Rating: PG-13


Chapter 6 – Glimpse

"As you would for me, oh, I would share your load.
Let me share your load. Ooh, let me share, share your load."

- Led Zeppelin, "In the Light"

"We're gonna figure this out, okay? I mean, there's got to be a way, right?"

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A confusing tangle of power shot through it.

The power wasn't tangible; it couldn't hold on.

Light. Light was around it. Sickening it. Weakening it.

Power was there. Darkness was could feel the horrid rush, but not grab hold. It could feel the tremble, but not use it. It could feel… hope.

And it was scared.

Fear the likes of which the being had never known took seed and made it desperate, renewing its struggle for survival. Now that it had tasted life, death was not an option.

It screamed.

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Sam's back bowed upward, the tendons in his neck launching as if pulled taut by an outside source. His lips flattened against his teeth and his eyes pressed tightly closed, but he kept the scream inside. He heard it, he felt it, and he denied it.

"…more of the pilocarpine, okay? Just hang in there…"

Abe's voice faded in with rushed need and Sam panted, feeling tears of pain and effort leak from the corners of his eyes and trail down his temples to his already sweat-matted hair. He curled his fingers against his palms in fists of determination, pulling ineffectually against the ropes lashing his wrists to the bed frame.

"Sam," Abe's voice whispered across his ears.

Sam was unable to speak, knowing if he opened his mouth to do more than breathe the ikiryoh's scream would shake him apart.

"I'm going to open your mouth, okay?" Abe narrated. "Two drops…there."

The heat in his head was dizzying and immediate. Sam felt the rush of blood swarm his vision and the vertigo threaten to tip him over the edge of awareness into oblivion. He panted, pushing back the darkness, knowing if he fell the being inside of him would win.

He felt the slam of his heart begin to slow, the constant buzzing in his ears fade, the gray of his hesitant vision sharpening to bring edges and details into focus.

"Dean?" Sam croaked.

"He's here," Abe assured him.

"Help… him…" Sam swallowed, his throat parched.

"Thirsty?" Abe guessed.

Sam nodded. He felt rather than saw motion off to his left and heard the water in the sink tap turn on. He could hear another sound—a low rumble of a dog's growl and the answering whimper of fear.

Sal…Lobo…Maggie…an idea…

"Do it," Sam whispered, staring directly into Maggie's bright green eyes as she bent over him with the glass of water.

"Do what, honey?" Maggie answered, cupping the back of his neck and raising his head off of the pillow and resting the edge of the glass on his lower lip. Sam let the cool, sweet liquid caress his lips and tongue before swallowing and coating his raw throat.

"Trap it," Sam gasped, dropping his head back onto the pillow.

"What?" Abe stepped into Sam's line of sight.

"Trap it… in me…" Sam pushed out. "Then help… Dean." He rolled his head to the side so that his eyes rested on his silent brother.

"No, Sam," Abe replied adamantly.

"Abe—"

"No!" Abe barked. "I do that I may as well put a bullet in your brother's head right now."

Sam closed his eyes, knowing Abe was right. But he was scared. He could feel the being rolling inside of him, feel greedy fingers pull at his heart, his mind, digging deep fertilizing seeds of doubt and darkness that had gone dormant long ago.

Time… not enough, too much, going too fast…Need more…

Opening his eyes, Sam looked at Dean. His brother lay with his face turned slightly to the right. If Dean opened his eyes, Sam would be staring right into the secrets camouflaged by the green irises. Dean's face was pale, lashes clumping together as they rested on the hollow of his eyes. Bruises baring evidence of the struggle this week had been framed his cheek and brow like wings and Sam could see the rapid rise and fall of his chest as his body fought against the heat eating it up.

"Ch-check him…'gain…" Sam pleaded, hating his weakness, hating his need, hating himself. The screaming slid into a low hum inside and Sam longed to dig at his chest, dig the being out, rid himself of the feel of it.

Maggie turned to Dean and Sam could see her worry in the set of her shoulders and the swift motion of her sturdy fingers. She grasped the edge of Dean's T-shirt and pulled it up. Sam heard the shuck of the wet cotton pulling away from the sodden bandage. Maggie tsked and caught her lower lip between her teeth.

"It's not good," she whispered. "You said you know someone?" Sam saw her look up at Abe, taking the blade he offered and sliding the sliver edge of the knife beneath Dean's bandages, cutting them away from the muscles across his brother's belly.

"Yeah, I know someone," Abe said. "He wouldn't get here…in time, but he could tell me what to get."

Sam could smell the heat radiating off Dean as the bandages were pulled away. Maggie sucked in her breath and Abe swore.

"Dammit, how did it get so bad so fast?"

"Well, that swim in the river didn't help," Maggie said softly, tossing the bloody bandages to the side of the bed, near Lobo and Sal.

