s fine, Dean. Are you okay?”
“Sam,” he growled, “who did this.”
Huffing, Sam released his hold on his brother, grabbed the med kit and hooked a hip on Dean’s bedside. He wiped the blood from his mouth before answering.
“You did, Dean.”
“What!? No way.”
Dean started to shake his head, but even as he did, the memory of his knuckles colliding with something solid accused him.
“Yes, Dean, you did. Even with these injuries, you were getting in some good shots. Hell, you were fighting me off like your life depended on it.”
Lifting one shoulder, Dean said, “Well, I’m not dead.”
Examining his brother’s shoulder, Sam continued, “You’ve torn out the rest of your stitches. I’m gonna have to sew it back up.”
Dean didn’t respond, didn’t say a word, but when Sam wasn’t looking, he couldn’t help finding his eyes drawn to the already purpling mark on his brother’s mouth. As Sam cleaned the fresh blood from his wound, Dean listened to him continue talking in a rapid, but hushed tone.
“Dean, what the hell were you dreaming about? You stopped breathing, man…scared the crap outta me.”
When Sam paused long enough to meet his brother’s stare, Dean’s gaze immediately dropped to his fists still clutching the bed covers. His face shuttered with a deep frown. Finally, Sam returned his attention to his work. Wincing as the needle pushed through his flesh, Dean chose to focus on that rather than Sam’s worried face.
“Did you hear me? You stopped breathing. What kind of nightmare does that?”
Dean shook his head, but stayed quiet.
“Dean, look at me. Look at me,” he commanded when his brother sat complacent.
Sam waited a beat, afraid his brother would not comply. After several seconds, Dean lifted his eyes to meet his. This time Sam lost his breath. Within those hazel-green depths was a lifetime of sorrow, and beyond that was…crushing guilt.
Pressing his lips together, Sam weighed his words carefully. Where was this guilt coming from? Was it Daniel? Or was it something else entirely? He decided to focus on what he could help with.
“I’m worried about you, man. You’re a mess. You’ve been having nightmares, bad ones, and we haven’t even gotten into what happened in Kelsey Lander’s bathroom. Something is wrong and I need you to talk to me. Please.”
Dean’s brows drew together and his mouth grew tight. Sam could see the walls come up. He imagined he could hear the boom of finality in it.
“You can’t or you won’t?” Sam demanded, his voice brittle and hard.
Face rigid, chin defiant, Dean shot back, “Does it matter?”
A long space of time followed the comment. Sam’s jaw muscles flexed and worked beneath his skin, his eyes shooting cold daggers. Then he swung his gaze around the room, lips pursed as he bit down on the words bubbling within. Slamming the med kit shut with a definite snap, he set it aside and stood. As soon as he did, Dean pushed himself into a sitting position, feet planting firmly on the carpeted floor as he waited for the room to slow its spinning.
“So, what, Dean…we just pretend nothin’s going on?”
Sam stood with his hands resting on his hips, not willing to let it go. Dean ran a hand over his face, through his hair and let it rest at his neck. Sighing, he shook his head.
“Look, we’ve just gotta find out what’s causing these suicides and kill it. That’s it. Everything will be okay then.”
Sam blurted, “And what if this gets you first? Huh? What then, Dean?”
Dean looked at Sam, his face set in granite.
Eyebrows high, Sam whispered, “You don’t know that.”
“And you don’t even know if it’s the same thing, Sam!” Dean shouted, not bothering to deny the implications of accepting Sam’s conjecture. “I’ll be okay; I just need to finish this.”
All kinds of alarms tripped within Sam. What happened to ‘I’m fine, Sam’? Frustrated, Sam dropped to his bed, scrubbing his face. After the motion stilled, he continued to hide his face behind his hands. Taking deep breaths, he tried to clear his mind. Dean could be so stubborn. Especially when he thought he was protecting him. Whatever was going on, Dean was definitely hiding something…was protecting him from something. Maybe both. But how to get the truth out of him?
