debbiel66: (BB psychic boy)
[personal profile] debbiel66
Part 3 / Master Post

Dad crouched on the dirty wood-planked floor and laid out the supplies. It was a funky assortment of occult crap: Oil of Abramelin, Acacia leaf, yarrow, a bunch of candles, and a black bowl full of sand. Then he carefully drew on the floor the summoning sigil that Bobby had sent with them.

Sam was on his toes, drawing a Devil’s Trap on the ceiling. His face was scrunched up in concentration, and he had his tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth. It was one of those Sammy expressions that Dean hadn’t thought about for years.

Dean wasn’t convinced that the Devil’s Trap was going to work. It sure didn’t look like it had the mojo to trap a powerful demon. But Bobby swore it would. Dean trusted Bobby, but it was hard to put much faith in a sigil that looked like it could adorn the binder of any teenage Satanist wannabe.

“There.” Sam glowed with true geeky love at his creation. “What do you think?”

“You sure you got it right?” Dean asked, still eying the thing.

Sam shrugged. “It’s exactly the same as the one on Bobby’s ceiling. I measured it. The margins are exactly proportional.” He glanced at John. “What do you think, Dad?”

John barely looked up. “It’s fine, Sam.”

Dean frowned at Dad’s set-up…the candles, the herbs, the Latin invocation written in Sam’s best cursive. “Dad are you sure this is a good idea?”

Dad looked up again and scowled. “Dean, we’ve already talked about this.”

“I know we’ve talked…” It was hard for Dean not to start fidgeting with Dad glaring at him like that. “But if it’s this easy to summon this demon, then why wouldn’t someone have tried it before?”

“Because nobody else knows what we do,” John said sharply. “Sam knows the demon’s name. It’s almost impossible to summon a demon without its name. We have the Devil’s Trap, Bobby’s intel. Other hunters don’t have the weapons or the resources that we do.”

Dean wondered why Dad didn’t just come out and say it. Why didn’t he name the weapon in their arsenal that other hunters didn’t have?

They had Sam.

But Dean was damned if they were going to use Sam like that.

Dad had sworn that Sam wouldn’t have to do anything except read the exorcism once the demon was stuck in the Devil’s Trap. John and Dean would take care of the rest.

But Dean didn’t believe that for a second. If Sam hadn’t exorcised Meg, he wasn’t at all sure Dad would be pushing for this now. There was something about the way that Dad kept sizing Sam up when he thought nobody was paying attention.

Dean frowned. “How do we even know for sure that Sam heard the demon’s name? He just heard a name…it could have belonged to anyone. It’s not like he was firing on all cylinders after he exorcised the freakin’ thing.”

Sam retorted, “I’m sure it’s the name, Dean.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do,” Sam said, his jaw set.

“Sammy, you’re gonna have to do better than that if you’re ever gonna be a kickass tax lawyer.”

“I hate you.”

“I know you do,” Dean said with a smile, but Dad was getting to his feet.

“What do you mean, you’re gonna be a tax lawyer? What the hell kind of job is that?”

Glaring at Dean, Sam sighed heavily. “Dad, I know the demon’s name is Azazel. I don’t know how I know it, I just do. You’re gonna have to trust me on this one.”

John stared at Sam and then nodded. He turned back to Dean. “This could be our only chance. We’ve got to seize this opportunity before anyone else’s family is hurt by this thing.”

Dean thought about the way Sam sobbed after watching his girlfriend die in his visions. He tried to remember his mom, the way she made sandwiches and cut them into triangles without him even asking. He tried to imagine what a life without this demon would be like, and he couldn’t. But yeah…Dean wanted to gank this evil sonofabitch too.

“Yes, sir,” he said.

John looked over at Sam. “You all right, Sammy?”

Sam nodded. “Yes, sir.”

John smiled. “Okay, boys, let’s do this thing. You got your weapons?”

They had guns. They had knives and salt and holy water. They had a book of Latin prayer that Sam had reluctantly checked out from the Stanford library. They had each other. Dean was pretty damn sure it wasn’t going to be enough. But it would have to be.

Dutifully, they chorused, “Yes, sir.”

John turned to Sam. “You sure you haven’t had any more visions?”

“I think you’d know if I’d had any,” Sam said, losing the respectful tone already.

“Yeah, it’s not like Sam exactly suffers in silence,” Dean teased, and Sam shoved him.

“Shut up.”

“Boys—knock it off,” John warned in the exact same tone of voice that Dean had heard countless times over the hundreds of miles they’d fought together.

“Tell him to stop trying to piss me off,” Sam said, still glowering, and Dean had to resist the urge to slap his brother upside the head.

“You’re too friggin’ easy, dude.”

“And you’re still a jerk,” Sam grumbled, still pouting.

But the mood changed dramatically when John pulled the knife out of his bag.

John said quietly, “We can try my blood first.”

But Sam shook his head. “No, Dad, you know it’s gotta be me…my blood.”

“We don’t know that,” John said quietly.

“I’m the one having these visions.” Sam bit his lip and then added, “The demon wants me…it’s more likely to come if I’m the one who calls it.”

“Dad no, there’s no way—” Dean started to say, but Dad was nodding.

“Sam’s right, Dean.”

The last thing Sam needed was to lose more blood, let alone use it to conjure a demon.