Sam saw her look to the side, toward where he knew Sal was tied up. He couldn't see Sal from where he lay, and he was unwilling to pull his eyes away from Dean's face. He studied it for the slightest change, the slightest movement, the slightest indication that Dean was coming back to him, that his eyes were going to open and everything would be okay again.

"Bringing me back to my idea," Maggie continued, lifting her face to Abe. "We transfer the spirit into Sal."

Sam jerked. Sal let out a muffled screech and Lobo's growl spiked slightly.

"How?" Abe asked, dubious.

"Use those…mantras," Maggie said.

"Sutras," Sam rasped.

"Right."

"I don't know," Abe said and Sam could hear the sound of his work-roughed fingers sliding over two-days growth of salt-and-pepper beard. "Dean tried that back in the bar and it about tore Sam up."

Maggie sighed and Sam heard her get up, moving around the small house out of his line of sight.

"Well, unless you're willing to kill Claire, or trap it inside Sam," Maggie's voice was clipped, anxious, "I don't see as we have much of a choice."

"What are you doing?" Abe asked.

"Well, if we can't take him to a hospital, I gotta do something about that wound until your friend comes through."

As Sam watched, a shiver ran through Dean and a line appeared between his brows, bisecting his forehead and pulling his lips low in a frown.

What am I supposed to do, Dean?

The being rolled inside of Sam, thrusting against his ribs, beating against his heart, reaching for his throat and suddenly, jerking back. Sam closed his eyes, stifling a groan.

I've tried so hard to keep you safe… long as I'm around nothing bad's gonna happen to you… because I'm an awesome big brother… if it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna save you…

Sam swallowed, opening his eyes and holding the sound of his brother's voice close to him as he watched Maggie bend low over Dean's bloody mid-section. Dean jerked, his shivering increasing as Maggie gently cleaned away the blood. Sam watched her saturate a cloth with liquid from a brown bottle and as she pressed it to the puncture wound, a groan slid past Dean's parted lips.

"We're running out of time, here, Abe," Maggie said tightly. "He needs help and…" she glanced quickly up at Sam, "he's not going to last much longer."

"Wait until Bobby gets here," Abe said suddenly.

Maggie shifted her eyes from Sam to tilt her chin in Abe's direction.

"Just… don't do anything until Bobby gets here," Abe pleaded.

Sam measured his breathing, meeting Maggie's eyes, then blinking them slowly back up to Dean's face, watching as his brother's chin trembled.

"He'd better hurry," Maggie whispered.

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Abe ran his fingers over his lips, unconsciously twisting Ailen's bangle in thought. Sam lay tied to one bed, gray in the twilight of the room, lips thinned out to keep the pain of the ikiryoh from seeping into the open, skin rolling along his chest and belly from the being's efforts to take over.

Dean lay limp in the bed next to his brother, the fight raging without him and inside of him. Blood pooled on the flat plane of his belly, wiped quickly away by Maggie's ministrations. The skin around the wound was red and raw, puffing up at the edges and Abe could see thin lines of red snaking away from the hole to traverse Dean's stomach. The crusted-over skin he'd cauterized just yesterday was cracked and torn from Dean's exertions.

I failed…I failed you… The overpowering sense that he'd had one job, and he'd screwed it up threatened to swamp Abe with emotion. Boy has more faith in me than he does himself…Bobby's words teased the edges of Abe's awareness. Dean's trust was not given lightly. Abe knew that where he'd failed, Bobby would persevere. But he had one more duty.

"I'll be right back," Abe choked out.

Nobody looked at him as he stumbled from the room and out onto the porch. He was suddenly overwhelmed with the magnitude of his responsibility. Dragging Dean's cell phone from his pocket, he flipped it open, staring at the screen full of numbers. His mind numb, Abe scrolled through the names, so many unfamiliar names.

A pang shot through him at the name Dad. Dean still had his father's number in his phone. Abe pressed the back of his hand to his lips, silently mourning this boys' loss even as he cursed the events that had led him here.

How had he gotten here? How had life taken him to this point? This point where he had nothing left but what he knew to be true, nothing to do but struggle, no one who cared if he lived or died except a handful of people who lived life off the grid.

We're not that different, Dean Winchester…

The rain had tapered leaving in its wake the sensation of crispness in the air and the scent of newness mixed with the earthy smell of mud and leaves and life. Pulling in a breath, Abe shifted his eyes to the bar and its darkened windows. He knew what lay within: a broken man and a woman whose innocence had been burned away by betrayal and hatred. Two dangerous combinations.

He glanced over his shoulder at the opened doorway to the safe house. He could see the white of Lobo's fur in the dim light, but couldn't see either of the beds or Maggie. Twisting the bangle once more, Abe dialed the number to the clinic at the reservation. It had been almost a year since he'd spoken to Doc. He hoped the voice on the other end would still be that of a friend.

"Doc? It's Abe. Abe Nakomis. Very funny. Yeah, it has been awhile," Abe reached up and gripped the back of his neck to steady himself. "Listen, I need your help. I'm in Plummer. Yeah, well, I was planning to come home for a bit, but… I got sidetracked. You remember the Winchesters?"

