Rating: PG-13

Chapter 3 – Holding On

Sam rubbed his forehead against the beginnings of a headache. Before his visions, he never got headaches. Now… it seemed that he was always fighting them off one way or another. At Declan's liquor-wet sigh, he looked up. Where the hell was Dean? Didn't he say he'd be right back?

"It's my fault you know."

Sam raised a brow and leaned forward. "How so?"

"She's gonna find her and kill her and I'll feel it. I'll feel every moment," he huffed out a mirthless laugh. "And if I'm not crazy already, I will be when she's done."

Sam was growing frustrated by this one-sided conversation. "Who will find who? What -"

"It was my kin that betrayed her. My kin that tortured her. My kin that heard her curse as they killed her. Her curse that no Kavanagh would ever know peace…"

Sam pulled his eyebrows together. It sounded more like a vengeful spirit than a banshee. He needed his Dad's journal. "I thought banshee's only warned of death… you're saying she… causes it?"

Declan looked up at Sam as if just realizing he was still there. "Causes it? Yeah, she causes it."

An almost irrational anger shivered through Sam. He knew Declan knew more than he was saying. And he had a gut feeling it had to do with Brenna. Dean had felt it, too. Back at the mill house he as much said so. Something was off with her – more than just having sight and being the descendant of druids.

Drumming his fingers impatiently against the table he started to question Declan once more. "What about –" then he stopped. He tilted his head to the right and narrowed his eyes in concentration. "Do you hear that?"

Declan's watery eyes flew up to meet his in panic. He pushed the table away from him and tried to stand.

Sam looked at him in surprise. "Hey, man, you ok-?"

The scream sliced through his head and traveled down his spine. His legs shook and as if trapped in one of his visions, he slid unknowing to the floor, his hands clasped on either side of his head. He cried out against the onslaught of noise that brought with it feelings of intense rage, fear, and despair. Then it was gone.

Sam panted, looked up at Declan, shaking hands dropping from his face. "What the hell was that?" he asked, his voice hoarse as if the scream had come from him.

Declan continued to back away, the look of terror in his eyes increasing with each step. "You heard her. You heard the cry of the bean-sidhe."

Still shaking a bit, Sam pushed himself up and stood, facing Declan and the door. "What does that mean?"

"Death is coming, boy."

"For me?"

Declan shook his head. "She doesn't warn those who are to die… she warns those who –"

"Will suffer," Sam breathed out, finishing Declan's thought. Dean. Where was he? He'd been gone too long. And it had been some time since the last crash had sounded from Brenna's tantrum in the kitchen. His thoughts began to tumble and trip over themselves in the hustle to be the first in his mind. What if his instinct was right? What if the witch their Dad had sent them for was Brenna? What if this banshee was just to throw them off track?

"Dean," he breathed out and started for the door. Without warning, pain like a white-hot firebrand shot through his right shoulder. He cried out in surprise and grabbed his shoulder, stumbling against the bar for support. He pulled his hand away, fully expecting to see it covered in blood. There was nothing. The pain grew until it seemed to slam into him like waves. He blinked hard, trying to banish the black spots that threatened to overtake his vision.

"What the –" his legs wouldn't hold him as another wave hit him, and he sank to his knees, holding his shoulder in a futile effort to keep the pain at bay. He blinked up at Declan, watching as the old man continued to back away from him. Sam opened his mouth to stop him, to ask him what was going on, to curse at him, anything, but his verbal onslaught was halted when the front door of the bar banged open behind Declan and Brenna swept into the room, eyes wide, shirt covered in blood.

"Sam!" she cried out, her voice shaking. "Sam you have to –" she stopped when she finally saw him, on his knees next to the bar, bent slightly at the waist and holding his right shoulder, a look of utter confusion clouding his dark brown eyes.

Declan turned at the sound of her voice, and exclaimed in distress at the sight of the blood covering his granddaughter.

Brenna didn't even pause to comfort him as she swept past him heading toward Sam. "It's not mine. It's Dean's," she said.

That pulled Sam's head up fast, and his eyes cleared, then hardened. "Dean's?"

Brenna literally skidded to a halt just out of his reach. "I didn't hurt him, Sam."

"Where is he?" Sam's voice was a low growl. Brenna almost trembled. He looked more dangerous than Dean had when he'd confronted her in the garage. Without meaning to, she saw straight through to the truth of him. His entire focus was on his brother. His heartbeat practically chanted Dean's name. Brenna knew with complete certainty that if she had hurt his brother, she would be dead. If she'd hurt his brother, Sam Winchester was not about to ponder the possibility of her guilt of innocence. If he believed…

"Sam," her voice was low, but steady. "Look at me. Look at my eyes." Sam's brown eyes lifted to meet hers and she saw them widen with surprise as she allowed her sight to take over.

"I did not hurt your brother. I am not evil, okay? Your father is wrong," Sam's eyes took her in, and she watched as he seemed to accept, then doubt the truth of what she said. She realized that Sam didn't know about John's phone call with Dean.

A pain filled expression lanced across Sam's face, and he ground out through clenched teeth, "What do you know about my… my Dad?" he panted.

Brenna shook her head. "Just that he thinks I'm what you boys are after."

Declan exclaimed from behind her. "Why the hell would he think that?"