Dropping his hands, Sam took a long look at his brother. He looked tired, no, not tired, exhausted. Deep shadows haunted Dean’s eyes and his face looked drawn . Shoulders were slumped and his head hung low. His demeanor was of a man barely keeping himself together. It was scary seeing his rock-solid brother like this, but not unexpected. Dean had been flirting with disaster for months.
Clasping his hands between his knees, Sam leaned forward. “Dean, just…just promise me you’ll let me know if it gets too much, okay?”
“Sure Sammy, you know I will.”
Rolling his eyes, Sam scoffed. “I mean it, Dean.”
“Yeah, okay, Sam.”
His brother’s tension rippled into Dean, making it difficult to keep up the charade, but somehow he did. Peering from under his lids, Dean asked, “So, did you call the Landers woman?”
Blowing out a breath, Sam rubbed his eyes, wishing he could believe Dean. Nodding, he allowed the change in topic and sat back, nervously tapping his foot up and down.
“Yeah, I did. She gave me some of the other victims’ relatives’ phone numbers and I made a few calls.”
“And, I gotta tell ya, Dean, this sounds like a demon to me. The placement, timing and method of death have been as varied as the victims themselves have. Kinda rules out your typical haunting.”
“The victims have nothing in common? Connection to a particular place, recent loss of loved ones…nothing?”
“The only thing they have in common is that they’re all men and they shared common symptoms – migraines, delusions, voices that no one else can hear and night terrors. Some, like Daniel, had recently suffered a loss of some kind, but not all of them…at least that I could find. Just like I told you this morning.”
“Succubus?” Dean offered as he stood to dress.
“No, there have been no reported sexual attacks. I don’t know, it’s weird. Why would a demon want these people to commit suicide, though? Why not just possess them or kill them outright?”
Dean shrugged, then finished buttoning his jeans. Then he sat on the edge of his bed and pulled a gray T-shirt over his head, saying, “Maybe it’s getting its jollies watching them suffer? Maybe it can’t possess them, only push their buttons.”
Tapping a finger against his lower lip, Sam mused, “Some cultures believe in nightmare demons…not necessarily succubae, but demons that visit people’s dreams, make them go insane without ever actually becoming corporeal.”
“Find anything online about these nightmare demons?”
“Uh, let me check.”
Sam moved to his laptop and with a tap, tap, tap he typed in the information and waited for the pages to load. Watching Sam’s face wrinkle with concentration, the lines between his brows making grooves, Dean sighed – resisting the urge to massage his temples. The headache was ever-present now, not as severe as before, but a dull, constant, annoying ache.
But this was the least of his worries. He could hardly look at his brother without feeling a sharp pang of remorse. That was twice he’d struck Sam in the last year. What kind of brother was he? Hadn’t Sam suffered enough because of him? And, if Sam knew about the girl, if he knew what Dean’d done…but he wouldn’t know. That was one secret that would stay secret.
How could he expect Sam to understand when he still hadn’t forgiven himself? He’d never be absolved of the blame, no matter how much good he did. If Sam knew, he’d leave. No, he couldn’t risk it. His guilt would be his to carry alone. That made it all so much worse because he wanted to tell Sam, he really did. He owed him that much. He needed him to know, to forgive.
The ache in his head sharpened and he had to fight to keep the gasp from becoming audible. Glancing Sam’s way, he was relieved to find his brother engrossed in research. Despite himself, a part of Dean desperately wanted Sam to look and see him. Ever since their dad’s death, a black hole filled the spot where his heart should have been. But with Daniel’s death, it had taken on a life of its own, growing exponentially with each passing day.
The gaping darkness threatened to suck him in and snuff out all the light, all the good, until it left nothing behind. He was a giant walking wound, all that bled on the inside turned inside out to the world. It was staggering in its intensity. Of course, he’d kept it all hidden, buried away from the scrutiny of his brother. Even though done by design, Dean desperately wanted Sam to see, to help him, to save him. Why couldn’t Sam hear him screaming for help? It took all his strength to keep it from bleeding through the cracks in his soul.