Abe paused while Doc ranted for a minute about the hunters he'd treated and saved over half a year ago. When Doc paused for breath, Abe broke in.

"I'm with them, and… Dean needs your kind of help." Abe told him about the fall into the river, the puncture wound, cauterizing it in place of stitches and the condition the wound and Dean were in now. He listened as Doc rattled off names of antibiotics and instructions, his stomach tightening with panic as he realized he wouldn't be able to hold all of this information.

"How…where…can I get this stuff, Doc?" Abe said, trying to mask the tremble in his voice. "His fever is high and he's pushed himself to the limit trying to keep his brother safe. Yeah, yeah, I know. I know, okay? I tried to stop him, but… hell, Doc, you remember these boys. They are each other's heartbeat. Nothing I said mattered until he literally couldn't stand anymore."

On the other end of the phone, Doc was silent, and Abe leaned against the post on the porch, tracing the broken neon Budweiser sign with his eyes. He heard Doc take a breath and then tell him to go to a man who lived on the outskirts of Plummer. He would have what Abe needed.

"You gonna get in trouble for this? No, of course I won't say anything! Thank you, Doc, seriously. These boys owe you their lives." Abe felt his throat close as Doc commented on the Winchesters being the thing to bring Abe back home, in a way. "Yeah, well," Abe glanced over his shoulder toward the opened door. "Sometimes what we care about can surprise us."

He hung up, then turned to the doorway, stepping back inside and up to the beds where Maggie was busy cutting Dean's T-shirt away from his body with Abe's knife.

"What are you—"

"I need to get to his shoulder and I didn't want to put more pressure on this wound if I didn't have to."

Abe stepped around to the other side of the bed. "I have to go pick up the supplies for Dean," he said, helping Maggie pull the clothes away from Dean's skin.

"How long will you be gone?" Maggie asked.

"Not long," Abe said, sitting on the edge of the bed and easing Dean up, supporting him at an angle so Maggie could get the bandages off his shoulder. The heat that radiated off of his skin caused Abe to shiver in response.

Abe glanced to the other bed. "You doing okay, Sam?"

"Yeah," Sam croaked. "Untie me."

"Don't know if that's a good idea—"

"Untie me," Sam insisted. "I'm not going to hurt myself."

Abe frowned. Sam sounded clearer, more coherent, slightly less desperate.

"What is that charm, Sam? The one I put around your neck."

"Bobby gave them to us," Sam said, and Abe found himself swallowing in response to the rough sound of his voice. "Keep us from getting possessed."

Talisman… Abe thought. "Dean has one?"

"Yeah," Sam replied. "Untie me."

"In a second," Abe promised, shifting so that Maggie could clean out the round, pink tear in the meat of Dean's shoulder, above his collar bone. This wound didn't look nearly as bad as the one on his belly, but Abe knew that was relative.

Dean stiffened against him, rolling his head slightly as Maggie applied antiseptic. Abe murmured automatic words of comfort in his native language, unaware that he was doing so until he felt Dean relax.

"Mmrrphh!" Sal's muffled call pulled Abe's attention.

Lobo had once again stepped closer, his teeth less than an inch away from Sal's carotid artery. Abe smiled, but it was just something he did with his mouth. He took no pleasure in this situation, even if he did realize that Sal was paying for a sin he should have been punished for years ago.

"We'll leave them open for a moment," Maggie said. "Let the air get to them."

"You sure?"

Maggie nodded. "Until we can get some medicine into him, I don't want to capture that infection inside."

"Sam?" Abe called the younger boy's attention. "Where is Dean's charm? It's not this one around his neck…"

"Pocket," Sam rasped. "Check his pocket."

Awkwardly, Abe reached into Dean's pockets, finding the small, round charm, similar to Sam's. He turned it over and was unsurprised to see the wolf carved on one side. Glancing at Lobo, Abe nodded. He shifted out from behind Dean, working the leather strap that held his other amulet in place off of his neck and slid the charm on the strap so that it, too, rested against his chest.

"There," Abe sighed, knowing now why he'd crossed paths with these hunters.

Maggie sat back, her worried eyes on Dean as his head rolled against the pillow, a groan of misery escaping his tight lips. Abe moved around her, between the beds, and picked up his knife from where Maggie had set it down.

"Sam," Abe said, leaning over and meeting the boy's blue-green eyes. "That charm isn't going to slow it down forever."

"I know," Sam said. "Untie me."

Abe closed his eyes, licked his lips, and then grasped the rope, slicing quickly at one wrist then the other, releasing Sam from the bed. Sam rubbed his rope-burned skin, rolling to his side and curling in on himself as the ikiryoh continued to thrash inside of him.

"Now leave," Sam ordered.

"What?" Maggie gasped.

"Leave," Sam repeated. "I can't protect all of you."