“Why don’t you let me do it?” Dean persisted.

Sam said seriously, “This isn’t about you, Dean.”

John handed over the knife to Sam, obviously ignoring the look Dean was aiming at him.

“Don’t cut your wrist,” John ordered, and Sam stared at him incredulously.

“You’d think I’d never handled a knife before,” he grumbled.

“Do it fast, kiddo. Diagonally, across the palm,” John said.

Without flinching, Sam sliced the blade cleanly across the palm of his left hand. Blood pooled in Sam’s cupped palm and began to spill over.

John took the knife from him and set it down behind them. Then he gently took hold of Sam’s wrist, tipping it over the sigil. His heart pounding in his chest, Dean watched as Sam’s blood flowed into the black bowl of sand where they had buried a slip of paper with the demon’s true name.

Around the perimeter of the circle, the candles barely flickered. For a moment, the air felt absolutely still. And then something changed. A bitterly cold breath of air swept across the room, carrying with it a hint of sulfur.

Sam turned to Dean, his eyes wide and scared. “Dean, I—I feel it. It’s here.”

Dean didn’t stop to think. This was ingrained, his lifelong, gut-level instinct to get Sam away from the very bad thing that was coming. Dean grabbed Sam by the arm and yanked him away….

…Away from the sigil, away from the candles and the blood and the cold…away from John who was standing there with his hands outstretched as if in greeting….

Because when John Winchester turned around, Dean wasn’t looking at his dad any more.

“Howdy boys,” the demon said.

“Christo,” Dean whispered.

Demons flinched from the name of God. But whatever this thing was, it didn’t flinch. It smiled. Its eyes burned bright and yellow.

“Dad!” Sam tried to step toward the demon, but Dean held on.

“Sam, it’s not Dad.”

“Is that any way to greet me, boys? After all, you called me.”

“Get the hell out of my father,” Dean growled.

The demon named Azazel smiled. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather keep the hell in your father for now.”

“You sonofabitch…I’m going to kill you,” Dean swore, furiously groping behind him for the flask of holy water.

The demon raised an eyebrow. “Holy water and salt rounds? I’m disappointed in your daddy. Parlor tricks for lesser demons. Should have googled first before he called me.”

Sam was shaking. Dean knew he was so freakin’ scared, but he jutted his chin out. “What do you want?”

The thing with Dad’s face practically licked its lips, saying, “Sammy Winchester. It’s been a long time since I saw you. You’ve grown up. You would have done your momma proud.”

Sam tried to step forward again, but Dean gripped his brother’s forearm as tightly as he could. “Stand down, Sam,” he hissed, praying that his brother still knew how to take an order. Sam stayed in place, but Dean could feel how much he wanted to take on the thing.

Azazel smiled at the Devil’s Trap on the ceiling and very carefully took a step around it. Sam took a quick breath, and Azazel looked at him and winked.

In John’s mocking voice, it said, “Oh, it’s a trap. I’m so disappointed.”

“What do you want from us?” Sam ground out.

Azazel mused, “The question is what you want from me. You boys kind of jumped the gun. This wasn’t supposed to happen yet.”

“What wasn’t supposed to happen?” Sam asked.

“The four of us like this,” Azazel said. “It’s sooner than I thought it would be. Different. Something changed.” He raised an eyebrow, and the golden eyes gleamed. “But it’s all right, Sam. What’s done is done. No hard feelings.”

Dean continued backing up, still holding onto Sam. “You sonofabitch—get out of my father.”

The demon smiled. “What did you expect was going to happen, Dean? You conjured me in the middle of nowhere. The other bodies in the room were taken.”

“What do you mean?” Sam asked, trying to pull himself away from Dean’s iron hold.

Azazel said, “Dean here is off limits. Don’t ask…long story. And Sam, possessing you would be…let’s just say it would be awkward.”

Dean swallowed bile. “Sammy, exorcise it now,” he hissed, and Sam shuddered, seeming to come back to himself.

“Ne reminiscáris, Dómini, delicta…” Sam started, but the demon just laughed.

“That little exorcism didn’t work on my daughter. Not very likely it’s going to work on me, Sam.”

“Your daughter?” Dean blurted out, willing Sam to keep going. It was their only real chance.

“My daughter—you know, the one that Sam here sent back to hell. I’d hold it against you, Sam, but I’ve got to say, I was impressed. It kind of makes you a prodigy, coming into your power early like that. You always were an overachiever.”

“What do you mean?” Sam asked. Dean wanted to deck his brother because Sam was doing the same thing Dad did—trying to gather intel rather than wasting the sonofabitch.

“Exorcise him, Sam!”

“Dean,” Azazel said, smile fading. “You’re starting to get in the way.”

“Tell me what you want from me. Why am I having these visions?” Sam demanded.

Azazel looked almost affectionately at Sam. “You should have asked your daddy that question. You’ve suspected he knows, haven’t you? It’s true. Dear old Dad’s been holding out on you, Sam.”

“Don’t believe him,” Dean ordered his brother. Dean let go of Sam and turned on his heels, reaching for the flask of holy water.

Azazel sighed. “And yet they always reach for the holy water.”