Brenna jerked her head over her should to glare at him, "Maybe because you let him. You are the one that set him on the path of a witch, old man. If you'd just been honest with him – "

"I was trying to protect you, girl. We needed help, but if Winchester knew about you – "

"You don't know what he would have done," she bit out, cutting him off. "You didn't give him the chance."

Sam watched this exchange with detachment. The pain in his shoulder had started to fade slightly and he found that he could take a breath. Then, as though invisible claws slashed at him through the air, his right side felt like it caught fire. He cried out, bent forward, and closed his eyes against the phantom pain. He could have sworn that claws, sharp and deadly, had just raked across his side.

Dimly he heard Brenna call his name. He focused all of his energy into shoving the pain away. He tried to think of what he'd done all the times he'd been hurt before, but none had hurt like this. He tried to think of what Dean did when hurt. Dean had been in pretty bad shape before – several times in fact, Sam realized. Some of those times, when they were kids, Sam had cried to see the pain his brother was in, but Dean never had. His eyes had shown his pain, his jaw had trembled, and he'd been quiet – very, very quiet – but he'd never cried. Sam focused on how Dean would handle his pain and was able to lift his head.

That's when he realized what he should have known from the start. His eyes met Brenna's.

"Dean," he breathed. This pain may not be real for him. It may not be leaving marks on his body. But it was real. "Oh, God," he gasped out, shoving himself to his feet. "This is Dean's pain…"

Brenna's chin trembled a moment as she nodded. "She took him, Sam."

"Tell me," he said, his voice shaking as he tried to control the pain.

"We were, uh," Brenna paused, her eyes flitting away from Sam and then back to him again. She saw mild surprise register there, but not shock. She wasn't sure what that meant, so she ignored it. "We were outside of your motel room. He'd gone inside for…some book or something. I never saw her – never heard her even." Brenna swallowed and looked past Sam's shoulder to the darkness of the bar. "One second he was with me, and the next… I felt this warm…substance on me, opened my eyes and saw this…figure…moving away with Dean in her arms."

Sam's eyes shifted to Brenna's gory shirt. Dean's blood he realized, his stomach clenching with his own brand of pain. He should have gone with him…if he'd gone with him to get the journal… "Where's the journal?"

Brenna blinked at him in confusion. "The what?"

"The book Dean went to get. Where is it?"

"Outside of your room, I guess. I didn't… I just…I had to get to you."

Sam nodded once and started to move away from the bar. The pain in his side made him stumble a bit, and Brenna reached out for him. Just as she touched him, the pain was gone. Sam almost swayed with the relief. He straightened and swallowed, looking down at her hand.

"What did you do?"

She stepped away from him and for a moment he panicked. But the pain didn't return with the release of her hand. "What do you mean?"

Sam pulled his eyebrows together. "When you touched me, it stopped hurting."

Brenna shook her head. "I didn't do anything."

Declan spoke up suddenly. "You don't hurt anymore, boy? You can't feel him?"

Brenna and Sam both jumped. They had forgotten he was there. Sam shook his head. A sudden, horrible thought struck him.

Brenna knew what he thought, felt his sudden fear. "No, Sam. You would have felt him die."

Sam's voice hardened. "Dean is not going to die."

"We'll get him back, Sam."

Sam started to walk past Brenna. "Why did she take him, anyway? I thought she was going after those connected to the Kavanaghs."

Brenna had turned to follow him, then stopped suddenly as though she had walked into a brick wall. "Me."

Sam looked at her askance. "What?"

She lifted tragic eyes to his. "She was after me."

Sam tilted his head. "How do you know?"

"I just… I just do. She got him because… he was open. She, I don't know, focused on his pain of betrayal…"

At that Sam turned to face her full on. "Pain of betrayal? What are you talking about?"

"Sam, if I knew more I would tell you. I swear. But…all I know is that when Dean held me, I – I could see this wound inside of him. Something that had scarred over and been ripped open several times. And it was…it was like it was bleeding."

Sam's stomach clenched again. The banshee had focused on Dean because he'd been in pain. And Sam had no idea. "I didn't know."

"Sam, I don't think he really did either. He doesn't… he doesn't see himself."

"What do you mean?"

Brenna sighed, trying to explain this to the one person who should know Dean best, who loved Dean the most. She knew that was true even without the banshee's curse. "I look at you, I see you. I see who you are and who you think you are and who you want to be."

Sam said nothing. He knew how difficult it was to explain visions to someone who didn't see what he did. He knew if she could have been clearer she would have. He waited the moment she needed to pick her next words. She pressed her lips together, pushing them out in thought. It was such a Dean expression that Sam's breath caught in his throat.

"I look at Dean and I see...you. I see John. I see…fire, if that makes sense. But I don't see Dean. It's like…to Dean…he doesn't exist without you."

She lifted her eyes to meet his, praying he'd just simply believe her and not question. "I don't think he knew how much pain he was in."

"We have to get him out of there."

Declan cleared his throat. "How do you know he isn't dead?"

Sam whirled on him. "What?"

Declan took a step back. "How do you know you didn't feel it already?"

Sam narrowed his eyes and took a threatening step forward. "Dean is not dead. I. Am. Getting. Him. Back."

"Then why aren't you feeling it, boy? Why aren't you going crazy like all the rest of them?"

Sam opened his mouth, then closed it again. In truth, he had no idea.

"It's Dean," Brenna breathed, a strangled sound.