"Sam, we—"

The sharp retort of the gunshot canceled out anything else Abe was planning on saying.

"What the hell?" He turned to the doorway.

"Oh, God, Yeats," Maggie breathed, pushing past Abe and heading out of the opened door.

"Maggie, wait!" Abe cried, running after her.

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He'd had the flu once when he was younger. It had kept him out of school for two weeks. Dean had brought his homework to him, and when he was well enough to sit up in bed, they had worked through the problems together so that Sam hadn't fallen behind. The sickness had weakened him to the point that his brother had been forced to help him rise from the bed, cross the room to the bathroom, even stand in the shower.

He had been too young to be embarrassed, too tired to be shy, and too grateful to be disgruntled when Dean had stood, fully clothed, behind him, keeping him from collapsing to the small stall floor, letting the lukewarm water cool his fevered skin. All he remembered for much of those two weeks was the absolute absence of strength and the constant presence of Dean. He hadn't wanted his dad; he'd wanted Dean.

As Sam rolled to his side, Abe standing not two feet away, he was acutely reminded of that feeling of weakness, that need for his brother. Except this time, he wasn't a boy, and he needed to turn the tables. Dean's raspy, panting breath called to him with each exhale. And he needed everyone to leave.

He knew what he needed to do, and he didn't have the strength to explain how or why. He just needed them gone. The reason behind the gunshot could not have mattered any less to him in that moment. It had emptied the room of the extra people.

As if he were an arthritic ninety-year-old, Sam pushed himself to a sitting position, gasping as he felt his insides twist and heard the scream of denial grow in intensity.

"Lobo," Sam said, eyes heavy. "Go."

Lobo whined, stepping back from Sal. He sat and looked between Sam and his prisoner.

"It's okay," Sam urged. "Go."

The dog whined again, tilting his head in confusion. Sam simply looked at him, concentrating on conserving his strength. After a moment, Lobo stood, huffing air out of his nostrils, then padded out of the door and to the porch. Sam slid from the bed to his knees, unable to stand, and crawled around the end of Dean's bed, slumping on the floor between his brother and Sal.

Sal's beady, dark eyes shifted nervously and he tried to push back away from Sam, closer to the corner of the room. Sam ignored him, biting his lip against a burst of pain. The ikiryoh couldn't get to him like before, he knew. It couldn't get to his mind because of the charm. Abe didn't realize this, but in a way, he had essentially trapped the being inside of Sam when he returned the charm.

But Sam knew it was killing him. And when he died, the being would be released, and he couldn't let that happen. Panting, he dropped his head back against the bed, feeling Dean's leg there. Fumbling a clumsy hand over his head, Sam rolled against the bed frame to his side, reaching up to grasp Dean's arm.

The heat there made him jerk back in surprise. Dean was burning up. He felt the tremble of his brother's protesting muscles beneath his skin as he rested his hand on Dean's arm once more. Dragging his knees slowly under him, Sam drew himself up, looking down at Dean's face.

"Hey," he whispered. "I hope you can hear me."

Dean rolled his head toward Sam's voice. Sam felt his heartbeat quicken.

"Can you open your eyes, Dean?"

A flicker of lashes. Sam's focus narrowed.

"I need you to open your eyes, man. Please. I don't think I have much time, here."

Sam felt Dean's muscles tighten under his hand and he fought the urge to look down at the wound marring the surface of his brother's stomach. As if waging his own war against darkness, Dean's eyes rolled beneath his lids, his brows pulled close, the edges of his lips tipping down.

"That's it, big brother," Sam encouraged softly. "Look at me."

A flash of green greeted Sam and he felt himself relax slightly.

"Hey," Sam repeated.

Dean's mouth moved in a silent reply.

"Don't try to talk, it's okay," Sam said, tightening his grip. "Listen, I need to tell you something."

Dean blinked, his pupils wide, his eyes pinned to Sam.

"I believe you, Dean," Sam whispered, feeling his chin tremble. "I believe you."

Dean frowned. "Wha…"

"I believe what you said. I know you don't blame me," Sam felt tears gather, ignoring them. "I know…" he jerked as the ikiryoh's desperate search for doubt and darkness intensified. "I know you're going to do everything you can to save me."

Dean nodded, shivering despite his obvious efforts to hold himself still.

"But, now I gotta do something to help save you, okay?"

"Sam," Dean's weak voice pleaded.

"It's gonna be okay," Sam said, wanting to drop his head forward. Wanting to rest. Wanting to give in. "I promise. It's gonna be okay."

"Don't…you leave…me, man," Dean growled, reaching up with trembling fingers to clutch at Sam's shirt. "You… fight, Sammy."

"I'm not going anywhere," Sam said falling to his rear as his knees refused to hold him. "I hope," he whispered, his eyes closing against the weight of the battle he was raging with the ikiryoh.

"Don't… don't have to do… this."

"Yes, I do," Sam replied, focusing on Sal. "Otherwise… they'll be so worried about… this… thing, they won't… take care of… you."