Before Dean could twist the cap off the flask, the demon raised his hand, and Dean was up in the air and slamming backward into a wall. Blood started soaking through his shirt across his middle, and he hoped it was only from torn stitches. He struggled to take in a breath. But his body began to slide up the wall, and sickeningly, Dean knew what came next.

Sam was shouting at the demon “No. No, no, no, no…”

Dean was so sorry Sam had to see this.

“Sammy,” Dean managed to whisper. “No.”

Because Sam was now in arm’s reach of the demon. “You want me—not them. Let my dad and brother go, and I’ll come with you, do what you want.”

Azazel stepped forward and stroked Sam’s cheek almost tenderly. “Sam, you’ve been mine since the day you were born, but I do appreciate the gesture.”

“He’s lying, Sammy,” Dean gritted out, and Azazel made a gesture like he was turning off a switch.

At once, Dean felt like his chest was being squeezed in a vise, and he cried out. The edges of his vision began blurring, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to suck in another breath.

“Stop!” Sam shouted, and it didn’t sound like a plea. It sounded more like a command.

The weight against his chest eased immediately, and Dean gasped, pulling air into his lungs like he could never get enough.

Azazel smiled. “Now that’s impressive, Sam. You’ve been peeking at your gifts before Christmas, haven’t you?”

“What did you do to me?” Sam panted, blood flowing from his nose.

“Let’s just say I knew you had it in you.”

What am I?” Sam asked, back to pleading again.

Azazel tilted his head. “You should be asking, what aren’t you?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Your pretty girlfriend…your promising career as a tax lawyer.” Dean could hear Dad’s disdain mixed up in the familiar voice. “You’ve been getting soft, Sam. I was ready to…intervene. But something’s different. You jumped the gun.”

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t touch her. You don’t go anywhere near her.”

“Pretty little Jess,” Azazel continued, beginning to circle Sam. “I know you, Sam. I understand. You want it so badly, you can just taste it…the house in the suburbs and a six-figure income. The family picture on your desk. Oh, I know all about the ring you picked out, about your interview. But Sam, you were meant for far better things. Spend some time with me, kid, and you’ll move mountains. Just think about it Sam. Oh, the places you’ll go.”

“Why me?” Sam whispered, horror all over his face.

“Ah, Sam.” The demon smiled. “It’s about you. It’s always been about you. You’ve been chosen.”

“If I renounce all that, will you stay away from her?”

“Making a deal with a demon, Sam? What would your daddy say?”

Dean wanted to shout at his brother to fucking run, get the hell out of there. But breathing seemed to be all he was good for, and the words died on his lips.

Sam swallowed. “I’ll leave Jess. I swear I will. Will you leave her alone if I stay away?”

The demon shrugged, looking bored. “Your girlfriend doesn’t interest me. She’s cannon fodder.” Azazel glanced at Dean, his yellow eyes glowing bright. “But your big brother is a thorn in my side. Your brother will never give you up.”

Azazel snapped his fingers, and Dean began sliding up the wall again.

Dean knew this was it—his life was coming to an end. Inhuman hands gripped either side of his neck. Dean recognized it as a chokehold, closed his eyes, and hoped that death would come quickly because the demon was going to snap his neck.

From a great distance, Dean heard Sam screaming.

Don’t look, Sammy, don’t look.

But something let him go.

Dean slid down the wall, landing painfully on the wood floor. There was sound like a roar, and he could hear his father’s voice, beseeching, entreating. Like chasing a dream upon waking, Dean couldn’t make sense of it. He forced himself to stay awake, keep his eyes open. Dean couldn’t do anything to help Sam, but he could bear witness.

Sam had one hand outstretched, the other hand curled and pressed against his forehead. Dean sensed power in the room, ebbing and flowing between the two, but he couldn’t see how it was happening. Azazel was now the one pinned against the opposite wall.

“This gets better all the time,” Azazel said, but he didn’t sound so arrogant any more. There was awe in his voice and maybe fear. “Sam, don’t hurt yourself. Take your time. Practice, you’ll get there.”

Sam wasn’t letting up, although blood was streaming from his nose, and his legs were buckling. Dean knew his idiot brother—Sam wouldn’t stop until he killed himself, not while that thing was still in Dad.

“Please,” Dean whispered, but they weren’t paying any attention to him.

Azazel gritted through his teeth, “You’ve always been my favorite…but it’s too soon. I’ll be keeping an eye on you, Sam.”

“Go. To. Hell,” Sam commanded. Then he collapsed to his knees, hand outstretched, but his body was shaking so violently, he was almost seizing.

“Maybe for now,” Azazel conceded. “But I’ll catch you on the flip side.”

Azazel’s head snapped back, face upturned, and there was a horrible roar and the darkest, most vile cloud Dean had ever seen. John Winchester screamed as the demon roared out of his mouth, vanishing between the cracks of the floorboards. John collapsed, howling his rage and violation, and Sam… oh, God, Sam.

Sam’s eyes rolled back in his head, and his hand fell to his side. Sam went down hard in that place between the living and the dead.

Dean’s eyes watered from the stench of sulfur. He could feel the blood soaking through his shirt, but he couldn’t give up. His family needed him. With a groan and a prayer, Dean dragged himself across the floor to help them.


