in the Shadows, Step Into the Light
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't profit, just like to play
Notes: Written for a challenge in spnficfriday. Prompts were a combo of hate and never let you go. 99% of the locations in this story are based on nothing but my imagination. I have no medical background, so if something doesn't ring true, it's just proof that I would make a terrible research assistant.
Sam woke slowly, blinking his eyes against the early morning light peaking through the crack between nearly closed curtains. The last thing he could remember was feeling more tired than he had in months and collapsing face first into bed fully clothed. He could see Dean's empty bed and hoped the silence in the room meant his brother went for food and coffee.
He rolled carefully out of bed, feeling hung over and run down. Sam stood and started to pull off his clothes, shedding the grimy feeling of the bar, feeling desperate for a shower and a toothbrush. He could still taste last night's beer. By the time he reached the bathroom, the thought of one week was back in full force. One week. He had one week left with his brother, and he still hadn't found a way to save him from the deal with the crossroad demon. Dean had refused to look for an answer, and Sam had raged at first, demanding to know why not. It had taken his brother three months to crack under the barrage.
Sam flipped on the shower as he thought back to the shitty motel room in a small Texas town. Dean had tensed when Sam started speaking; he'd turned his back and started pulling clothes out of his duffle bag, shoulders tight and back stiff.
"God damn it, Dean, do you want to die?" Sam had finally shouted, voice gritty with anger and pain. "Do you want to leave me alone?"
Dean had thrown the jeans he'd been holding down onto the bed and spun around. "No, Sam!" he'd shouted, face going red with anger. "But if I welsh on this deal, you'll die, and it'll all have been for nothing!"
Sam stepped under the weak water pressure and remembered how Dean had grabbed his wallet, phone, and keys, before storming out of their room. The door had slammed behind him hard enough to crack the cheap, wooden frame, and the neighbours had pounded on the walls and screamed for them to shut up.
Dean hadn't returned by the time Sam stepped out of the bathroom. He glanced around the room. Dean's cell phone and wallet were missing, but the keys to the Impala were still resting on the scarred wooden table by the television. The clothes Dean had been wearing the day before were folded neatly over the back of the room's lone chair, and his duffle lay zipped closed in the corner.
It was the sight of the closed bag that sent Sam's mind spinning in directions he didn't want it to go. Dean never closed his bag unless they were moving on to somewhere new. He claimed it was a waste of time shutting it when he'd just have to open it again later.
Sam reached for his phone and punched the speed dial for his brother's cell. "Answer, Dean. Come on. Answer." When the call flipped to voicemail after a few rings, Sam jabbed the end button without leaving a message.
He didn't want to consider it, but what if Dean had left him? The one time his brother had said he didn't want Sam to be around when the time came, Sam had vetoed the idea and an hour long argument had followed. Finally, Dean had glared and changed the subject. It hadn't come up since. Sam pushed the thought out of his mind. He wouldn't go there unless he had proof. He didn't want to think that his brother would deny him their last few days together.
Sam began pulling on clothes, mentally running through a list of the places Dean could be. Fully clothed, he picked up his phone again and dialed.
"Morning, Sam," Ellen's voice came over the line. "You boys on your way yet?"
"Not yet. We're going to be late."
"Dean's gone somewhere, not sure when he'll be back." He strove for casual and ended up with tense. Ellen picked up on it right away.
"What do you mean by gone somewhere?"
"He wasn't here when I woke up. There was no note, so I figured he'd gone for coffee, but that was almost an hour ago."
"Something happen recently, Sam?"
"No. We went for a couple drinks last night, came back pretty early, and crashed almost right away." Sam paused, his mind reaching for details of the previous night. A couple drinks. He was sure they'd only had two apiece. But he'd been too out of it to take off his clothes when they returned.
"Sam?" He realized he'd fallen silent.
"Ellen. I think something happened to him."
"What makes you say that?"
"We had two drinks each last night then came back to the motel before eleven. But this morning I've got the hangover from hell and I feel like I haven't slept at all."
"You're a lightweight, Sam."
"Look, I know my brother. There are things that just don't add up here. His clothes are folded over the back of a chair. His bag is closed. I know that doesn't mean anything to you, but it does to me. Something's wrong."
"Ok, honey, calm down. Bobby and I are on our way. Where are you?"
As soon as he was off the phone, Sam took another look around. The salt lines were undisturbed; nothing of his had been moved. Dean's bag appeared to be untouched inside and the bed looked slept in.
Moving his search outside, Sam checked the Impala inside and out, but nothing appeared amiss. He made a slow circle of the motel, seeing nothing out of the ordinary until he reached the farthest corner of the motel from the street; the corner closest to their room. A dirt path led to a narrow service road that looked like it hadn't seen use in a dozen years. Foliage had grown over the edges onto the road, and the foot path was wildly overgrown. In the distance, Sam could see the top of a factory with a rotting roof.
Except the path had broken and bent bushes lining the sides. Turning to look away from the factory, Sam could see tire tracks pulling off the dirt shoulder of the road and crushed plants further down. Someone had used the road recently.
Sam began a fast-paced stride along the service road towards the main street. It took him less than five minutes to walk the distance. As he reached the main road, he pulled his phone out and dialed Dean's number again. He didn't bother with a message when voicemail picked up again. He made his way back down the overgrown road, slower this time, looking for any clues as to his brother's whereabouts.
It wasn't until he was walking back across the dirt path that he caught sight of it; the mid-morning sun glinting off a small, golden object just inside the underbrush. Sam dropped to his knees and reached for it, coming back with Dean's amulet.
"Shit." He was on the phone to Bobby moments later. "Someone took him," were the first words out of his mouth.
"How do you know that for sure, Sam?"
"I found his necklace. Dean never takes it off. Not willingly. There's an abandoned service road behind the motel with fresh tire tracks. Bobby, I think someone drugged us and took him."
"We're a couple hours away. Have you started asking around yet?" At Sam's negative response, he said, "Well, get at it boy. We'll see you soon."