"Sam—"

"It's okay, Dean. It's okay." He glanced over his shoulder. "Just hang on to that charm, okay?"

Dean blinked at him, trying to smile, his lips trembling with the effort. "You're… hanging our lives… on a possibility?"

Sam pulled his mouth up in weary grin. "Who's your brother, Dean?"

He felt the soft weight of Dean's hand on the top of his head, fingers fisting in his long hair as his answer.

Taking a breath, Sam looked back at Sal, then crawled the short distance between them to take up the position Lobo had recently vacated. He pulled the sock out of Sal's mouth, dropping it beside him as Sal tried to wet his mouth and lick his lips.

"You're fucking crazy," he growled.

"You're probably right," Sam nodded. "I might be crazy." He reached up and wrapped his fingers around the charm hanging from Abe's leather strap around his neck. "But you're about to join me."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Sam pressed his hand flat against the ground for balance. "That girl you and your friends raped…didn't die."

"So your brother said," Sal struggled against the ropes holding him tightly in place. The puncture marks on his arm continued to seep fresh blood. "So what?"

"So… she's wiped out all of your friends… and conjured an evil spirit along the way."

Sal rolled his eyes. "Whatever, dude."

"This spirit," Sam continued, gathering his will, "it feeds on guilt. On fear. On doubt. On darkness." Sam's voice increased in strength as he spoke, spitting the final word directly into Sal's face. "And I'm willing to bet you've got that in spades."

"Wh-what are you… gonna do?" Sal asked, showing true fear for the first time since Lobo vacated the room.

"Well," Sam rubbed the pad of his thumb over the eagle etching on his charm. "I think you're right, Sal," he said, his eyes hardening as the being within him writhed. "I am crazy… because I'm talking to a dead man."

"What!"

Sam pulled the charm over his head, rocking back with a sudden cry as the ikiryoh surged with power. The calm that the combination of the pilocarpine and Bobby's charm had offered him allowed Sam to realize what no one else had been able to see: he had to be the one to recite the sutra to banish the ikiryoh from in side of him.

And Sam had always had an excellent memory.

"Excessive desire only brings me to suffering…" His body shook, his voice shook, tears streamed from his eyes. Dean called his name, his voice both desperate and weak.

"Birth and death, sorrow and weariness all are from greedy attachment to things of this world…"

He fell to his side, rolling to his back as he screamed in frustrated pain. The ikiryoh pushed against his skin, clawing and fighting, knowing it was about to be defeated. Sam felt himself depart, as he were suddenly floating above himself, watching as he shook and writhed, his legs bouncing against the worn, wooden floor, watching his hands claw at his neck, his chest, desperate for release.

"But controlling desire…" he shouted, "cuts the root of unhappiness, leaving the body and mind to relax."

Like mist disappearing with the coming of the dawn, Sam felt the being inside of him escaping on an exhale of air. He laid still, his ears humming, his vision swimming, his body trembling. He knew it wasn't gone. But it was no longer inside of him. And in the vacuum of its absence, strength took a hesitant step forward.

"Dean," he said, his voice like sandpaper on glass. "Dean, don't move."

"What... what the hell just happened?" Sal whimpered, and Sam could hear him trying to push away from them, trying to scuttle toward the broken-out window.

Sam lay still, staring at the rough beams on the ceiling. As if it weighed a hundred pounds, he slowly drew his arm close to his chest, the charm clutched tightly in his fist.

"I believe you, Dean," he whispered.

"I know," Dean replied his voice barely audible.

And suddenly Sal gasped, a wet, strangling sound of sick realization. Sam continued to lie still, breathing freely for the first time in hours. The ikiryoh was not defeated. It was too powerful to be simply banished. But Sam had known that it would seek out the weakest link, the darkest space.

Sal's whimper confirmed Sam's suspicions. The ikiryoh had found a new host, and the clock was now ticking all over again.

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"Yeats?" Maggie called, running up to the entrance of the bar.

"Wait!" Abe called, close on her heels. "Maggie, wait!"

No answering call reached their ears. The silence coming from inside the bar was more frightening than the sudden burst of sound of the bullet piercing the air. Abe caught up with her just as Maggie's fingers closed around the door handle. He grabbed her arm.

Wrenching herself free, Maggie turned to face Abe. "Stop it! I'm going in there."

"You don't know what's—"

"I don't care!" Maggie yelled, her eyes snapping. "That man has stood by my side for over a decade and I never bothered to find out anything about him!"

Abe stepped back, his mouth opening and closing silently.

"Now, he's trapped himself in there with a killer."

Abe's own words echoed back to him. Sometimes what we find we care about can surprise us.

"Okay," Abe nodded quickly. "Okay, but I go in first."

"What about Dean?" Maggie shoved Abe away, hard. "You can't be everywhere, Abe."

"I—" Abe looked back over toward the safe house, his stomach twisting.