Dean didn’t know how much time had passed before John picked himself up off the floor. First, he went over to Sam who was out cold, blood still flowing from his nose. Dad checked his pulse and did a quick once-over, before turning to Dean. Without a word, he lifted Dean’s shirt, ran his hands over ribs and examined the torn stitches. When he was done, he scrubbed his hands over his face and stared at the room with haunted eyes, which were back to their usual brown, thank God.

There was so much trauma they could wring out of this one, PTSD wouldn’t even begin to cover it.

But the demon was gone. Whether Sam kicked its ass back to hell or whether it simply chose to sit this one out, Dean couldn’t say. The truth was that he had no idea what had happened.

Catch you on the flip side. What did that even mean?

Between the two of them, they hauled Sam out of the cabin. Sam was unconscious and drooling, not bearing his weight at all, but at least he wasn’t puking his guts out, something Dean and his last pair of jeans were infinitely grateful for. But Dad still hadn’t said a word.

Dean knew he and Dad were in no shape to carry him, but they reeled down the path away from the cabin like a trio of drunken sailors.

“Put him in the Impala,” Dad muttered, the first words out of his mouth since he’d belched up the demon.

Dean only nodded, but that even hurt. His gut wound had stopped bleeding, but he’d ripped up his stitches, and the slam into the wall might have cracked a couple ribs. Every time he tried to take a breath, he started coughing. Despite all that, he was amazingly numb. Shock was doing a number on him. They all reeked of sweat and sulfur. Dean wondered if they would ever be clean again.

“Easy now,” Dad mumbled as they opened the door to the Impala. “Watch his arm—it’s bleeding. The kid’s gonna get an infection from that stupid salt and burn if he doesn’t take care of that.”

Dean didn’t say anything to that. He hadn’t completely forgiven Dad getting Sam hurt on that hunt. Together, they pretty much dumped Sam into the passenger seat of the car.

Dean took a bleary look around and rubbed the back of his neck. The woods were every bit as menacing in the half-light of dawn as they’d been at night. He could smell moss and mushrooms in the air, death and decay.

But one look at Dad, and Dean forgot all about the decomposing woods. Dad was leaning against the Impala’s side door, and Dean couldn’t tell if it was sweat or tears running down his face. Honest to God, he looked wrecked.

“Dad,” Dean started, but John shook his head.

“No. I can’t talk about it. Not now…I just can’t.”

“I just want to know if you’re all right.”

“I don’t know,” John said after a couple seconds of silence, and Dean didn’t know if he found that kind of honesty reassuring or terrifying.

“Dad, c’mon. Ride back to town with us. We’ll come back for the truck later.”

John just rubbed his eyes and shook his head. Dean couldn’t remember seeing his dad lost like this before. Dean didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have all that evil inside him.


“I don’t want to talk about it, Dean.”

But Dean didn’t have a choice—he needed to know what they were facing. “But Dad, what Azazel said about Sam.”

“Don’t borrow trouble, Dean. We’ve got enough of it on our own.”

Dean stared at his little brother asleep in the car. Dad also looked, but something tightened on his face as he considered Sam.

“Dean, do you trust me?” John asked quietly, and Dean stared.

Trust in Dad was the bedrock of his world. But Sam was its core, and Dean was convinced his father wasn’t telling him everything.


“Do you trust me?”

Dean tried to swallow his doubts. “Yes, sir. I trust you.”

“Then you need to look out for your brother.”

“But, Dad—”

“Do you trust me?” Gone was the gentleness. His father’s voice was sharp now.

“I said I did.”

“Then you need to look out for your brother.”

“I always look out for Sam. But what about you? Dad, I don’t know what you’re asking.”

“Do you trust me, Dean?”

Dad had asked him a third time. Dean would be damned if Dad had to ask him again.

Dean squared his shoulders. “I do, Dad. I trust you.”

John reached over, rested his hand against the cusp of his neck, and said softly, “Then I need to save your brother.”

Dean’s eyes filled up, but his heart was beating slow and steady in his chest, and he willed himself not to let his father down. “Yes, sir,” he said solemnly. “I won’t let anything bad happen to Sammy.”

“I know you won’t. I’m…I’m proud of you, son.”

Dean didn’t know what to say. His dad was scaring him.

John took a step back. “Now, go on. Get in the car and try to sleep a little. It’s not safe for you to drive in this condition.”

Dean wanted to get on the road, away from this place. The cabin was just a building—four crappy walls and a roof, but it felt like unholy ground.

“We gotta get back to town. Sam needs—”

John shook his head. “The demon’s gone, Dean. It’s not coming back. This is as good a place to rest as any.” He came around and opened the driver’s side of the Impala and gestured for Dean to get in.

“Where will you be?”

John smiled a little. “The Impala’s a two-man car. Never been enough room for three.”

Dean crossed his arms tightly against his chest. He felt like a little kid when he said, “We could make room.”

But John was already backing away. “You get some sleep. Afterward, I want you to go to an ER, get your stitches looked at. You’re gonna need antibiotics. It’s already getting infected. Have them check your ribs. I don’t like the way you’re breathing.”

“Yes, sir,” Dean said, swallowing against the thickness in his throat.

“And Dean—get your brother an MRI.” John rubbed his eyes, looked exhausted in a way that Dean hadn’t seen before. “Make sure a neurologist takes a look…too much bleeding. I wanna make sure he’s all right.”