Sam made his way back to the motel on auto pilot. His mind was racing through one scenario after another. Everything from the demon coming to collect early, to Dean making it look like he'd been taken to spare Sam seeing him die, to a pissed off someone or something out for revenge. He didn't know what to think.
Questioning the motel staff proved useless. No one had seen Dean since he'd checked them in two days before. Sam started asking other guests to no avail. By the time Bobby and Ellen arrived, he was really starting to freak out.
"Sam we'll find him," Ellen said after taking one look at his distressed expression.
"You don't know that!" He was shouting, but Ellen didn't flinch. "I have seven days left with my brother, the only family I have left in this world, and someone out there is taking that time away from me. It's not fair! God damn it, Ellen, it's not fucking fair." His voice had dropped to a whisper, as he sat down heavily on Dean's empty bed.
Over his head, Bobby and Ellen shared identical looks of concern. Sam was already wound tight. As time had counted down to the end of the year, he had grown progressively worse. Snapping at the little things and turning a blind eye to whatever Dean said or did. They were in for a rough time and they knew it.
* * *
After Ellen forced Sam to eat something, he led them out back. They spent the remainder of the daylight searching for another clue. They came up empty. Sam paced and did research that night while the others slept. A constant litany of six days left, six days, just six days running through his head.
By the time morning came, he was furious. His brother had been taken and Sam was willing to kill do whatever it took to get him back. A fleeting thought of "not just Sammy that came back" ran through his mind. It had taken him months to worm that bit of information out of his brother. He remembered the way Dean's eyes had flared and his mouth tightened into a scowl. Dean had walked out of the room and come back three hours later as close to begging Sam to forgive him as he'd ever seen Dean. It had frightened him to see his brother that desperate. Sam had let Dean slide with just about everything since then.
When Ellen and Bobby woke, Sam was wired and ready to go. Only he had nowhere to go. They asked around at the stores and restaurants surrounding the motel, hoping someone would remember something. They arrived back late that afternoon, exhausted and no closer to an answer than they had been that morning. Sam led the way into his and Dean's room and sat down heavily at the table.
"I'm gonna go scrounge up some food," Bobby said, already heading for the door, however; Sam's panicked 'oh god' held him in place.
Sam was staring at something on the table. "Dean," he whispered. With a trembling hand, he picked up the small object. It glinted in the late afternoon sun peaking through the window. Dean's ring.
"Someone's been here. This is Dean's."
A search of the room showed nothing out of place and no signs that Dean himself had actually been there. This time when Sam flew into the motel office the clerk was able to help.
"There was a white cargo van parked outside your room for about five minutes. I didn't see anyone go in or out, but I noticed because I hadn't seen it in the lot before and we haven't had anyone check in since yesterday."
"Thanks," Sam said, nodding as he turned to leave.
The guy stopped him. "I got the plates if you think that'll help." Sam smiled grimly and snagged the slip of paper the clerk held out.
* * *
Against the flickering light from a group of television screens, he looked almost as if he were melting into the dark room around him. From the newly built second floor of an abandoned silo, he has the ability to monitor the surrounding outdoors for a two hundred feet in any direction, and the room below containing an unconscious Dean Winchester.
The ground on which the silo was built had been hollowed once, long ago. But that kind of protection doesn't just fade away, so it benefited him to be here. He's added his own charms, as well as spells that most wouldn't know, hadn't known in years, powerful charms that had been lost through the ages and found again by men such as himself. The demon could send her hounds, but they would not get in. Dean Winchester wasn't going to die at the jaws of her beasts, no. He wouldn't die because of some pathetic emotional bargain to save his brother. Dean Winchester was going to die by his hand alone, and little brother Sammy would follow soon after. He has a score to settle, and it would be settled with blood.
He continues to stand before the monitors, dark eyes fixed on where Dean lay strapped to a rickety cot, oblivious to the world and surrounded by a myriad of machinery, various tubes leading in and out of his body.
"Enjoy your last few days of rest, Dean, because once you're mine, you won't remember what it feels like not to be in pain."
Below him, Dean remains unmoving in his drugged state.
The plates had led them to a dead end, and the second day wound down without any new developments. Sam's anger ebbed into fear that night, and when the third morning dawned clear and bright, Sam had moved on to despair. He'd slept restlessly, tossing and turning in the uncomfortable motel bed.
When he'd finally given up on sleep, Sam had picked up Dean's ring and amulet, settled himself against the headboard of his brother's bed, and sat staring at the opposite wall until the others had entered with food and coffee.
He'd known for nearly a year that Dean would be leaving him. He'd held out hope that he could find a way out of Dean's deal, but at the back of his mind it had always been a very real possibility. Now the chance to even say good-bye was gone.
Bobby had made up a reason to head to his truck once he realized the state Sam was in. Ellen had eased herself down onto the bed at his hip and placed a hand on his knee gently. She didn't say anything for a minute or so, not until Sam's eyes drifted from the wall to her face.
"I want to tell you we'll find him in time for you two to-" she broke off and drew in a shaky breath. "But we both know that might not happen. That doesn't mean we aren't going to do everything we can do bring him home."
She laughed despite herself when Sam straightened, brushed a hand across his eyes and muttered "no chick flick moments," under his breath.
"Come on, let's eat something."
They started from the beginning again after breakfast, walking carefully along the path and searching the underbrush before doing the same for the road. By the time they stopped, the sun was starting to dip lower in the sky. Sam picked at his meal and pretended not to notice when Bobby added the crushed remains of a sleeping pill into his drink. The next morning dawned bright and cool, and the first thought on Sam's mind was "three days."
Desperation took over, and Sam grabbed the keys to the Impala. He spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon driving around, scanning the streets for Dean's face or a sign that he had been somewhere, anywhere, recently. Ellen and Bobby did the same, driving further out into the countryside and scanning farms and old properties for signs of Dean.
They came up with nothing.
Returning to the motel brought with it another piece of Dean. In the centre of the table was his bracelet – wood and bone beads worn smooth in some spots – and a note. Printed on plain white paper, it sat there waiting for someone to step forward and pick it up.