Sam turned to grasp her arms. "What? What is it? Do you see something?"

She shook her head helplessly and looked up at Sam. "He's blocking it."

Sam pulled back, shocked. "What? How?"

Brenna lifted a shoulder. "He's protecting you."

www

Dean Winchester was no stranger to pain. He'd broken his first bone when he was nine. Had 27 stitches in his back when he was 12. Had a dozen concussions in his lifetime. He'd been shot, stabbed, slashed, and thrown against walls more times than he wanted to count. When he opened his eyes in the dark, damp room, his wrists tied together and his arms above his head, stretched to the point he felt his shoulders straining from the effort, he was instantly reminded of each painful event.

When the banshee suddenly appeared in front of him, her terrible face expressionless, her mouth open in a silent scream, he had only an instant to brace himself. When her nails raked through the skin stretched taunt over his right side, he nearly bit through his lip to keep from crying out. Blackness swiftly, mercifully swamped him.

When he opened his eyes again, the room was still dark and damp, his shoulder was still on fire and his arms stretched above his head, but now there was a burning pain in his side. He had no idea how long he'd been out, but the banshee was gone. He tried to take a deep, calming breath but found that with his arms above his head he could do no better than pant. Well, panting helped. God this hurt. No wonder the mayor's wife and the sheriff had gone crazy if their loved ones were –

"Oh, God, Sam," Dean suddenly breathed. His pain was meant to drive Sam insane. Instantly, he pictured a box. A large box made of...lead. Even Superman couldn't see through lead, right? He pictured a lock on that lead box. He closed his eyes and with every ounce of strength he could muster he shoved his pain into that lead box, closed the lid, and clicked the lock. He kept his mind on that locked box.

"You're not gonna get him, you bitch," he whispered to the darkness, his trembling voice betraying him. Nothing stirred. There wasn't even a drip of water. It was as if she'd tied him up in his own grave. At that thought, Dean huffed out a humorless laugh.

"Hell," he whispered. "She probably did."

Where was he? How had she gotten him here? The last thing he remembered was Brenna…God had she gotten Brenna, too? Could she be down here? Something told Dean that no, no one was down here. He was alone. Completely, utterly alone. And though he would never admit it to himself or anyone else, Dean Winchester did not do alone well.

"C'mon, Sammy," he whispered, the sound of his own voice deadened against the moss-covered stone walls. "If anyone can find me, you can."

His side stabbed at him again, and he could feel his jeans start to soak in the blood that ran down his side. "You might want to hustle, little brother…"

www

"Kinda in a hurry, here, Brenna." Sam grumbled as he made his way back to the motel room. "I think we've hashed over the hows and whys enough for one night."

Brenna had to practically jog to keep up with him. "Oh really? You know where Dean is? You know how you're going to get him out? You know how to kill the banshee?"

Sam paused his stride a moment, then picked it right back up. "No, no, and no."

"So, don't you think – "

He reached the journal and Dean's gray T-shirt. He bent and picked them both up, crumpling the shirt in his hand. His mind flashed to the previous night, watching Dean walk away from him clad only in his jeans as he tried to find a place to put John's voicemail inside that regimented mind of his. Sam looked up at Brenna, holding the shirt like an accusation.

Brenna pouted. "I didn't take it off of him."

Sam rolled his eyes and turned from her to open the door to the motel room.

"Well I didn't," she grumbled and followed him into the room.

Sam had already tossed an open duffle on the empty bed and was filling his pockets with shotgun shells, a gauze roll and medical tape, and a flashlight. The other bed, she noticed, was practically covered with an impressive array of weaponry. She lifted an eyebrow.

Sam seemed to feel her look. "Dean cleans our guns when he's bored."

"Give me one."

"What? No!" Sam said, cocking Dean's silver .45 and putting it in the back of his waistband. "No way you're coming."

"I can help you find him, Sam."

"Fine, then you tell me where to go."

"I'm coming with you, Sam. It's our fault he's been taken, I need to help you fix this."

Sam stared at Brenna. Brenna stared back. It was clear she was prepared to out-stubborn him. He glanced at the journal, bent over and picked it up.

"Sam," she said in a warning tone.

"Hang on." He flipped through the pages of the book. He reached the end, then went through it backwards. It didn't take him long to see that there was no mention of banshee's in the journal. "I don't get it," he said, tossing the journal back on the bed. "I can't believe he's never fought them before…"

Brenna swallowed. "Look under witches."

Sam lifted a brow. "Not a bad idea." He picked the journal up again and looked for witches. The section was one of the thicker areas of information. According to his Dad, banshees were once women who had in life been cursed to feel the coming of death and so after they died, they screamed a warning of death. Some legends said that only certain Celtic clans heard the warning of the banshee, others said anyone could hear her before death visited them or someone they loved.

"Declan said she was betrayed…" Sam murmured.

Brenna shook her head. "Do you have to know that to fight her?"

Sam sighed. "Maybe. Right now I don't care about that. I just want to get my brother back."

"But what about – "

"Listen," Sam practically growled. "Dean is the only thing that matters. Everything else stops until I get him back."

"Fine. About that gun."

Sam opened his mouth to fire off a retort when a flash-fire of pain, panic, and fear hit him. He gasped and doubled over, his hands gripping the edge of the bed from an effort to not collapse. "Holy shit," he breathed. The pain rippled across his ribs and settled, hot, near his heart.