“I will, Dad. I’ll take care of Sammy.”

John smiled at him, for real, and for that second, it was like Azazel hadn’t been there at all.

Dean climbed in, and Dad left his hand on the roof of the car.

“Dean, tell your brother….”

Dean stared up, squinting at his father’s face against the morning sun. “What, Dad?”

“Tell Sam I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

But Dad shut the door and was walking away. This time, Dean let him go.

Dean should have tried harder to stay awake, should have tried to listen for the truck’s engine, but instead he rested his head on the steering wheel and listened to his little brother breathe.


Sick and tired of waiting, Dean checked his watch again. It had been an hour since they’d stitched him up, but he was still waiting for his official discharge and prescriptions.

He was only filling the prescription for painkillers to restock their inventory. Dad and Sam had run through their first aid supplies while he’d been gone. His gut hurt, but the painkillers did a number on his head. Left him muzzy and complacent, something he just couldn’t afford right now. The antibiotics were a necessary evil. Dad had been right—the wound was an ugly sonofabitch. The doctor on call had hissed through her teeth when she’d gotten a look at it. She’d then lectured him on taking it easy. Said he needed to give himself a chance to heal.

“Even heroes can go septic,” she’d snapped. Dean had been a little bit scared of her.

Even though taking it easy was out of the question, Dean planned to soak it with some holy water when he got to a motel. Meg and her knife probably had demon cooties anyways.

“Okay, Mr. Adams…” Dean glanced up at the doctor, who handed him his paperwork. “Next time, leave the Good Samaritan stuff to the people trained for it.”

Dean nodded as earnestly as he could, very glad that the ER hadn’t called the cops. Stab wounds were as much of a screaming red flag as bullets, but Sam’s idiot cover story about the two of them preventing a mugging by the Santa Cruz Boardwalk had apparently held up. Sam had been in and out of consciousness since they’d been in the hospital, but somehow he’d managed to come up with something.

Dean had no idea how Sam got away with the crap he did. If only they knew the sweet-faced college kid could exorcise demons with his friggin’ mind…

Dean realized that he was still nodding, and the doctor was frowning at him. “Are you sure your head isn’t bothering you? I don’t like exposing you to more radiation if it isn’t necessary, but we could still run a scan.”

“I’m fine,” Dean said quickly, wanting to be on his way. “No headache, no dizziness. Really—I’ve had a concussion before and know the symptoms. I don’t have one now. But my brother—is he ready to go?”

“Sam Adams? They should have told you. We went ahead and admitted him.”

Dean jumped off the examining table, earning himself a glare from the doctor and a sharp pain in his gut. “What do you mean you admitted Sam?”

“You’ll have to ask your brother about that,” the doctor said. “They took him over to Neurology.”

Shit. This was not what Dean wanted to hear. He reached for his shirt, trying to ignore the pull of the new stitches. Dad had told him to get Sam checked out, but Dean hadn’t really thought anything would be wrong. Sam had to be fine. There was no way Sam could survive two encounters with fucking demons, only to die of a bloody nose.

“Are you sure you’re all right, Mr. Adams?”

Dean sighed. “Fine.”


Sure, he was fine. But it was all Dean could do not to slip into a restroom and puke. Instead, he tried to ignore all that as he stormed down the corridor, trying to figure out where the hospital had put his brother. He almost slipped on the too-slick floor. The whole place reeked of disinfectant and illness. His stomach turned, but he forced the feeling down. He had to find Sam. Damn, he hated hospitals.

At least they weren’t back at Stanford. Stanford’s hospital would be forever linked in his mind with Sam’s bout with meningitis a few months earlier. Dean had been scared a lot in his life, but he didn’t think anything would ever top that.

Sam going to college was awful, but at least he’d known that Sammy was safe. A normal life was a long life. It was the only thing that made the breakup of his family anything close to all right.

Getting that call about Sam had destroyed all that for Dean. Seeing Sam in the ICU was the worst thing Dean could even imagine. At one point, the doctors had been talking about putting him on a vent, for God’s sake.

The whole thing had been a friggin’ nightmare. Keeping himself from Sam had been worse. Dean had managed to sneak into Sam’s room, in between nursing shifts, and he’d just stood there, watching his little brother play hard-to-get with life.

Dean had pulled up a chair, and after a few god-awful minutes, he’d reached for Sam’s hand. Sam had been burning up with fever, unconscious and struggling to breathe, and there had been nothing Dean could do about it. There was nothing to kill, nothing to salt and burn…just his sick little brother trying not to die.

Meningitis hadn’t killed Sam, but it had shaken Dean to the core. Left him with the conviction that nothing was gonna hurt Sam. Not viruses, not visions, not demons on a power trip.

Not even Dad.

Nothing was going to hurt Sam while Dean was around. If he had to shadow Sam’s ass 24/7 while the kid played at being a grown up, then Dean would do it.

By the time he stormed into Sam’s room, Dean was good and pissed. Dad might have some whacked-out idea that Sam was their secret weapon, but there was no way Dean was going to let his brother be used like that again.

Sam was dressed in a hospital gown that didn’t cover his knees and was sitting grumpily on his bed, hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor. Dean’s thoughts veered back to that ICU in Stanford, but he pushed that memory away.