When Bobby made to reach for it, Sam stopped him with a hand on his arm. "It's okay. I got this." He moved forward and picked up the paper.
"Sorry it had to be this way, Sammy," he read out loud. "But big brother and I had a score to settle. Don't worry, it'll be your turn soon."
"Who'd you piss off, Sam?"
"I don't know. I – I don't... He's already dead, isn't he? It says 'had' – had is past tense." Sam let the note slip from numbed fingers. "Dean..." he whispered, sinking down into the chair. If not for Ellen's guiding hand, he would have landed on the floor.
Sam looked up at them, eyes welling with unshed tears. "I didn't even get to say good-bye."
Bobby and Ellen could do nothing but watch as Sam fell to pieces before them.
* * *
He can hear the hellhounds growling and crashing into trees lining the edge of the hollowed ground, even if he can't see them on the monitors. They had been at it for three days now. Below him, Dean stays still in his unconscious state, unaware that the demon has come to collect. He smiles and pushes a button that will deliver a new dose of sedative into Dean's IV. It wouldn't do to have him wake up part way through this. No, he needs Dean unconscious and unaware of the fact that he was skipping out on his deal. There may be loopholes, but there was very little room to play. Dean must remain unaware of what is going on or the charms and spells protecting them would break, and the hell hounds would be able to lay claim to his soul.
He sits back in his chair, watching the monitors intently, and readies himself to wait for the new moon to rise in four nights.
* * *
He watches the clock tick down the time, red digital numbers that have tracked days, hours, minutes, and seconds for him. Once the demon's time is up, he will wake Dean and tell him exactly what he has in store for him. And for his little brother. It's down to seconds now, and he smiles. On the screen he can see Dean's left index finger twitch, jostling the pulse monitor attached to it slightly. His smile widens into a frightening grin as he watches the last ten seconds fall away.
When the count hits zero, he pushes the button that will stop all the medications presently pumping into Dean's body. At the same moment he feels a slight shift in the room's air pressure. The sound of the hounds is suddenly gone and replaced by the ominous tap of a foot against the wooden floor. He stills, moving just enough to put his fingers over the hilt of the knife at his side.
"That won't hurt me, you know," says a soft, lilting voice just behind him.
"How did you get in here?" He doesn't turn.
" Those protections you put in place? They only last until the moment after my window of opportunity ends. I can't touch him, but you don't have that luxury."
As she stops talking, he feels the swell of his organs as they expand, pressing against skin and bone, followed by the stretching, ripping pain of his flesh tearing open and his bones cracking apart. He's dead by the time he hits the ground.
With a tiny smile, the demon steps over the body and makes her way down to Dean's bedside.
* * *
Dean came around slowly, blinking sluggishly as his eyes adjusted to the dim light of the room. The first thing to register with him was the mechanical beep of the heart monitor. The next thing that Dean realized was that he was strapped down to a bed and completely immobilized.
"You sure know how to make a girl wait."
Dean turned his head towards the voice. "You come to collect?" he asked the pretty woman standing next to him. "'Cause I got to tell you, I never pegged a demon for being kinky."
"I did come to collect. Seven days ago."
"So what's this, foreplay?"
She laughed, leaning over him until her auburn hair brushed against the two weeks of growth on his face. "No, Dean, this is a loophole."
He was silent while she drew back and tucked her long hair back behind one ear. "You wanna run that one by me again?" he finally asked.
"Congratulations, Dean, you're in on the secret now. There are maybe 70 people in the whole world who know that this loophole exists. Don't get getting any ideas – it only works once. And forget about spreading the word, either. Hell has vengeance demons for a reason, you know."
"Can't share a secret I don't understand, sweetheart. So back up and start by telling me how I'm seven days past D-Day. And maybe untie me while you're at it."
She laughed, high and pretty, green eyes bright with amusement. "I just lost your soul, Dean. Why would I want to help you?"
He glanced at her, tugging at the restraints on his wrists and finding no give. Lifting his head to get a better look made him dizzy. "How 'bout you get me some water at least."
She shook her head, still grinning.
"Bitch," he muttered.
"You've pissed off a lot of people in your time, you know that? Including the guy upstairs who wanted to kill you himself so badly that he went to all the to all the trouble of kidnapping you, drugging you, and doing a hell of a fine job keeping me and my dogs out until after the rise of the new moon."
She sighed. "Your brother really did get the brains of the family, didn't he? Shut up and listen," she said when he opened his mouth. "It's simple, really. I only have a certain length of time to collect. Until the rise of the first new moon after the deal comes due to be exact. It sounds easy to get around, but anyone who's dealt with a hell hound knows better. So your pal rigged all this up to keep me from getting what was rightfully mine. Too bad for him that he didn't do all his homework. In any case, you weren't technically the one breaking the deal. So you get to keep your life and your soul, and baby brother Sam gets to live as well. I hate losing on a technicality, you know that?"
"Gee, I'm so sorry for you," he deadpanned.
"You're going to die out here, Dean, tied down like this. It's a shame; you don't get to live much longer, and I don't get to play with your soul for eternity. Almost makes me want to help you out a little."
"No more deals."
"We'll call it a freebie, then." She rolled her eyes at the look on his face. "No catch, Dean. I promise. And unfortunately, I don't have the freedom to go back on a promise." She reached over and undid the strap on his left hand before stepping back. "At least try to make it a day or two before you bite it, alright? I like to be entertained, and I don't want my generosity to have been all for nothing." She was gone a few seconds later.
Dean took careful stock of his body. There was an IV running into each hand and a tube that went up his nose and down his throat. As he shifted, he felt the tug of a catheter.
"Well this is gonna suck," he muttered. Fighting back a wave of nausea, he lifted his head and looked at the straps running across his body. With a sigh, Dean shifted his free hand to reach for the buckle of the restraint across his chest, wincing at the movement. He fumbled at it with tired fingers until the clasp let go and he was able to move it off to the side. Resting his head back against the mattress of the hospital style bed, Dean squeezed his eyes shut for a few seconds, trying to make everything stop spinning. With minimal pain and only a drop or two of blood, Dean managed to remove the IV lines from his hands.