God, he was tired. So tired. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to pretend. The internal pain matched the physical pain blow for blow. Escape, he wanted – needed – escape. His eyes skittered over to the pills sitting on the nightstand…it wouldn’t hurt to take a few more. Maybe it would help silence the storm on the inside along with the agony on the outside.
Twisting off the cap, he popped two pills in his mouth and reached for the flask to drown the dry tablets. It probably wasn’t the best idea, but at this point it didn’t seem to matter much. Anything that would quiet the whispering in his mind would be worth it. Anything to dull the pain.
He slugged back a few mouthfuls and felt grateful for the warmth that rushed through his body. He was so cold. Cold on the inside, cold on the outside. He shivered, but he didn’t know if it was a physical response or a mental one. Man, his shoulder hurt – his shoulder, ribs, head – all blaring their agony on a megaphone.
He must’ve made an involuntary sound because instantly Sam’s gaze was on him. Blue-green probed, pierced and begged. Oh, Sammy, please…please, man, I can’t do this now. Just go back to your research, don’t look at me…yes, please, look at me. Help me, I’m drowning, man. That’s it, nothing to see here. I’m fine. Then the connection was gone. Dean’s outer barrier stood carefully erect, wobbling and wavering, but strong enough to deflect. Strong enough to hide what lay behind.
Spent, Dean rested against the headboard. Letting his head fall back with a slight bang, he closed his eyes and sighed through his nose. His arms wrapped around his sides and he pulled his right knee up.
Dean touched his fingertips to his forehead and cursed, “Damn it.”
One word, that was it…but it spoke volumes.
Without looking, Dean misdirected. “Find anything yet?”
A swallow. Rapid blinking and another huff of air. He didn’t have to have super-senses to know they were all there. Sam played like music in his head, every nuance; every note came through loud and clear. He’d never known anyone better or more thoroughly than he did his brother.
“Not much. There doesn’t seem to be any detailed history concerning nightmare demons. ‘Mare’ in the word nightmare actually comes for the Old Norse term “mara” which refers to a demon who sits on a sleeper’s chest, causing them to have bad dreams. ” Sam paused thoughtfully. “But there is no mention of suicide here.”
Waving a hand in the air, Dean asked, “If you’re so sure it’s a demon, why don’t we just exorcise it? Just send the damn thing back to hell already?”
“Because, Dean, you know as well as I do that we need to cover all our bases. Dad always said the first rule of a successful hunt was-”
“Yeah, yeah – know what you’re dealing with first.”
Sam gave him an apologetic shrug.
“So, smart one, what now?”
“Now, we eat. I can’t think over the sounds my stomach is making. What sounds good?”
“You pick, Sam. I’m not really hungry.”
“Think you could handle some soup?”
“I’m guessing you’re not gonna let this go, right?”
“Soup it is.”
Sam got up and reached for his jacket, snagging the keys from the pocket and completely ignoring the disgusted head-shaking coming from his brother. “You gonna be alright alone?”
“Dude, I’m 28. I think I’ll manage.”
Sam hesitated, then said, “Well, okay. But, just in case, my phone is on if you need anything.”
“Gee, thanks, Mom.”
Dean held the smirk firmly in place until he heard the Impala roar to life, then he let it fall away like the heavy burden it was. Grabbing the remote and the whiskey, He began cruising channels as he soothed away his misery with the strong drink.
Somewhere between Pet Cemetery and Tommyknockers (yes, it was a Stephen King movie marathon), he must have dozed. He remembered the credits rolling across the TV screen and then…he wasn’t sure. The only thing he could be sure about was something had startled him awake and he had that funny feeling that made his skin crawl – something was watching him. Maybe it was just the drugs and alcohol, he had a nice warm buzz on and really just wanted to turn over and go back to sleep.