“’Bout time you got here,” Sam complained, looking so unhappy that Dean couldn’t resist leaning over the bed rail and messing up his hair. “Quit it,” he said, swatting at Dean’s hand before studying Dean more carefully. “You okay?”

Dean pulled up a chair. “All cleaned up and stitched back up. Good as new.” He shrugged, trying for nonchalant but failing miserably. “Did you get your brain scan back?”

Sam started fiddling with the tape on his IV catheter. “Yeah, it just confirmed the first one. There’s a bulge on the artery wall that they don’t like. They say it’s prone to ballooning.”

The way Sam drawled the last word, Dean could tell he was prepared to be mocked. But there wasn’t a single thing funny about it.

Ballooning? What the hell do you mean, your brain is fucking ballooning?”

“The artery wall is ballooning,” Sam said. “They can’t tell about my brain without more scans.”

“I told you!” Dean exploded. “I told you all that superpower crap was gonna kill you!”

“Keep your voice down—it’s not gonna kill me. They’re not even sure I need surgery yet.”

Surgery? You mean, like brain surgery?”

Sam nodded, fiddled with the tape some more. “I’m not going to do it. There are too many risks, too much that could go wrong. They say if I take blood pressure medicine, that might reduce the chance it could burst.”

“Dude, you’re twenty-two years old. You’re way too young to have high blood pressure.”

“Yes, Dean, I know how old I am,” Sam snapped, bitchy attitude apparently still intact. “And I’m not too young. Lots of people take blood pressure medication. Besides, it’s not like it would have to be forever. I just need to swing by an ER every couple months and get it checked—no big deal.”

Dean rubbed the back of his neck, trying to think this through. “You got insurance at school that’s gonna cover it? I don’t want you skipping a month to save money.”

Sam looked confused. “Yeah, but it doesn’t matter if I have student coverage. I’m not going back to Stanford.”

“What do you mean you’re not going back?”

“I’m not going back. You heard what Azazel said. It’s not like I can just go back and start up with classes again, just be an ordinary student, not now.”

“That’s exactly what you’re gonna do!” Dean yelled, and a nurse passing in the hall stopped and frowned, so he forced himself to lower his voice. Last thing he needed was to get kicked out of Sam’s hospital room. He started pacing, which wasn’t easy in the tiny space. Three steps in either direction. “I don’t get you. All you’ve ever wanted was a normal life, so I’m saying, go ahead—take it. Are you really such a stubborn sonofabitch that you’re gonna say no just to piss me off?”

Sam was gawking at him like Dean had lost his mind. “What the hell, man? Isn’t this what you and Dad wanted me to do?”

“Dad’s gone, Sam. He’s not coming back.” Dean hadn’t meant to put it like that, but at least it was out in the open.

Sam set his jaw. “He went after Azazel, didn’t he?”

Dean did not want to talk about this. “Dude, you’re supposed to be keeping your blood pressure down. Last thing you need to do is talk about Dad.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “This is important, Dean. Dad’s been gathering research, he’s tracking Azazel’s pattern, figuring out where he might strike next. We need to hit the road, find Dad before—”

“Hey, hey.” Dean put his hand on Sam’s arm. “Slow down, Sparky. You’re not gonna be any good on the road with your brains leaking out of your nose. Let’s wait for the doc to tell us what’s up, and—”

“Dean, don’t you understand? That demon is still out there.” Sam jerked his arm away.

“I understand just fine, Sam. And I know one thing. I don’t want you anywhere near that damn demon, and if Dad’s going after it, then I don’t want you anywhere near Dad.”

“Dean?” Sam’s eyes were wide, and he was obviously confused.

“I mean it, Sam. All this is crap.” Dean made a vague gesture at all of it—the hospital room, the medical equipment. “Think Sam…use your goddamn brain while you still have it. You really wanna risk being a vegetable? Have them feed you through a tube because your brain doesn’t remember how to chew? All this other stuff—it’s not worth it.”

“All our lives, we’ve wanted to find the thing that killed Mom.”

“Yeah, like all that mattered a helluva lot to you when you ditched us to go to Stanford. Honestly Sam, why choose to drink the Kool-Aid now?”

Sam shot back furiously, “You’re acting like I brought this on myself. It’s not like I just decided to start having visions for the fun of it, just to get a rise out of Dad. How do you know I wouldn’t go back to Stanford and have visions there? What’s the difference? I could stroke out at college just as easy as I could on the road.”

Dean flinched like he’d been physically struck. “It got worse when you decided to use your powers. Can you honestly tell me that you’d be able to stop yourself the next time we’re up against some evil sonofabitch that wants to take us out?”

Sam just looked down. Dean didn’t have to wait for an answer.

“Then go back to school,” he said gently. “Go home to your girl, save a bunch of lazyasses a shitload of taxes…Live your life, Sammy. I want you to.”

“It’s not that simple,” Sam said quietly.

“Why not? Why the hell can’t it be that simple?”

Sam’s finger kept worrying the IV tape. “I can’t risk Jess.”

Dean let out a deep breath. He had never officially met Jessica Moore, but he’d shadowed her when Sam had been in the ICU. Dean had watched her threaten everyone who wasn’t willing to fight like hell for Sam. He liked her—how could he not? Jessica loved his little brother. Sam deserved to have someone who loved him like that.