Pushing himself carefully into a sitting position, he made quick work of the remaining restraints. Removing the feeding tube left him gasping and dry heaving, and he yelled loud enough to startle a pack of birds outside when the catheter came out; but finally he was free. Wrapping the bed sheet around his naked body, Dean slowly got to his feet and took his first good look around.
He was in a small, circular room with metal walls and no windows. To one side he saw a boarded up area that might have covered an entrance and beside it a new looking ladder that led up to a hole in the equally new looking ceiling above him, the light plywood looking fresh compared to the worn boards he stood on.
Dean carefully made his way up the ladder and as he reached the opening, the thick, metallic scent of blood flooded his nose. Opposite the entrance was a bank of monitors showing the room below and various outside angles, beside it a cot, and in front of both, a mutilated body lay on its back on the floor. Closest to him was a duffle bag and a mini fridge.
Dean did his best to keep the sheet away from the blood spreading out across the floor as he made his way to the duffle bag in search of clothes. Pulling out pair of jeans that would be too big for him along with a t-shirt, he dressed quickly. Dean approached the body carefully, side stepping blood pools and wishing there's been a pair of shoes in the bag as well. It took almost a full minute before recognition sank in.
"I'll be damned. Gordon Walker." He stood there a little longer, staring at Gordon's body and letting anger wash over him.
He moved on to the fridge, grinning when he found it stocked with water and food. He slid gratefully down onto the cot with an apple and a bottle of water in his hands, and let his head fall back against the wall as he twisted the cap off.
He was halfway through the apple and sipping slowly at the water when a familiar ring tone sounded. Jumping up and almost stumbling over Gordon's body, Dean strode across to the desk where his cell phone was flashing Sam's name on the display.
"Sammy?" Silence met him on the other end of the line. "Sammy, please, is that you? I need help. I don't know where I am."
"Dean?" It came out choked and broken. Then the line went dead as the low battery warning beeped once before it gave out. Dean had to fight the urge to hurl the phone across the room.
"God damn it!" His hands were shaking as he stuffed the useless phone into the pocket of the jeans. Storming back towards the cot, Dean's foot slid out from under him when he stepped in the blood by Gordon's left arm and he fell onto his back, cracking his head against the floor and landing on top of the dead man's legs.
He couldn't fight his stomach's response as he rolled to the side, bringing up water, bile, and chunks of apple. Panting, he carefully climbed to his hands and knees and crawled away from the mess.
Stripping out of the now ruined clothes, he pulled fresh ones from the duffle and dressed himself again and taking his phone out of the pocket before tossing the stained denim on top of Gordon. He wanted to crawl under the covers and sleep, but the desire to get far away as quickly as possible was stronger. He packed the water and remaining food on top of the clothes, picked up the two hunting knives he found during a final scan of the room and was on his way out the metal sliding exit on the upper level, climbing cautiously down the ladder he found anchored to the outside wall.
Once outside he found a car parked in the nearby barn. There was less than a quarter tank of gas left in the junker, but it ran and would hopefully get him as far as a payphone to call Sam from.
* * *
Ellen no longer said anything when Sam called his brother's cell just to hear his voice on the outgoing message. She had her back to him as he keyed in the number, but she turned in time to see the rapid loss of colour from his face. Moments later his wide eyes met her gaze and he was saying Dean's name.
"Dean!" he shouted again, pulling the phone away from his ear and glancing at the display. "No. No, no, no, damn it, no!" He was dialing again and crying out in frustration when it went straight to voicemail. He looked up at Ellen helplessly as the door opened and Bobby entered.
"Am I missing something?" he asked.
They stared at him.
"He answered. It rang this time and he answered. He said my name and asked for help, said he didn't know where he was. He's alive."
"Are you sure it was him?"
"I know my own brother's voice, Bobby."
"Whoever took him threatened to come after you as well, Sam. This could be a trap."
"It was Dean." Sam stood and paced over to Bobby. "He's alive and he's out there somewhere. I'm going to find him."
Dean ran out of gas just past a sign stating the town of Chesterton was only ten miles away. It was well past midnight from what he could tell, and the air outside was frigid. With no shoes, there wasn't a chance in hell he was going to walk it in the dark. Never mind that he still felt like he was going to pass out or throw up at any moment.
Instead he climbed into the backseat and pulled the blanket he'd taken from the cot around him as he settled in for the night. He hadn't meant to do more than nap, but his body had other ideas. The tap of plastic against glass woke him up a few hours later. He opened his eyes to the beige of the car upholstery muted to grey in the weak light from the new dawn.
The tapping came again and Dean raised his head and twisted it back to see a cop looking in at him through the window. Untangling one hand from the blanket, he pushed himself up and reached to crack the window open.
"Everything alright, son?"
Dean scrubbed a hand across his face. "Ran out of gas during the night," he said.
The cop smiled. "There's a gas station in town. Why don't you ride with me and we'll get you back on the road again in no time."
Dean raised a hand to his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut and swaying slightly, muttering a weak sounding "Yeah."
"Feeling a little woozy," he lied. "Just getting over a nasty bug. Still kinda feeling it, I guess."
"You need a doctor? Hospital's in the next town over."
"No, no, I'll be fine. I think I should stay here though. Get myself together."
The cop nodded. "Fine, son, I'll be back in about half an hour. You'll be okay to drive?"
"Yes, sir, I will. Thank you." Dean reached for the duffle bag, pulling out a few rumpled bills he'd found inside. The cop waved him off and Dean smiled gratefully. It was the only cash he had.
When the cop returned – Sheriff Roberts as he introduced himself – he filled Dean's tank and told him how to get to the motel in town, suggesting he get some sleep in a real bed before moving on. Dean put the car in gear and pulled out after him, heading towards a means to contact his brother.