If he didn't get the medicine to Dean soon, they could lose him. If he let Maggie go inside with Yeats and Claire by herself, he could lose her. Abe fisted his hands at his side, growling low in helpless frustration. Suddenly, he realized his growl was echoed.

Turning, he saw Lobo sitting on the porch, watching him. Wolf… Spirit of his people. Strength and pride. Hunter and keeper.

Abe locked eyes with the animal as Maggie turned the knob of the door to the Hideout.

Help me, brother…

Lobo trotted down the steps of the safe house, crossing the expanse of empty space between the two buildings, and as Maggie stepped inside, Lobo followed. Closing his eyes for a moment, steadying his heartbeat, Abe turned and headed resolutely toward his truck.

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Christ…so hot…

Fire shivered through his system, causing his muscles to quake in response. Dean cursed the weakness plaguing his limbs, the weight of pain that trapped him against the bed. He should be up. Fighting.

But, God, he was burning. A cold fire ate him and he couldn't breathe and he couldn't move and he couldn't find solace. The sick sensation of flames rocketed through his body, pushing behind his eyes, searing his throat. His belly rolled with volcanic heat and he felt his blood seep between the cracks in the scabbed, burned skin.

Sam was screaming, chanting, words tumbling from his brother's lips in a flurry of determined sound. Dean wanted to reach out, find him, grab him, pull Sam behind him, away from whatever was making him sound like that. But he couldn't breathe… and his eyes were so heavy...

"Dean," Sam's voice tucked into him. "Dean, don't move."

Ghosted images like double-exposed film flashed across his closed lids. He saw Sam in a cascade of shots, reaching out to him, pushing him away. He saw his fist crack against Sam's jaw, saw his brother stand fast. He saw angry eyes, pleading eyes, sad eyes, laughing eyes—all Sam.

He forced his eyes open, reaching out to where he'd last heard his brother. A quake slid through him and left footprints of cold in its wake. Swallowing, he lifted his eyebrows, willing the motion to bring with them his heavy lids. He needed to see Sam. Needed grab on and hold tight and keep Sam from falling, save him… save him

"What…what the hell just happened?"

Dean slid his tongue over his parched lips, trying ineffectually to wet them, feeling the cool air against the damp skin. He didn't recognize the voice off to his left, but he knew the terror it held. Knew it like a silent friend. Sam's words drifted back to him.

Just hang on to that charm, okay?

"I believe you, Dean." Sam's voice crawled over him, climbing behind the wall, pushing away the pain, settling around his heart.

"I know," Dean managed, his burning eyes falling closed, his body rocking with the motion of a fevered chill.

Don't let go… I'll fall if you let go…

His reaching fingers brushed against air, thick and palpable with circumstance. His belly burned, his body shook, and he felt himself slowly sinking into the fire that surrounded him.

I'll fall if you let go…

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"Getitoutgetitoutgetitout…" Sal's warbling voice brought Sam's focus back.

He rolled to his side, propping himself up on his elbow, and blinked bleary eyes at Sal. The hustler was pressed as far back into the wall as he could go, his bound hands clumsily batting at his face, his neck, tugging at the collar of his shirt. For a moment, Sam felt pity for the man. He knew how it felt to have the being crawling inside of him, how it felt to see his past transgressions and present fears dance before his eyes like a chorus line.

Sitting up farther, Sam slipped the leather strap and charm back over his head, thinking of the confused glimpses of Claire he'd caught in his panicked haze, the snippets of her story he'd been able to gather while fighting off his demons. Sal was experiencing first hand the results of the pain he had caused.

The thought hardened Sam against the knee-jerk reaction of pity. He wanted Sal to suffer.

Turning on his rear he faced the bed, his stomach clenching at the sight of his brother's pale face, so hot that it wasn't even glistening with sweat. Drawing up on his knees, Sam pushed himself up, his muscles protesting and sore as if he'd been sparring for hours. The ikiryoh had truly beaten him from the inside.

"Dean?" Sam whispered, sinking down on the bed next to his brother's hip.

Dean's bare chest bore the red, raw wounds inflicted by Sam and sustained while saving Sal. Sam winced, looking over at Sal's frightened, crazed eyes.

"Screw suffering, you son of a bitch," Sam growled. "You're gonna pay for what you did to my brother."

Sal whimpered, muttering something unintelligible, scuttling along the wall, unable to get far, hampered as he was by his bindings.

Sam turned back to Dean. "Okay," he breathed, rubbing his rough chin with the flat of his fingers. "Think, Sam."

Dean was shaking, his jaw stuttering, air skittering across his teeth and parted lips in a staccato utterance of sound. His shoulders and hands trembled and Sam saw the motion working the seeping blood from his belly down his side. Sam couldn't remember what had happened to Maggie or Abe. He knew they'd left, but his brain was fogging up the details of the past few hours into the semblance of a remembered dream.

"Doesn't matter," Sam muttered. "We're usually alone, right man? I can do this."