“We won’t let anything happen to her,” Dean said.

Sam frowned. “Really?”

Dean was suddenly sure of it. “Really. Nothing’s gonna happen to your girl. Not while I’m around.”

Sam just smiled, but Dean knew he wasn’t buying it. In the end, Sam was going to do what Sam was going to do. He had always been that way, even as a kid.

“Thanks, man, I mean it. But you know I’m right about this. Dad knew it too. He told me.”

“Told you what?’

“He said Jess would be safe if I wasn’t with her.”

“That sonofabitch,” Dean muttered, clenching his fists.

Sam smiled. “That’s what Bobby said too.”

“Well, Bobby’s right. Dad’s an asshole.”

Sam shook his head wonderingly. “You really changed while I was gone.”

Everything changed while Sam was gone, but Dean urged, “You gotta talk to her, Sam. You can’t just—” He broke off, not wanting to say the rest.

You can’t just leave her…not like Dad left us.

Sam nodded at what Dean didn’t say.


Dean stared out the window of the Impala at the café table across the street. Even from a distance, Dean could see that Jessica was gorgeous…a helluva lot prettier underneath a clear blue sky than underneath the harsh fluorescent lights of the hospital.

Sam had his back to the street, but his shoulders were hunched, head down. Bouncing his leg up and down under the wheel, Dean watched as Sam leaned across the table and tried to hold her hand. Jessica snatched it away. Didn’t take a Stanford geek to figure out that this wasn’t going well.

Dean had tried his best to talk Sam out of breaking up with Jessica at a crowded café, but Sam’s mind was made up. It had to be in a public place—it was safer that way. He refused to even walk into his apartment to get his stuff. Kept saying that the vision always took place in their bedroom. Therefore, he could never go in their bedroom ever again.

Dean had suggested moving as a more sensible alternative than closing up shop altogether, but Sam didn’t want to hear it.

“It’s all a bunch of lies,” he’d said, when Dean had tried to push him on staying at Stanford. “All these years, I’ve been lying to Jess, to my friends. I’m just tired of it, Dean. Tired of lying to myself.” Then he’d looked away and sighed. “You’re the only one I don’t have to lie to.”

Dean hadn’t known what to say. His own life had been one cover story stacked on top of another. He’d never really worried about it because Dad and Sam knew who he was, and that had always been enough. But then Sam left, and nothing had been enough after that.

But Dean had done his best to talk Sam into staying at school even though it felt disloyal to the promise he’d made Dad.

Dad had ordered him to keep an eye on Sam, and Dean had sworn he would. But Dad hadn’t said whether “keeping an eye out” was supposed to happen from a distance or from close-up. Letting Sam go was the last thing Dean wanted, but the neurologist had been perfectly clear at the hospital. They were discharging Sam AMA. While he wasn’t in imminent danger of having a stroke, there was no guarantee it couldn’t happen later that day, or next week, or even next month.

Sam was supposed to take blood pressure medication and reduce stress. He was supposed to go in for an MRI every six months for the rest of his life or until the freakin’ bulge in his brain went away. And he was supposed to get checked out every time he got a headache. Or got dizzy. Or felt pressure behind his eyes. The neurologist practically suggested Sam take up mediation.

Not exactly the kind of lifestyle for a hunter. So Dean had done his best to try and talk Sam back into the life he’d always wanted. But Sam—stubborn sonofabitch that he’d always been—had said no.

Across the street, Jessica pushed her chair back from the table and stood. Her paper cup tipped over at the sudden movement. Dean could see coffee splash onto the ground, but neither Sam nor Jess were trying to right it.

Sam came alongside her and tried putting his arm around her shoulders, but Jess shoved him away. She took a step back and then another. She was crying and even from a distance, Dean could tell she was devastated.

He understood. Sam walking out of your life wasn’t something you ever got over.

Jess turned on her heels, and then she was gone. Sam stood there for a while, and then he picked up her coffee cup and threw it in the trash. He took a long time in walking back to the car.

By the time Sam finally eased himself painfully into the Impala, Dean had his box of tapes out and was searching for the right one. But he had no idea what kind of music could fix this.

He took a sidelong look at his brother. Sam was red-eyed and snotty, not even trying to hide it. Dean didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

“You okay?”

Sam shot him a disbelieving look.

Even Dean had to admit it was a stupid question.

He glanced back at the café table. Already, another college couple was claiming it, slinging down their backpacks and heaving out huge textbooks. They were laughing at something—he could hear them from across the street. Dean had no idea what it would be like to live a life that could make you laugh like that.

Dean turned back to Sam and tried again with, “Is Jessica okay?”

Sam’s lips flattened into an unhappy little line at the question. He shoved his hair out of his eyes like he couldn’t figure out how it had gotten there. “No. But she’s going to be.”

Dean couldn’t understand this. “Sam, my life’s all about hunting. It doesn’t have to be that way for you. You can live a normal life.”

“That’s not what the demon said.”

“Demons lie,” Dean said flatly.

“It’s not what Dad said.”

“Dad lies too,” Dean said, not really thinking about what he was saying, until he realized that Sam was staring.

“I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Shut up. I mean it.”


“I mean it, Sam. You don’t have to stay because of me or Dad. You finish up your year, even if you don’t live with Jess. I’ll be fine. I can do this alone, Sam.”