* * *
The motel was a small, clean, family run business according to the placard on the office door. Dean pulled out the cash from the duffle and asked for a room for however long it would get him. The woman behind the counter took one look at his pale, tired face, too-thin body in too-big clothes, and assured him his $42.61 was enough for two nights even though Dean could see the sign proclaiming the nightly rate to be $39.99 just over her left shoulder.
"Thank you," Dean whispered when she handed him a key and directed him to the first room on the first floor. She smiled kindly at him as he turned to go, pausing only long enough to ask if there was a phone nearby.
"There's one in the room, honey. If you're phoning long distance, you'll need a calling card or you'll have to call collect." Dean smiled at her once more, nodding his thanks as he left the room.
Dumping the duffle in the corner, Dean went straight for the phone, connecting with the operator to place a collect call to Sam. He sighed in relief when Sam's voice came over the line.
"Dean, is that you?"
The operator's brisk voice responded. "You have a collect call from Dean Winchester. Are you willing to accept the charges?" At Sam's affirmative response, he continued. "Thank you. You may begin your call."
"Dean! God, Dean. You're alive. How the hell are you alive? Where are you? Are you alright?"
"One question at a time, Sammy. I'll explain when you come get me. I'm in some small town called Chesterton. Only motel in the joint. It's on the corner of Steeple and Maeve. Room 101."
"Where the hell is Chesterton?"
"Don't know, Sam. You're research boy, figure it out."
"Sorry, I'm just–"
"It's okay." Dean could hear the soft tap of Sam's fingers on the laptop keyboard. "You're a few hours away, Dean, it won't take us long to get there, okay?"
"Ellen and Bobby are with me."
"You alright, Dean? Are you hurt?"
"I'll be fine. Just get a move on."
"I'll see you soon."
Dean placed the phone back in the cradle and dropped his too-warm face into his hands. He stayed like that until a gentle knock came at the door a few minutes later. He opened it to find the woman from the office on the other side.
"The sheriff called to make sure you got in alright; mentioned you've been sick recently. I just wanted to see if there was anything you needed. Medication, food, a doctor?"
Already on the edge of breaking, the unfamiliar generosity of this woman, a total stranger, struck down another of Dean's defenses. He tried to speak but his throat felt thick. Clearing it, he tried again.
"Thank you, m'am, I'm fine though. I appreciate the offer, but to be honest I don't think my stomach could handle food just about now."
"I'll bring you some tea and toast to help settle it."
"You don't have to do that."
She smiled. "I know. I'm heading next door to pick up my breakfast anyway, so it's no trouble."
"I'll be back soon, son. You just get yourself settled in. How do you want your tea?"
"I'm not much of a tea drinker."
"I'll bring you some packets of sugar, milk, and cream then. I always take mine with milk." She didn't wait for a response, just patted him on the arm reassuringly, and turned away.
Dean shut the door after her and sat back on the bed again, shoulders sagging as he held back the tears threatening to overwhelm him. It was slowly starting to sink in that he was alive. Free and clear from the deal – both him and Sam safe with their whole lives ahead of them. He shook his head roughly as if the motion could erase the foreign feeling of vulnerability.
Ten minutes later he was hastily wiping away moisture from the corner of his eye when the woman, Grace, returned.
* * *
Hours later Sam pulled the Impala into the Chesterton Family Motel parking lot and maneuvered it into a space in front of room 101.
"Sam, you need to be prepared in case this is a trap." Bobby's voice was gruff.
"I know. We go in without warning and with guns drawn. I get it."
"Come on." Ellen was the first one out of the car. The sun was nearly down behind the building, and the sky was lit with steadily darkening hues of orange, red, blue, and purple. The lights were out in Dean's room and the curtains drawn.
Sam tried the door and found it locked. Glancing around for anyone watching first, he dropped to one knee and carefully picked the lock. He pushed the door open, pausing in the doorway to let one hand hover over the butt of his gun, just in case.
"Dean?" he called out. On the bed, a blanket covered lump shifted slightly. Ellen flicked on the lights as Sam stepped further inside. "You awake?"
The lump shifted again and a hand appeared, followed by a head of tousled, spiky hair and a set of weary green eyes.
"I'm not possessed, dude."
"Just making sure."
Dean was still lying down mostly covered by the blankets. "It's not a trap, either," he said when he saw the firearms pointed at him.
"Gotta make sure, son. You're supposed to be dead, after all."
Sam was already moving to the bed while Bobby spoke. He sat on the edge and helped Dean struggle upright and then pulled him in to a tight embrace.
"I thought I lost you."
"Can't get rid of me that easy, Sam."
"What happened?" Sam drew back and got his first good look at his brother. "You look like shit, man."
"I feel like shit."
Ellen was at his side a moment later, one hand going to his forehead. "You're running a fever, honey."
Sam wasn't used to Dean willingly admitting to being unwell. It struck a chord of fear deep in his chest and curled tight in his stomach. He took in his brother's slumped form and glassy eyes, then pressed his own hand to Dean's forehead.
"We should get you to a doctor."
"I'll be fine." That was more like the Dean he knew.
"You've been missing for two weeks. God only knows what's happened to you. You could be seriously ill. The fact that you have a fever tells me you probably are."
"Sam." It was a low, warning growl of his name. The intended effect was lost, however, when Dean swayed and had to reach out to grasp Sam's arm to keep from tipping over.
"Ellen, can you go find out where the nearest hospital is?" She nodded, already heading for the door.
"Bobby, do you mind if we leave the truck and take the Impala? I don't want to be stuck behind the wheel if something happens before we get there."
"Stop talking like I'm not in the room. Bobby, you are not driving my car. Sam's lucky I let him drive it."
"Can you stand?"
"I'm not an invalid." Dean made it out of bed and took two steps towards the door before he fell over, catching himself awkwardly on the edge of the bed. Sam's arm slid around his waist, steadying him, but this time Dean's protests were only for show. He allowed Sam to lead him out of the room and to the car. He didn't say a word as Sam ushered him into the back seat.