He found the cloth Maggie had been using to clean Dean's wounds, located a clean space and wiped the blood from Dean's side, patting the wound carefully. Dean groaned.

"I know, I'm sorry, man," Sam whispered, keeping his focus evenly divided between Dean's face and the wound. "Okay. God, you're burning up… okay, Jesus, it's so hard to think… I need to… I gotta cool you off. Then… uh… we'll get some meds… somewhere. I might have to leave you—"

Dean jerked, as if in response to Sam's words, his hands fisting weakly in the blankets beneath him.

"Okay, bad idea," Sam assured his unconscious brother. "Don't worry. I'll figure it out. Get you stitched up. You'll see. Good as new."

Sam stood, amazed at the surge of energy he suddenly felt after the hours of possession. His legs felt hollow, his arms tingled with a rush of blood, but he could feel his heartbeat steady in his chest, supporting him with purpose. When Bobby and Dean had sent Meg back to Hell, Sam had been left feeling completely exhausted, worn out, befuddled. He couldn't clearly remember any one event; they'd all slammed back to him in a dizzying rhythm of a nightmare.

But this time, though weary, he could at least move, function. He could take care of Dean. Rolling Dean carefully to the side, he pulled the cut shirt from beneath him, then moved down and removed his brother's boots and socks, hoping to make him more comfortable.

"Mine…" Sal whimpered. Sam whipped around, staring. Waiting.

"She's mine… I found her, mine. They can have her soon, but she's mine, you got it? Mine."

"Holy shit," Sam breathed, mouth gaping with disbelief.

"Soon, back off Liam, you can have her soon, greedy bastard, greedy bastard, why couldn't you wait, I said soon…"

Sal twitched, his bound hands reaching up to flail at his face. Sam saw blood running from his raw wrists to mesh with the wounds on his arm from Lobo's teeth.

"You've taken your turn, you don't get more, taken your turn… cut her and be done…get it done get it done get it done…taking too long and someone's coming, someone sees…"

Mine… Soon… Taken…

"Oh, my God," Sam shook his head slowly. "She heard you. She heard you…" And the ikiryoh had absorbed that. Sam felt sick. He slid a hand unconsciously over his stomach, pressing the ache he felt back. The hate that Claire had built for herself, her attackers, her father permeated the room for a moment and Sam flinched, curling over.

"Fuck," he groaned, closing his eyes.

The pain, fear, anger that had created the ikiryoh was as real as a fourth person in the room. Sam shot a look over his shoulder, half expecting Claire to be standing in the doorway. When nothing greeted him but the coming of night, Sam swallowed the nausea, and turned back to his brother.

"Okay, Dean," Sam said, flicking on the light switch above Dean's head. "I'm gonna take care of you."

Cool him off… gotta cool him off… then worry about the wound… what would Dean do…

He stood up, moving past Sal and into the bathroom. He turned on the water, checking the temperature, making sure it wasn't ice cold, but cool, then grabbed two towels from the bar behind the door, laying them on the edge of the sink within easy reach. He went back to the room, digging around in their bags until he found what was left of their gauze and suture supplies.

The brown bottle Maggie had been using was all they had left of antiseptic. He found a bottle of Percocet in Dean's bag with the name Jo Harvelle on the label. Holding the bottle, he looked over at Dean. He suddenly realized he hadn't bothered to ask who had cared for Dean's shoulder. He's assumed it had been Bobby, but…

My Daddy shot your Daddy in the he-ead…

"God," Sam bent low, bowed by a punch of guilt so strong he could have sworn the ikiryoh was back. He closed his eyes, pulling in a breath. He didn't need a Japanese hate spirit to remind him how close the dividing line between good and evil really was to him.

He looked back in the bag for any left over antibiotics, aspirin, anything else. It was the Percocet or nothing.

"Guess we owe Jo more than I realized," Sam said to his brother's closed eyes as he approached the bed. "When this is all over, Dean, I think we have some stories to tell each other."

Sam set the supplies he'd gathered on the floor next to Dean's bed, then bent low, sliding an arm beneath Dean's shoulder, and bracing his other hand on Dean's hip. Carefully, he eased his brother to a slumped, sitting position. Dean's head rolled forward, his chin resting on his chest, a whimper sliding between his lips.

"I know this hurts, man," Sam whispered. "I gotta cool you off, okay?"

He wasn't going to be able to pick Dean up, he knew, so he ducked, slinging Dean's arm across his shoulders and snaking his opposite arm around Dean's back, gripping his brother's belt loops. On a silent three count, he pulled Dean up, moving him forward as quickly as he could, Dean lolling limply in his arms.

The ironic fact that only yesterday he was trying to warm Dean up wasn't lost on Sam. Grunting with effort, he manhandled them both into the small bathroom, carefully propping Dean up against the wall while he opened the shower stall door. He paused for a moment, considering the fact that Dean was still in his jeans.

"Okay, yeah, that's gonna be a bitch to move you around in," Sam muttered.