Sam said softly, “But maybe I don’t want you to.”

“Sam, you know what the doctor said.”

Sam looked at him pleadingly. “Dean, I don’t know what’s going on with me, but I’m scared, man. This is bad crap, I know that. Maybe I’m being selfish in dragging you in with me, but I don’t…I don’t want to do this alone either.”

Dean’s chest felt funny, and he had his mouth open to tell Sam that he was talking crazy, when there was a sudden change in the quality of light.

It was like a shroud had passed over the glaring California sun, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Sam’s mouth was open. Dean could see words forming, but he couldn’t hear a thing but a dull, low roar. It made no sense. Sam, the light, the discordance of sound. He tried to look around, but everything blurred.

Then the veil lifted, and all at once, Dean could see clearly.

It was night. Dean was behind the wheel and was driving hell-bent down the highway that led from Palo Alto. Sam stank of sweat and ashes, and Dean’s hands hurt like hell…he could feel blisters on his palms against the steering wheel.

Dean tried to catch a glimpse of Sam on the seat next to him, but his brother was like a poor reflection in a mirror. But Dean could feel Sam. He could feel his brother’s pain and awful grief.

Dean had pulled Sam out of the fire, but he had no idea how to save him. Dad would know. Find Dad, gotta find Dad…Dad will know how to fix this. Will know how to keep Sam alive because Dean had no idea what he was supposed to do next.

Sam’s anger was a feral thing—desperate Sammy with his crazy, incoherent need for revenge, and it would damn him. Dean knew it would damn them both. Would immolate them just like Jessica had been consumed by fire, because the demon said so, because the demon said he would catch them on the flip side…

And the veil dropped down. Dean was back in the real world again, and he could hear Sam yelling.

Sam was shaking him hard, obviously panicked. “Dean! Dean? Hey, are you with me? You okay, man?”

Dean’s heart was pounding, he was drenched in sweat, and he felt like passing out, but all he could do was hang onto the steering wheel like it was the anchor tying him to this world.

“Look at me, Dean.”

Dean turned slowly and looked at Sam.

Sam was screwed—Dean knew that. They both were. But that was nothing compared to what he’d seen. Because, shit, he’d seen it. Vision or premonition or goddamn hallucination, it had been as real as anything Dean had ever experienced before. Dean had thought things were bad. But what he’d seen might well be fucked beyond fixing.

“Dean, what the hell happened? Are you hurt?”

Sam looked so scared… his idiot little brother with the ballooning artery on the wall of his geek-brain. Teary, stupid Sam with his broken heart, as good and decent as anything this piss-poor world had to offer. Sam—his Sam—was the best goddamn thing he’d ever seen.

Sam was sad and scared and hurting, but Dean could deal with that.

“Dean—you gotta talk to me, or I’m taking you back to the ER.”

It was real—Dean knew the vision was real. Gift or warning, it was real. If it was a gift, Dean didn’t know how to take it in the spirit it was given because he had no freakin’ idea what spirit had given it to him in the first place. If it was a warning, then it worked.

It was all Dean could do not to put his foot to the pedal and floor it like the devil was on his tail.

“Dean?” Sam had one hand on each side of Dean’s face and was pulling at his eyelids to look at his pupils. “Dean, seriously, man. You’re scaring me.”

Dean pushed Sam’s hands away. “Get off me, freak. I’m fine.”

“Then, what the hell?”

“I just spaced out. Really I’m fine.” Dean shuddered and tried to get himself together…glared at Sam when he started groping at him again. “Enough with the hands.”

“I thought something was wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Dean sat up straighter in his seat and took a deep breath.

“Look—if you don’t want me coming with you, just say so.”

“Dude, get real. I’ve put up with you for this long, I’m sure I could stand you a little longer.”

Sam rolled his eyes, but he still looked worried. “Do you think we should look for Dad?”

“No!” Dean said it more forcefully than he’d intended. “If Dad wants to find us, he will. We don’t have to go chasing after him.”

It was the truth, and Dean knew it. Dad would never give up, would go to hell and back tracking down the thing that killed Mom. Dad loved them, but Dean had no doubt that Dad would use Sam to make the kill shot if he believed it was the only way.

Dean was a good son, but he was a better brother. There was no way he was going to let that happen. Not this time around. Not on his watch.

Sam was still sitting there, still worrying, so Dean leaned over and cuffed him on the back of the head. “Quit staring at me, freak.”

Sam glared like he would rather haul off and punch him than hug him, and that was a start.

“Then quit ignoring me. I swear I can’t keep up with you. Dean, are you sure you don’t want to look for Dad?”

Hell, yeah. He was sure.

Instead of answering, Dean curled his lip in a half-smile. “And knock it off with the thinking. You don’t want that geeky balloon brain of yours to pop, do you?”

“You’re such an asshole,” Sam said, but he was fighting off a smile.

“Right back at you, bitch.” Dean glanced sideways and grinned. “C’mon, Sammy. We got work to do.”

Dean turned the key in the ignition, cranked the music up, and rolled the window down. The California sun was bright, even in November. For just a moment, he closed his eyes and let it soak in. Dad always drove south, come winter, but it didn’t matter which direction they decided to go. He and Sam were going to find their own road.

The End

Art Master Post

Master Post

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