"Oh, God, Dean…" he gasped out. The pain was suddenly everywhere, the fear a coppery taste in his mouth. Then as suddenly as it hit him, it was gone. Sam felt lightheaded from the release. And for a strange moment, he thought he heard the sound of a key in a lock.

Brenna had rushed over to him. "What? What is it?"

"He's scared. God, I – I never… he's never been scared before."

Brenna's eyes softened as she looked at Sam. "Yes he has, Sam."

"She's hurting him."

"Do you – can you tell where?"

Sam licked his lips. "Everywhere."

"Then let's not waste time arguing about me staying or going."

Sam straightened up. "I can't protect you and find him. Do you even know how to use a gun?"

Brenna lifted an eyebrow and pressed her lips together. She picked up the nearest handgun, clicked the safety off and on, checked the chamber, ejected the magazine and shoved it back in, then dropped it back on the bed.

"I think I have the general idea."

Sam wasn't deterred. "It's not –"

"Plus," she interrupted, reaching into her jeans pocket and pulling out a small burlap bag, "I have this." She loosened the strings at the top and revealed the contents to Sam.

Sam lifted an eyebrow. "We're saved. Brenna has a bag of dust."

She gave him a look, reached into the bag and pulled out a small pinch of "dust" and tossed it on the floor at his feet. It flashed in a shower of fire and sparks. Sam yelped and jumped back. He looked up at her in surprise.

Clearing his throat, he said, "You can bring the Glock."

"Glad you see it my way."

"But I swear to God, if you in any way get prevent me from getting my brother back, I will ignore the white side of your magic. You get me?"

Brenna had to take a breath as she looked at Sam. For a moment, hazel-green eyes had reflected in what were normally chocolate brown. Dean's essence had flashed through his brother truer than anything she'd ever experienced.

"I get you."

"Good. Let's go."

They hurried to the Impala, and Brenna let out a whistle as she slid into the seat.

"What?"

"Dean must have hated to see those dead cars in the garage," she muttered, running her hand appreciatively over the leather seats. "This baby's a beauty."

Sam shook his head. "I can't believe you just called her baby."

"Why?"

He didn't get a chance to answer her. As he turned the key in the ignition, the Impala's familiar rumble echoing off the motel walls, he heard her gasp. He looked over and saw that her eyes had gone wide and…predatory. Then she suddenly jerked.

"What? What is it? Do you see him?"

"Yes," she whispered, a strangled sob.

"Is he okay?"

"No," she shook her head, eyes closed. "But he's fighting her. And…"

"And what?"

"And swearing…a lot."

Sam actually breathed a sigh of relief. "Where?"

Brenna opened her eyes and looked at Sam. He involuntarily jerked back at the sight of her eyes. She looked like a small, terrible, bird of prey. "It's, uh… I don't know… dark, cold…" She looked out the front windshield. "Stone? I think I saw wet stone walls."

"I know where he is."

Unbidden, flashes from Sam's vision danced across his eyes. The mill house. He pressed the accelerator and the Impala responded. Sam gripped the wheel, thinking through the plan to get into the mill house and get Dean out. Dean was the one with the plans. He automatically knew exactly what they were going to do when they entered a hunt. At least, it seemed that way to Sam. Dean never hesitated in a moment of crisis. He was fluid in his efforts, and was always, it seemed, one step ahead of Sam. The only time Sam ever saw Dean still was in the presence of their Dad. Something about John seemed to give Dean pause.

He turned to tell Brenna how it was going to go down, when a hot spike stabbed into his gut. For a moment he couldn't see, then he cried out, releasing the wheel and grabbing for his middle. Some part of his mind knew that it wouldn't help the pain, but he did it anyway.

"Shit! Sam," Brenna cried out, lunging for the wheel of the Impala. The car was swerving across the road and toward a stone wall. "Put your foot on the brake! SAM!"

Sam jerked at the sound of his name. He opened his eyes and dragged in a breath.

"Put your foot on the brake, Sam, NOW."

Sam complied and the car screeched to a halt mere feet from the stone wall. Sam held his hand to his right side trying to keep the pain under control. He suddenly registered how close he'd come to smearing not only himself and Brenna, but Dean's baby against the stone wall. He shuddered.

"Thanks," he whispered through shallow breaths. "Dean would've killed me if I hurt his car."

Brenna stared at him. "His car?"

The pain was abating, slower this time than the other times. Sam felt the fire ease up, then the throbbing stopped, and suddenly he felt nothing. "Don't ask."

"You okay?"

"I am," Sam said, backing the car away from the edge of the road and straightening it up. He shoved it into drive and flattened the gas peddle. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Brenna's head whip back and then bounce forward. To her credit, she said nothing, but held on to the door a bit tighter. "He's not. I could tell it was harder for him to… do whatever he's doing this time."

"Could you tell what –"

"Not really, but… I think she stabbed him with something. And he's starting to panic. I can feel that now."

"You can feel his panic, but not his pain?"

Sam sighed, frustrated. "Hey, I'm new to this."

"No, I'm not doubting you…I'm just thinking…what if he could feel you, too?"

Sam looked at her. "Feel me?"

Brenna shrugged.