Rolling over, he suddenly found himself face to face with the girl from his dreams, sightless eyes staring into his. Jerking backwards, he tumbled off the bed and scampered toward his bag. He grabbed the sawed off shotgun and blasted the image away. Panting, his back against the wall, he searched the room frantically.
“Now, why would you do that, Dean?” came a whisper next to his ear.
The icy breath chilled his skin and he flinched away, bring the gun up between them.
“I just want to talk,” she began before Dean interrupted her.
“Well, I don’t,” Dean spat as he squeezed the trigger again.
Before he had time to reload, the figure reappeared just to his left, ripping the gun from his hands and sending it clattering against the far wall across the room.
Eyes wide and hands empty, Dean choked, “How…”
“Never mind how…”
In a flash she was straddling him, her hands gripping his throat and cutting off his air. Everywhere her body made contact with his, he could feel a cold burn stinging his skin. Wrapping his fingers around her wrists, he tried to pry them away, but she was strong and the pain lancing through his fingers was nearly unbearable. Letting go of her wrists, he grabbed her upper arms and pulled her toward him, butting her once, twice in the head with his own. The move left them both dazed, but at least she’d let go. Rolling onto his good side and over his shoulder, Dean pushed himself into a defensive standing posture – arms held in front of him and knees bent in anticipation of attack.
“What do you want from me?”
Her eyes glowed and blood dripped from her mouth as she growled, “Your soul.”
Then she was on him, her hands reaching through his flesh and searing a path everywhere she touched. It was a sickening feeling that made his stomach roll. She grasped his head between her hands and pushed. As the pain ripped through his body and mind, he pulled at her arms, but felt himself growing weaker, like she was draining him of his energy.
“NO!” he screamed, hands weakly pushing her away.
“Oh, yes, Dean. You are mine. You. Are. Mine.”
“Hannah, please, stop. My brother needs me.”
“Yeah? Like he needed you last time? Like I needed you?”
“I’m sorry. Please…” he groaned.
“Please, what? Please, let you live? Please, put you out of your misery? Which is it, Dean?”
“No. I don’t think he does. I think it’s you who needs him. Sam can take care of himself and you’re just an obstacle in his path.”
“No…” Dean gasped, his vision blurring.
He struggled to stay conscious, but his head spun dizzily and he could no longer bite back the cries held in his throat. Looking around for anything to defend himself with, he spotted the hilt of his knife hanging over the edge of his bag. Releasing his hold on one of her arms, he stretched and reached with his free hand, trying to knock the weapon within reach. Finally, he gained a good grip and swiped the weapon down in an arcing motion into a surprised Hannah.
Vanishing mist was all that remained and the weapon fell to the floor next to Dean’s hip. He let his head fall back to the floor and heaved with great swallows of air, looking like a gaping fish. Grasping the knife, Dean pulled himself back into bed, sweat pouring down the sides of his face and his back. He didn’t want Sammy finding him on the floor like that. Secure in the bed, he let the blackness claim him.
He didn’t hear the Impala pull up outside or the key in the lock. He didn’t see Sam come in or the way his little brother’s eyes immediately locked onto him, checking to make sure he was still there. When Sam nearly tripped over the shotgun still resting by the door, he didn’t hear the curse or the crinkling of sacks being flung on a nearby table as Sam rushed to his side calling his name.
What he did hear was Sam’s continued curses at the deep bruising around Dean’s neck. Waking up to gentle slaps on his cheeks and Sammy’s voice beckoning him, Dean floated and hovered just two steps from either direction of awareness.
“Dean, wake up.”
He tried to bring Sam’s face into focus, the colors and shapes becoming clearer.
“What happened? You okay?”
“Sam?” he croaked, noticing the rawness of his throat.
“Yeah. Man, what happened? Why’s the shotgun in the floor? And where’d these bruises come from?”
“Uh, yeah, about that. Had a little visitor while you were gone.”
“A visi-…Dean, what’re you talking about? Who did this?” Sam gestured at Dean’s neck.
Not looking Sam in the eye, he said, “I think it was a spirit of some sort…”
“You think? What does that mean?”