Ellen came out of the office with Grace in tow. She stopped at Dean's still-open door and crouched to put a hand on his shoulder. "You get yourself better quick. Young men like you should be out enjoying life, not cooped up in bed ill. I'll be thinking of you."
"Thank you, m'am." Dean smiled faintly and let Sam tuck a blanket around his body when Grace turned to Bobby and Ellen and explained how to get to the hospital. She stood outside watching the car disappear over the hill.
The emergency room was relatively quiet when they arrived, but even so it was over two hours before a doctor called them.
Sam raised a hand in brief acknowledgement and jostled Dean, who had fallen asleep against his shoulder while Sam had filled out paperwork.
Dean stood shakily, not even complaining when Sam helped lead him forward. Sam was desperate to find out at least a small part of what had happened to Dean, but when the doctor questioned him, he had simply looked at the man with tired eyes and shrugged. Sam jumped in.
"He's been missing for two weeks. I don't know where he was or what happened, but he'd been held against his will."
"Dean, he can't help you if he doesn't know what happened." The silent neither can I that followed was acknowledged by the softening of Dean's expression and the slight slumping of his shoulders.
"I woke up the other day in the middle of nowhere with a couple IVs in my hands and stuff."
"Stuff?" the doctor, Richardson according to his ID badge, prompted.
"Tube up my nose and a catheter."
Dr. Richardson nodded. "Who removed them?"
"What were the conditions like when you woke up, Dean? Dirty, clean?"
"Seemed clean enough, I guess. I wasn't exactly paying attention."
"You've been gone two weeks, according to?" he glanced at Sam.
"Sam. I'm his brother." Sam stuck his hand out to shake the man's out of habit.
"Guess so. Don't remember anything between coming home from the bar and waking up out there."
"We'll start with blood and urine tests and get you admitted before we look to do anything else. I'd like to get a handle on your fever as soon as possible."
As the doctor left, Sam raised his hands in a pleading gesture. "I'll bring you a burger the size of your head as soon as you're feeling better, I promise. Just let him help you."
Dean glared at him for a moment. "With chili cheese fries," he finally added grudgingly, and Sam knew he had him.
"And a six pack of beer."
"I'm holding you to that."
A nurse came in a few minutes later to draw blood and get Dean changed into a hospital gown. Dean had already fallen asleep sitting up with Sam's arm wrapped protectively around him.
"Hey, come on man, you can sleep soon, okay? Gotta get you changed."
Dean grunted and cracked his eyes halfway open. "Oh hell no," he said, opening then wide and taking in the sight of the six foot plus, heavy-set and balding nurse in front of him. Sam rolled his eyes and Dean shook his head. "No way is another guy undressing me, Sammy. No offence, man."
The nurse laughed at the slightly panicked and mostly apologetic look Sam shot him. He handed the gown off to Sam. "None taken. I'm gonna chalk that up to the fever. You okay to change on your own, or should I send in one of my prettier counterparts?"
"Prettier male or prettier female?"
The guy laughed again, smiling wide and bright at Dean.
"I can help him."
"I can dress myself, dude."
"You can barely sit up on your own."
The nurse's laughter trailed away down the hall as he left the two of them to sort it out between them.
"Dean, you could have been changed already by now. Shut up and sit still." Dean obliged after Sam started yanking at his outer shirt and he had to grab his shoulder to avoid tipping over.
"Sorry," Sam said quietly, slowing and gentling his movements. When he got to the jeans and started unbuttoning them, his hands froze and he drew in a sharp breath.
Dean, eyes closed again, said "Sorry, Sam, but there was no way I was putting on someone else's underwear. A guy can only take so much." When Sam didn't respond, Dean opened eyes that went from his brother's pained expression to where he was looking.
"Oh fuck," Dean whispered, paling considerably and swaying forward.
"I'm gonna get the doctor, ok?"
"Don't you dare leave me sitting here half-naked and freaking out." Sam looked up and decided Dean would be better off in the gown and lying down. After settling his brother, he tried to leave but Dean's death grip on his wrist wouldn't let him.
The nurse reentered the room at that point, ready to take blood samples. "Everything alright in here?" he asked, taking in their tense positions.
"Could you get the doctor, please?" Sam asked. He nodded and headed back out of the room. The doctor returned a few minutes later and ushered Sam into the waiting room over Dean's protests.
* * *
"When he took out the catheter, it left two small tears in his urinary tract. They became infected, which is what's causing the fever. We've had a chance to assess the damage and get him started on a course of treatment. He'll be here for a few days at least."
"He'll be fine, though?"
"The fever is a concern at the moment. It's risen to 104.2. We'll reassess once it has come down some."
"Can we see him?"
"He's being settled into a room right now, and he's groggy from the medication I've put him on. You can see him in the morning. It's late, Sam. Get some rest and come back in the morning. Visiting hours start at ten, and if you come in a bit early I'll be able to give you an update on his condition."
"Dr. Richardson, I can either get some rest sitting next to my brother," Sam said. "Or I can pace in the waiting room all night. Either way I am not leaving him."
"Sam, honey, you need to get some sleep, and you need to let Dean rest."
Sam shook off the hand Ellen placed on his shoulder. "I'm not leaving him."
Dr. Richardson took a long, intense look at Sam. "When was the last time you slept?"
"Family trait, isn't it?"
"He hasn't slept more than a couple hours at a time in two weeks." Bobby ignored Sam's glare. "And he hasn't eaten in at least 24 hours."
"Come with me, Sam."
"I can see him?"
"After I examine you."
"Why? I'm fine."
"You're on the verge of passing out by the look of things. Follow me." He was already walking away while issuing orders as Sam stood still behind him until Bobby nudged him forward.
After a brief exam, Dr. Richardson stepped back and tapped a pen against Sam's chart. "You're dehydrated and suffering from exhaustion. I'm admitting you for the next 24 hours. We'll get some fluids back into you and you'll get some rest. You'll eat everything the staff puts in front of you tomorrow."
"You can admit me after I see Dean."