Sam saw the yellow crime scene tape reflect off of the Impala's headlights. They were getting close to the mill house. It was worth a shot. How could he calm Dean – Dean who met every evil son of a bitch they'd fought and killed head-on. Dean who was afraid of nothing. Nothing except…

In a burst of inspiration, he began to hum Metallica's "Hero of the Day".

www

"Stay out here, guard the car."

"Guard the car?"

"Are you seriously doing this with me now? Guard the car, Brenna."

"Sam, I can –"

"NO. Stay. Here."

He'd whipped around to face her, his eyes dark and dangerous. "Keep the gun out in case she makes it out before we do. But do NOT come in. You got me?"

Brenna pressed her lips together. "Fine. Take this." She pressed the burlap bag into his hands. "If you use it all at once, do it on the run."

"Got it."

Sam shoved the bag into the pocket of his hoodie, gripped the sawed-off and checked the .45 in his back waist-band. After a brief thought, he went to the trunk, opened it, and grabbed a package.

"Rock salt?"

"Yep."

"That gonna do anything against a banshee?"

"Maybe, maybe not," Sam said, then slammed the trunk closed. "But it'll hurt like hell." His memory flashed briefly to Dean being propelled through a wall after taking a blast of rock salt to the chest. He'd been pretty messed up after that. If the banshee couldn't be hurt by bullets, he was willing to stall her with rock salt.

"Stay – "

"With the car. I got it. Just bring him back," she said.

Sam hefted the shotgun and crept toward the back of the mill house, entering through the door he and Dean had used previously. The darkness was consuming. It was as though the longer he looked in one area, the darker it became. Black eating up black. He lifted the sawed-off with his right, and under it, he held a small flashlight.

Moving slowly forward, he strained his ears for any sign of Dean. His heart pounded as his light hit the moss-covered empty walls, dirty stone floor, empty corners in empty rooms. The silence was deafening. He couldn't hear the wind or the insects outside. His heart sounded loud in his ears. He found himself moving down a corridor, and suddenly the pounding in his head matched the one in his ears.

Not now, he silently pleaded. He couldn't have a vision now. They always left him so exposed. He had never had one without Dean around. He tried to take deep breaths to ward it off, but the pounding in his head increased. He leaned against the wall, keeping the gun pointed out, and turned off the flashlight. The darkness wrapped around him as he breathed deep, using whatever mental reserves he had to block the vision.

Then he heard it. The sweetest sound in the world. His brother's voice.

"Oh, you BITCH!"

It was coming from beneath him he realized. She had him in a basement of some sort. He flicked on the flashlight and scanned the walls around him.

"Door, door, door," he muttered aloud – needing to hear something besides his heartbeat.

"I'm gonna kill you so bad," Dean bellowed from beneath him. "I know what you are. I know what you're doing to him. You leave him alone, you hear me? YOU HEAR ME?"

Sam's gut clenched at the tremor in Dean's voice. His eyes burned at the words his brother had screamed. He knew – this time he knew – how much pain Dean was in. He knew his brother was going through hell – going through hell because he'd been in pain in the first place - and he was thinking about Sam. His concern was focused outward, like usual. He hurried forward scanning the empty walls.

"Fuck!" he cried out in frustration. Dean's voice had been so close. How had she – he tripped over the trapdoor handle and nearly dropped the sawed-off. "Oh."

He turned off the flashlight so as not to warn of his arrival, his eyes instinctively opening wide to try to allow any light in, but it was as if he'd been rendered completely blind. He felt along the floor for a second, then his long fingers wrapped around the handle. He lifted the door hoping for stairs. It was a ladder. Swell. He leaned the door all the way open against the opposite floor and as silently as he could, he crept down the ladder.

He held his breath turning a slow 360 to try to see his brother. The room he entered was equally as dark, and somehow creepier because he was below the ground. And, he had to admit, because he didn't know where the banshee was. Breathing deep to calm his racing pulse, he chanted the words to the song he'd been humming earlier in his head. The steady cadence of those words eased him out of his panic. Huh. What do you know about that, he thought.

He saw as he completed his turn a room to his right with a faint, eerie light coming from beneath what looked like a door. He gripped the sawed-off and moved forward purposefully. Easing the door open he entered with the gun first. She was there. She was standing in the room, her back to Sam. The light was coming from her. She looked solid, however. Like an old woman wrapped in rags. Not like a spirit.

Sam couldn't see his brother, but he knew he was there. He heard his ragged breathing. Bracing himself against the doorframe, he eased the dual hammers back, lifting it to aim at her back. He didn't even see her move. One moment she was standing with her back to him, the next she was standing directly in front of him, her terrible face inches from his. Her face was corpse blue, her mouth open as though screaming, but no sound emerged. Her eyes were empty sockets, and her skin was stretched taunt across her cheeks.

"Sam," his name came out of his brother's mouth like a curse and a prayer.

The banshee reached for him and Sam reacted. He brought the gun up and fired point blank into her chest. The scream echoed off of the walls of the basement and Sam dropped the gun, his knees giving way and his hands clapping over his ears. The banshee grabbed him by his hair and flung him aside. He hit a wall, hard, and slid down to the dirty floor.

"Sam, no!" Dean cried out. "C'mere, you freaky bitch. We aren't done here, you and me."