Still disoriented and thrown by his experience, Dean felt a flare of annoyance at Sam’s third degree.
“I don’t know…just a little more than our normal spook.”
“Yeah, I’d have to agree,” Sam started, reaching out to touch the welts circling Dean’s neck.
Dean batted Sam’s hands away and proceeded to turn onto his side, intent on sleeping. Whatever she’d done to him had left him drained.
“You’re going back to sleep? Now?” Getting a grunt and a nod from his brother, Sam said, “Dean, I need to know what happened here.”
“Later, Sammy. I’m really tired, man.”
Pushing back on Dean’s shoulder, Sam replied, “Not until you tell me what happened here.”
Dean rolled his eyes and sighed.
“Ah, man. Give me a break, Sam…I need to sleep.”
“And if that thing comes back? Don’t you think it would be helpful for me to know what we’re up against?
Predictably, that did the trick. Sam needed to know so he could be prepared…just in case. So while Sam fussed over checking his stitches and then set out the food he’d brought back, Dean told his brother everything there was to tell. Everything except the fact that he knew the ghost girl. That he kept to himself. By the time he’d finished relating the details, he’d fought through the worst part of the grogginess and was slumped against the headboard, nearly strong enough to sit all the way up. Whatever she’d done to him, it wore off if given some time.
Sam held out the white foam container of soup he’d picked up for Dean. However, when Dean looked up to take the offered food, he saw Hannah standing where Sam should’ve been. Yelping loudly, he dropped the bowl just as Sam had let go and spilled the hot liquid all over his chest and thighs, hissing as it scalded the flesh pink.
“Son of a bitch!” he cried out.
“Oh, damn!” chorused Sam.
Sprinting to the bathroom, Sam came back with couple of towels and one wetted washcloth.
“I’m so sorry, Dean! I thought you had it, man,” he apologized as he dabbed at his brother’s t-shirt and jeans. “Here, take off your clothes.”
Sam snatched fresh laundry from Dean’s bag and came back to clean up the mess on the floor. Looking up just as Dean lifted his t-shirt over his head, he gasped at the discolored flesh across Dean’s chest and abdomen. Dark, red welts blistered his brother’s flesh like burn marks.
“God, Dean! It did that?!”
Untangling himself from the cloth, Dean looked down at himself, wincing as his eyes fell on the painful marks.
“Well, hell,” was all he could muster up.
Splaying his fingers across the tingling skin, he examined the stripes, poking at them to test the pain quota. What the hell was going on? He couldn’t help wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him.
“I don’t think the soup did that, Dean. It wasn’t that hot.”
“Says you,” Dean grumbled.
Sam’s brows had climbed up to his hairline as he peered closely at the marks.
“Look,” Sam continued, “it’s almost like a bruise around the edges…and there’s a faint outline of fingers here and here,” he said, pointing to a couple of spots on Dean’s ribs and breastbone.
Shrugging, Dean batted Sam’s hand away again, saying, “Musta been the ghost.”
“But, what kind of ghost does that?”
“Exactly, little brother.”
“I’m on it,” Sam said, parking himself in front of his laptop for the third time that day. “Whatever it is, I’m gonna find it and we’re gonna kill it.”
Dean smirked at his brother’s resolve. Sam, the eternal optimist – with plenty of stubborn thrown in. Somehow he felt safe in knowing he could count on Sam to always have his back.
A/N: I really feel I could’ve done a better job on this, but honestly, I’m tired of worrying about it…or, maybe I’m just tired, lol. Either way, I trust you all enough to throw it out there into your capable hands…or minds, if we want to be literal.
Many thanks again to all those who commented…I think I replied to everyone. You all are very generous with your kindness to me. I hope I can make it worth your while.
And, even if you don’t send me a comment, thank you for reading this tangled web of words.
I just can’t say this enough, big thanks and kudos to Tidia and Mady for beta’ing this for me despite your own busy lives and complications. I’ve been quite the mess and I’m glad you had my back.