Dr. Richardson turned his back and rolled his eyes, chuckling. "I'll make sure you're in the same room." He pulled a wheelchair out of the corner. "Hop in. You can fill out your paperwork while I take you upstairs. And if you try to tell me you can walk on your own, I'll sedate you right now, and you won't see your brother for another eight to ten hours." Properly chastised, Sam settled himself in the chair and obediently started filling out the forms he was handed when they swung past the admissions desk.
The room was lit only by a single task light when Sam was wheeled through the door. In the faint glow, he could make out Dean's still form. He was curled on his right side with his back to the door in a position he only resorted to when he was feeling seriously unwell.
Dr. Richardson brought him to a stop in front of the bathroom door and handed him a gown. "Get yourself changed. I'll be back in a few minutes. Make sure you're in bed by then."
"You sound like my dad."
"John Winchester was a good man. I was sorry to hear he'd passed."
"I – what?" Sam felt a rush of fear fill him.
"I recognized your brother almost as soon as I saw him. We get hunters through here from time to time. The hospital is located almost dead centre between a burial ground the state moved about 30 years ago, and a theatre that burnt to the ground with over a hundred people still trapped inside in 1903. A whole mess of spirits have been popping up since they decided to start restoring it a few years back."
"How'd you meet my dad?"
"I patched him up after he had a go at a poltergeist that attached itself to a patient here. I never actually met Dean, but I saw him a time or two. That would have been about eight, almost nine years ago."
Sam nodded and lifted himself wearily out of the chair. "Bed by the time you get back," he said.
"Or I'll sedate you for a week."
Sam laughed tiredly and made his way into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Taking a look at his reflection, Sam saw dark circles under his eyes, and his normally tanned skin looked pale, almost jaundiced under the florescent lights. His cheeks were hollowing and his hair was a dirty, uncombed mess. There was a week's worth of stubble on his face.
He sighed and stripped off his clothes, leaving just his boxer briefs in place and pulled the gown on. Gathering up his things, Sam moved slowly back into the room and dumped them on a chair against the wall. He paused at Dean's side and placed a hand to his forehead. His brother's skin felt alarmingly hot under his palm.
"Not letting you go that easy, Dean, so you better just suck it up and get better, okay?"
Dean hummed in his sleep, shifting his position slightly and wincing before settling back down. Sam climbed into his own bed and woke a few minutes later when Dr. Richardson called his name.
"We’re just going to put an IV in, Sam." Sam nodded and was asleep again before they'd even finished.
* * *
Dean's eyes cracked open, blinking against the sunlight pouring through the window facing him. His body ached and he felt uncomfortably warm. Briefly he registered Sam lying in the bed next to him, fast asleep, and Ellen and Bobby sitting side by side by the foot of their beds.
"Wha's wrong with Sammy?" he mumbled.
Ellen was up and at his side a moment later. "He's fine, Dean. Just dehydrated and sleep deprived." Dean wanted to respond, but the lure of sleep was too great and he let himself slip back down into its depths.
Sam was sprawled out in a too small chair by his bed the next time he woke, head titled back and mouth hanging slightly open in sleep.
He woke twice more alone, and once when a nurse was at this side, blocking the early morning light as she changed the bag attached to his IV line. Each time he was asleep again within seconds.
Three and a half days into his hospital stay, Dean's eyes opened and stayed open. He watched as Sam, Bobby, and Ellen crowded around a small table, passing food between each other and eating quietly.
"Where's my burger, Sam?" His voice sounded raw to his ears.
"Hey, Dean." Sam moved to sit gingerly on the edge of the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Depends on whether or not there's a burger in there for me."
Sam laughed. "Sorry, man, but you've been to busy sleeping to place an order."
"Well in that case, I feel like shit."
"I'll go get your doctor."
"Don't worry about it. Not yet. So, what's the verdict?"
"Your fever broke early this morning and the infection is responding well to treatment. You should be out of here in a few days." At the look Dean gave him, he quickly continued. "You'll be as fine as you were before. You know." Sam dropped his head towards the lower half of Dean's body. Behind him, Ellen and Bobby drew chairs up closer to Dean's bed.
"You feeling well enough to tell us what happened?" Bobby asked.
Dean shifted further up the bed, resting back against the pillows and lightly shaking off Sam's attempt to help him. "There anything to drink in this joint?"
"Beer'd be better." He watched Sam pour water into a pink plastic cup and took a sip when it was handed to him. He drew in a deep breath. "Bobby, you ever h ear of a loophole in a deal with a demon?"
"Yeah well, Gordon Walker sure had."
"Gordon's behind this?" Sam's eyebrows drew together above angry eyes. "Why?"
"Hate'll make a man do a lot of things, Sam, including saving someone from death because you want to kill him yourself."
"Where is he now?"
"Demon didn't much care for his little stunt. Took his insides and brought them outside. Can't say I feel any regret on that count."
"There's a time limit. The demon has until dusk on the first night of the new moon to collect."
"How'd he keep the hounds out?"
"According to the demon, and from what I saw, an assload of spells, charms, sigils, and symbols all over the damn place."
"You talked to her?"
"She wasn't too happy about missing out on my soul. She uh, she told me about Gordon wanting me dead by his own hand bad enough that he was willing to piss off a demon to do it."
"He got into the motel room a few times. Left some things of yours." Sam pulled Dean's ring and amulet out of his pocket. "Thought you might want these."
Dean looked at his brother's outstretched hand and smiled. "Thanks, Sammy."
"Well," Dr. Richardson's voice came from the doorway. "You're finally awake. How're you feeling?"
Dean was different after he was released from the hospital. He still offered a sarcastic response when sarcasm was called for, and teased Sam at every opportunity. He still said and did all the usual Dean-like things. It was just that Sam noticed he did them more quietly. It was like someone had turned down the volume and slowed the playback just enough to tease at the edge of your mind.
He didn't talk about the last year, or the crossroad demon, or what Gordon had done. They hadn't hunted anything in the weeks since Dean came home, either. Ellen had taken them back to the rebuilt Roadhouse, put them up in the extra room, and told them she'd say when it was alright for them to move on. Dean hadn't argued. He'd laughed and flashed a smile too tired yet to reach his eyes and gone to lie down. They helped around the bar and talked shop with other hunters; Dean flirted with women and a couple times a week he would disappear and return some time later with a lazy smile and colour in his cheeks.