Dean's voice was strained, as if he couldn't get enough air. He was bellowing through clenched teeth, and through his now-blurry vision, and by the eerie light of the banshee, Sam could suddenly see him. Sam blinked hard, shaking the cobwebs from his head. Dean was shirtless, the top of his jeans darkened with the blood that seemed to run freely from numerous wounds on his chest. His arms were stretched taunt above his head, and his face was deathly pale. But his eyes… Sam could see the fire in his eyes even in this unnatural light. His gaze was pinned to the banshee, who at the moment was focusing on Sam with a disturbing intensity.

"C'mon!" Dean yelled again. The banshee momentarily pulled her attention from Sam. Sam used that moment to begin a slow crawl back to the gun.

"You w-want betrayal?" Dean's voice trembled. Sam stopped crawling and looked up at his brother. For one brief moment, their eyes met, and Sam's heart clenched. He suddenly knew what Brenna meant when she said she didn't see Dean reflect back at her out of his eyes. Sam saw only a desperate love shining there. Others might see only the fire, the fight, the determination, the vengeance. But to Sam, all of those reflected his brother's love.

"H-how about 22 years of loyalty and obedience discarded in one night? How about that, huh?"

The banshee turned again to Dean and Sam watch his brother brace himself for whatever she would next do to him. He planned on making sure she didn't get a chance. He rolled once, picking up the gun as he did so, and ducked out of the room.

"Rock salt, rock salt," he chanted. Bullets had made her scream. Maybe the salt would have more of an effect. The gun thus loaded, he swung around the door, aimed, making sure he wouldn't hit his brother, and fired. This time he didn't drop the gun when she screamed; he simply squinted his eyes shut against the pain, curling in on himself until it was over.

When the scream stopped, Sam opened his eyes to darkness. Her eerie dead light was gone. The only sound in the room was the brother's harsh breathing.

"She's not gone, Sam," Dean rasped out.

"I know. I have to get you out of here," Sam pushed himself to his feet. "We'll come back for her…"

He felt along the wall until he touched Dean's chest. It was wet – and Sam didn't have to see his hand to know that it was blood.

"Dude, flashlight?"

"Right," Sam twisted the flashlight on, shining it up on Dean's bound wrists. They were red, raw from holding his weight. And the knots were impossible. "I'm going to have to cut you down."

Dean's silence was his answer. He dug his pocket knife out and put the flashlight in his mouth. Holding the light steady with his teeth, he grabbed Dean's hands with his left to steady the rope, and sawed through the rope with his right. Dean dropped so suddenly, Sam almost didn't catch him before he hit the ground. His left arm darted quickly across Dean's bloody chest and he bore his brother's weight to the ground. The flashlight fell from his mouth and he dropped the pocket knife.

"Easy, easy," he said as Dean groaned. "I got you…"

"It's about time you got here, Sammy," Dean whispered.

Sam lay Dean back against the stone floor and ran his hands down his brother's arms to find his bound wrists, then cut the remaining ropes. "Think I wouldn't come for you?"

He could feel Dean begin to tremble under his hands. He searched frantically for the flashlight.

"I knew you would come," Dean said, his voice a painful rasp. "I heard you."

Sam grimaced. "So much for my stealthy approach."

"No, Sam. I heard you," Dean repeated, "And someone there is sighing, keepers of the flames, do ya feel your name…"

Sam's grin was instantaneous. "You said that Metallica calms you down, right?"

"That's right, Dude. Now, get me up. She won't be gone long."

Sam breathed a sigh of relief when his fingers closed around the flashlight. He twisted it on and turned it on his brother. He had to bit his lip to keep from gasping. If Dean's face looked pale in the banshee's light, it looked nearly translucent now. His eyes were closed, his long lashes shadowing his cheekbones. His jaw muscle jumped in a rhythmic cadence. Sam ran the flashlight down his chest, focusing on his right side where he had felt the most phantom pain. There were two holes in Dean's shoulder, three wide slashes across his ribs, and the stab wound he'd felt in the car on his lower right side. And all were bleeding.

"Wait, Dean, I need to stop some of this bleeding," he tried to keep his voice steady.

"She's gonna be back, Sam. We gotta go. Now." Dean's voice edged on panicked.

"Listen to me. If I don't stop some of this bleeding, we won't be going far."

Dean took a shallow breath and nodded. "Go for it."

Sam set the flashlight down next to him but didn't turn it off. The darkness was too consuming – it felt like they were the last people on earth. The light angled up from one of the stones and shone on Dean's face, throwing his profile's shadow onto the wall. Sam reached into the pocket of his hoodie and drew out the gauze roll and white medical tape he'd grabbed from the first aid kit before leaving the motel room.

"You're supposed to keep this red stuff on the inside, you know?"

"That's what I've heard. She had other ideas," Dean's voice was a whisper of breath.

Sam looked at his brother's face. It was pale, but his hooded eyes were pinned to Sam's face.

"This might sting a little," he said as he prepared to press the gauze against the puncture wound. "You ready?"

"Let's go."

Sam leaned forward, pressing a large portion of gauze against his brother's side.

"JESUS CHRIST!" Dean bellowed.

"Sorry," Sam said in a small voice, pressing hard to try to stop the flow of blood.

"Sonuvabitch, stop, Sam… I can't… sonuvaBITCH!"

And suddenly the wave of pain slammed into Sam, stealing his breath and bringing spots before his eyes. He tried to take a breath, but his lungs wouldn't cooperate. His hands began to shake and he lost his grip on the bandage, falling weakly away from Dean. As soon has his hands moved away from their pressure, the pain Sam felt lessened and he could see. There was still a dull ache throughout his body, but the acute, fire-brand of pain was gone.

"Holy shit," he breathed, blinking down at Dean.

"Sorry, man," Dean gasped out, blinking hard in an effort to stay conscious. "I couldn't…keep…" He had to stay awake. If he let the gray wall that was closing in on him win, he would hurt Sammy. The only way to keep the box closed and locked was to stay awake.

Sam realized that he'd pushed Dean past his wall of control with his efforts. "God, Dean…"

He didn't want to make Dean weaker by keeping up the shield from the pain, but he also knew that there was no hope of getting them both out of there if he wasn't protected from it.

"I'll – uh… I'll just wrap it, okay?"

"'Kay."

He wrapped the gauze around Dean's middle, tying it on his left side. He watched in concern as the section of "bandage" over the puncture wound turn and instant bright red.

He heard the breath an instant before the eerie light entered the room. He grabbed the sawed-off, swung it around, and realized too late that it wasn't reloaded. The banshee flew toward him and he swung the gun like a bat. It hit her square in the head and she flew against the wall. Sam had no time to congratulate himself as she bounced off said wall and lunged at him again. He swung again. This time, though, she landed next to Dean. Dean had used his brother's struggle to grab the pocket knife from the floor next to him. He used his left arm and stabbed it in her neck.

Both brothers shook as her scream echoed off the walls, then she was gone. Sam, breathing hard, crawled over to Dean.

"C'mon, man." He put the flashlight in his jeans pocket, lit side facing up. It only helped illuminate the room slightly better than the banshee this way, but there was no way he could hold it and get Dean out of there at the same time.

Sam stood and bent to help Dean. He was able to get his brother into a sitting position, and then his heart dropped when he heard Dean's gasp of pain. "S-sam," Dean started, weakly pushing at Sam's hands.

"If you even think about telling me to leave you here, I will beat the holy hell out of you."

"A banshee beat you to it, Dude." Sam crouched down in front of his brother so that the light shone between their faces. Dean's eyes blinked slowly and the sweat from his forehead ran down to make tee-pees out of his long lashes. His head lolled for a moment, and Sam felt the white-hot twinge of pain in his side as Dean started to lose his battle for consciousness.

"Get up, Dean. Now." Sam ordered. He knew that Dean would kill himself to obey his father. He pulled every once of John Winchester from his genes as he could and gripped his brother's shoulders. "Do you hear me? GET UP. NOW."

Dean blinked again, focusing on Sam. He reached out a shaky hand and slapped it hard against Sam's face. "Sam?"

"Yeah, it's me. Now you gotta help me, man. You have to get up."

Dean nodded once, and moved his hand from Sam's cheek to grip the material of his brother's shirt. Sam rocked back on his heels, balancing Dean's weight. His brother was smaller than him, but he was all muscle, and solidly built. The blood on his chest made it hard for Sam to get a good grip.

When Dean was standing - leaning heavily on Sam, but standing – Sam started to move forward.

"Sam," Dean's slur stopped him.

"Yeah."

"Gimme a gun."

"The hell would I do that for? You can't even hold onto it."

Dean rocked his head back so that he could look up at Sam. "Give. Me. A. Gun."

Sam pulled in a lungful of air, then reached into his back waistband for Dean's .45. He clicked the safety off, then put it into Dean's right hand. He caught it before it clattered to the floor from Dean's limp fingers.

"See?"

"Tape it in there."

"Whatever, Dean. I'm not taping a gun to your hand."

"Sam!" This time the word was a harshly barked command. "Tape the fucking gun to my hand."

Sam regarded his brother for a moment. He was weaving on his feet and leaning heavily on Sam, but he was still in control. Sam wasn't feeling any pain from Dean. He was still his superhero brother.

"Fine."

He put the gun in Dean's hand, closed his brother's fingers around the grip and the trigger, and then quickly wrapped the medical tape around his hand to keep it in place. The banshee's wail caught him off guard and Dean nearly fell when Sam let go of him to grip his head. Sam caught him just in time and moved forward out of the room.

"She's coming, Sam."

"I know."

"We have to get out of here."

"I KNOW."

Sam continued to pull Dean behind him as he moved as quickly as his wounded brother would allow. They reached the ladder and Sam growled in frustration. "Dean."

"What."

"There's a ladder."

"Shit."

"Can you climb it?"

"Gonna have to, aren't I?"

"I could carry you."

"Like hell."

"Just up the ladder, Dean."

"Sam, you can carry me when I won't know about it. And not before."

Sam sighed and moved Dean in front of him. Dean used his free left hand to grasp the rungs, his right arm dangling free with the gun taped to his hand. Sam climbed directly behind him, completely ignoring Dean's standard "Dude, personal space" comment. There was no way Dean was getting up that ladder without help. He shoved his brother through the opening and climbed out immediately after.

He started to lean over and help Dean to his feet when he heard the banshee's wail again. He paused and reloaded the sawed-off with rock salt.

"Sam," Dean's voice was a savage reminder of the pain he was in. "Sammy, we gotta go."