Sam was happy to let Dean do his own thing. He didn't push him to talk because he knew the only response he'd get was a "no chick flick moments" tossed over Dean's shoulder as he walked away. It wasn't until five weeks into their stay that Sam realized his brother was even more off kilter than he'd thought.
It started out as the muffled sounds of shouting coming from outside, hardly heard over the sound of talk and music inside. But Sam recognized his brother's voice above all of it, and he was on his feet and out the door seconds later with Ellen following close behind.
Down the side of the building in a dimly lit corner, Sam could make out five figures; one female, one his brother, and three other men. Sam arrived just in time to see his brother take a vicious kick to the groin that took him down with a strangled curse.
"Hey!" Sam yelled, breaking into a run. They looked up long enough to see Sam, Ellen, and now two other hunters from the bar heading towards them. Landing another kick to Dean's ribs, they took off around the other side of the building, one of the grabbing the woman's arm roughly and dragging her along behind them.
Sam and Ellen stopped at Dean's side while the two men continued past after the others. With a groan and a broken off laugh, Dean rolled onto his back, letting his arms fall out to his sides.
"Guess I picked the wrong woman tonight, huh?" He started coughing and flipped back onto his side, spitting bloody saliva into the dirt and cursing again.
Sam laughed. "Come on, let's get you inside." He helped pull Dean to his feet, shooting worried glances at him every time he hissed or winced against the motion.
"I can walk, Sam," Dean said when Sam tried to get an arm around him. He took a handful of shaky steps and stumbled before quickly finding his balance again and shaking Sam off a second time.
Back in their room and under the bright light, Dean looked pretty bad. One eye was rapidly swelling around the outer edge, his lip had split, and there were angry red marks on his jaw. His knuckles were smooth and unblemished as if he hadn't raised a hand in his own defense. He sat wearily on the edge of the bed and let Sam go to work on him with the first aid kit Ellen brought in.
"Come on, shirt off. Let's see the damage." Dean obliged, moving stiffly. There were already livid bruises forming on his torso, and he made a pained whining noise in the back of his throat when Sam pressed against the right side of his chest.
"Cracked, or maybe just badly bruised. I don't think they're broken, though." Sam looked up at his brother's face as he pressed on another portion of his chest. "We should wrap your ribs just in case."
Dean nodded silently, looking ill, and Sam frowned at him.
"You gonna hurl?"
Dean shook his head no, breaking off the motion abruptly as he surged to his feet and made for the bathroom down the hall. Sam gave him a minute or so before following. He arrived to find Dean dry heaving on his knees, one arm braced against the toilet and the other clutching his damaged ribs.
"Cheap fucking shot," he said soon after, falling back and away from the bowl to rest his sweaty forehead against the wall and waited for the still present nausea to recede.
Sam grabbed a paper cup from the small stack by the sink and filled it with lukewarm water. Dean took the proffered cup gratefully, swished the water around in his mouth, and spit it into the bowl before handing the cup back for more. He reached to flush the toilet with the arm not cradling his chest.
"Better?" Sam asked, handing the cup back.
"Come on, brush your teeth and I'll finished patching you up."
Dean nodded and stayed where he was for a moment, eyes closed, before standing slowly. Sam watched until he was satisfied his brother would be fine on his own before heading back to the bedroom and picking out the things he'd need from the first aid kit.
* * *
It was almost two o'clock in the morning when Sam heard his brother sigh across the darkened bedroom.
"Well come on then, Sam, spit it out."
"Spit what out?"
Dean sighed again and mumbled something involving the words college boy and dense under his breath before raising his voice again. "You've been itching to bring it up for weeks, so come on. This is your one and only chance."
Sam was quiet a moment, thinking. "Are you alright?" he began. "Really alright, I mean. Not just whatever bullshit answer you’ve been giving lately."
It was Dean who took a few seconds to answer this time, and when he did, Sam could hear a note of sadness in his voice. "I'm alive."
"That's supposed to be a good thing, Dean."
"But... I felt like I was on borrowed time before, and that seems like nothing compared to what I feel like now."
Sam kept quiet, waiting. It took a few minutes, but finally Dean continued.
"This was your chance, Sam, and it got taken away from you again. I took it away from you." His voice was low and hoarse, and Sam had to strain to hear him.
"What do you mean my chance? My chance for what?"
"A normal life. School, family, white picket fence. A chance to put all this behind you and move on, Sam! Get married, have a career, pop out a couple of kids and get a dog. Retire an old man. Have a life, Sammy. Not just an existence."
"You're my brother, Dean."
"You're my family."
"You could have more."
"I don't need more."
"Don’t' have to need it to want it."
"What I want is to not be alone."
"We keep this up and you're gonna be. Sooner or later death is going to catch up with me. And at least the way I did things I knew what was coming and when. I didn't have to spend every second looking over my damn shoulder. The life we lead–"
"We don't have to keep leading it."
"What are you talking about?"
"Hunting. We can stop. Find a home. Get girlfriends and real jobs. The demon is gone and the ones that got out have been or are being dealt with. There's nothing stopping us from just picking up and walking away."
"It's not that easy."
"Yes, it is, Dean."
"We'll leave tomorrow."
"We've got IDs with solid backgrounds attached to them and enough credit cards to get us settled somewhere."
"We can't use the cards to settle, Sam. They can be traced."
"Not if we get what we need in one place and move on to where we want to be from there."
"If you say we can't one more time, Dean, I'm gonna give you a matching black eye."
"Like you'd have the chance."
Sam shifted from his back to his side. "You wanna lay money on that?"
"Go to sleep, kiddo."
"Tomorrow. We're going to talk about this again in the morning."
"Told you this was your one and only chance."
"There's always a second chance, Dean. And a third, fourth, fifth... however many we need."
"Good night, Dean."