"Here," Sam leaned over and grasped Dean's arms, pulling his brother to his feet. He slung Dean's left arm across his shoulders, and hooked his fingers in the belt loops on his right side. "Hang onto me." He began to move as fast as the faded light from his awkwardly placed flashlight would let them. The wail grew to a fevered pitch.

Then, Sam glanced back and saw her. She was moving toward them with impossible speed – not seeming to walk or float, just moving toward them. For the first time since he'd started out to bring Dean back, he was afraid they wouldn't make it out of there.

As the distance between the boys and the banshee decreased, Dean lifted his wounded arm and fired off nine rounds into the figure. She bucked with each shot and slowed, but she didn't stop. Sam tucked the sawed-off under his arm and reached into his pocket for Brenna's burlap bag.

"Close your eyes, man," he said to Dean, then turned them both and threw the bag down the hall toward the banshee. The bag exploded in a brilliant white light just as Sam turned them back to the door.

"The hell?" Dean slurred.

"Brenna."

Dean seemed to accept that as an explanation. Either that or he was too tired to question further. When they reached the outer door of the mill house, Sam breathed a sigh of relief and slowed down.

"Keep goin', man," Dean panted. "She's not bound to the house."

Of course, Sam berated himself. He shifted his grip on his brother and stretched his long legs out trying to get them out of there quicker. Dean fired six more rounds behind him before clicking on an empty chamber.

"Where's the car?"

"Little bit further. Brenna's guarding it."

"Wait – what?"

"Don't ask."

The banshee screamed again, and Sam looked back. Seeing her outside of the house felt wrong – without thinking he raised the sawed-off and fired both barrels. The banshee fell back, and Sam started to move faster towards the Impala.

He felt Dean sag against him.

"Hey," Sam cried out, looking down at Dean. He slowed his escape and tightened his grip. "Hey, hey, hey, don't give up on me, man." He gave Dean a shake. "We're getting out of here."

Dean opened his eyes with considerable effort and drew himself up as best he could. He hated that he had to lean so heavily on Sam, but it was that, or open the box. He took a breath and then a step forward. Sam moved with him.

"The cars just past that fence line," Sam said, wishing he'd parked closer. Wishing he'd had Brenna bring it to them. He caught sight of the gun still taped to Dean's wounded hand, weighing it down. He reached across him for it.

"Don't."

"It's okay, man, I'll just…"

"Don't Sam. Don't touch it."

Sam looked at his brother's face. It had grown paler in the last couple minutes since they left the room he'd been tied up in. His eyes were heavy-lidded and sweat was running down the sides of his face. He was pressing his lips together in an obvious effort to contain his pain. Sam had seen this expression before. When he was younger, before John had not only let, but insisted he come on each hunt, he'd sit back in the hotel, in the dark, awaiting the return of his family. It was a rare occasion when both his father and his brother returned unharmed. More often than not, though, Dean would keep his wounds secret, that same look of determination and pain in his heavy-lidded green eyes, and his lips pressed tightly together until he was sure his brother was okay and his Dad was taken care of. Then he would either hide in the bathroom to clean the wounds himself, or he would quietly ask Sam for help.

"You don't have to do this, Dean."

"Yeah I do."

Dean stumbled again, and groaned.

"Hey, hey," Sam whispered, turning to look at Dean. His brother's head hung low, and nearly rested against Sam's chest. He couldn't see if his eyes were open, but he knew Dean was still conscious – he was moving his feet and Sam wasn't in pain. "You still with me, man?"

"Sammy…"

Sam stopped moving, and shifted Dean against him. "We're almost there, Dean. You can make it."

"Sammy… I… I can't keep the lid closed…"

Sam was about to ask what he was talking about when Dean's knees buckled and he sagged against him, Sam catching the full weight of his brother the instant before the blinding pain hit him. It was sharp, hot. His body felt like it was on fire and freezing cold at the same time. He felt waves rolling over him, then slowly focusing until the fire was focused on his right side.

"Shit," he breathed, collapsing to the ground in a heap, Dean unconscious in his arms. Sam tried to breathe through the pain in his side but found himself panting. Shallow breaths seemed to be the only thing he was capable of. He momentarily marveled at Dean's stoicism, then he grew angry.

"You stupid bastard," he panted, putting his hand on Dean's hot forehead and pulling his brother's head back against his shoulder. "Why didn't you just tell me?"

He looked down at Dean's wounded side. The gauze he'd wrapped there was soaked in red. No wonder Dean had finally passed out. Sam ran a hand over his face. He had to figure out how to get them both to the car.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on the pain in his middle. He had to convince his body that it wasn't real. He wasn't bleeding, he wasn't cut. He had to because he knew it was the only way he'd be able to stand. And standing was only the first step in getting his brother back to the car. He took one deep breath. Then another. He shifted Dean's limp form forward, and pushed himself to his feet. There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

"Ahhhh!" he cried out in pain and frustration. He cursed every supernatural enemy they'd ever faced. He cursed the fire demon that started their family quest and turned his father from Dad into Sir. He cursed the fate of his brother – never once knowing anything but the hunt, and the duty to protect…never wanting anything for himself. He used that anger, channeled into a reserve of strength he wasn't sure he had, and lifted Dean up and across his shoulders in a fireman's carry.

Dean groaned once, but remained limp. Sam concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Ignore the pain. Ignore the pain. Ignore the pain. It isn't real. It isn't real. It isn't real. But he knew it was real. Just not for him.