Keeping Dean pressed against the tile wall, Sam rested his shoulder against his brother's hot chest, fumbling with the button fly of Dean's jeans, then pulled him once more close to him, Dean's chin on his shoulder as he used a combination of his thumb and boot to work the denim down to the floor.

Dean mumbled something, his words meshed together, his tone anxious. Sam finished working the denim loose until Dean rested limply against him, propped up by Sam's body against the wall, clad in his boxers, his skin so hot to the touch that Sam was beginning to sweat.

"You are so going to kick my ass when I tell you about this," Sam muttered, returning Dean's arm to his shoulder to maneuver them into the shower. "Because I will tell you about this, Dean. You'll see. This is just… just one more thing, right?"

Sam stepped into the shower stall, pulling Dean in carefully. Dean faced the cool water. Holding his brother up against him, his own clothes getting soaked, Sam remembered how Dean had gripped him when they were young: back to front, arms under arms, wrists clasped across chest. Dean sputtered when the water hit him, his trembling increasing.

"Ocean," Dean muttered, his head rolling limply as he tried to bring his head up.

"Shower," Sam corrected, tightening his grip and moving closer to the cool water, letting it soak into Dean's hair, run down his brother's bruised face, across his bowed neck. It gathered in the small hollow of Dean's collarbone where Sam's bullet had torn into him. It skittered down Dean's chest, sluicing the coagulating blood around the wound on his belly, turning pink, and drowned itself in the drain beneath them.

"Feels like the ocean," Dean said.

Sam couldn't tell if Dean was lucid or if he was hearing a fevered dream. He went with it.

"Yeah? When have you been in the ocean?"

"When Sam was at school," Dean replied, pulling his head up, eyes closed, then let his chin brush against his chest once more.

Sam felt his heart clench. "You… you went to California?"

"Lotsa times," Dean sighed. "With Dad. Checkin' on Sam."

Sam felt his throat tighten. How foolish he'd been… how much time had he lost. Regret sliced into his heart like the edge of a fresh scalpel. Sharp and fast but with nothing to dull the pain.

"You like the ocean, Dean?"

"Mmhmm," Dean replied.

Sam felt Dean's trembling increase, and shifted him so that the water reached more of his fevered body.

"Rolls," Dean said, his head bobbing on his neck. Sam reached up and laid Dean's head back against his shoulder, feeling his brother sag in his arms.

"What rolls?"

"The water," Dean said, his lashes melding together, beads of water glistening on his face.

Sam's legs began to tremble and he pressed his back against the shower stall, sliding down carefully so that he sat with Dean in his lap once more, this time purposefully soaking him in cool water, hoping that it would draw out the fever, keep his body in the fight, bring Dean back to him.

"Water rolls," Dean was whispering. "In slow motion… like you're watching time stop… and you think… you think you can hold onto it… but when you reach for it… it slips away… always slips away…"

"Dean?"

"Go get Sam, will ya?"

"I'm here, Dean."

"Wanna see him… gotta tell him somethin'…"

"Hey, I'm here," Sam laid his hand flat against Dean's forehead, tipping his own head forward into the water. "Tell me, you can tell me."

"Tell him… Dad didn't… didn't die thinking… that Sam hated him…"

Sam felt a sob catch against the net of resistance in his throat. Dean's voice was slurred, dreamy, fading.

"I'll tell him."

"Watch out for Sammy… he said… he said that, you know. Watch out for Sammy…"

"I know…"

"Like watching the ocean… always… always slipping away…" The last word tipped on the edge of reality and Sam heard it tumble from Dean's lips into the abyss of dark that he was desperate to keep his brother from.

"Dean?"

The sound of the water hitting the sides of the shower wall mocked him.

"Dean?"

Dean was completely limp in his arms. Sam shook him and Dean's mouth parted slightly, his jaw falling slack. Tipping his ear to the side Sam tried to listen for breath. He could feel it, faint, against his wet face.

God, he's burning…

"Shit, man, don't do this!" Sam shook him again. "Please don't do this… the shower always worked for me… it always cooled me down… you can't have different rules, okay? You're not allowed!"

"Sam?"

Sam jerked his head up, the sound of Bobby's sudden, unexpected voice the most welcome sound in the world.

"Oh, thank God," Sam breathed, hearing the relief escape past his resistance and not caring.

"What the hell is goin' on here? Why are you guys sitting in the shower? Where is Maggie? And who is the dude going ape-shit out in the other room?"

"Help me, Bobby," Sam practically sobbed. "I can't get him cooled off."

"Holy Christ," Bobby muttered, stepping closer to peer into the shower stall at Dean's wet, bloody form. He grabbed a towel. "Let's get him out of there."

"I tried to… I mean, it used to work with me…"

"You did a good job, Sam," Bobby assured him, shutting off the water. He tipped his trucker hat back off his forehead and reached for Dean, wrapping the towel around the younger man's limp body. The part of the towel touching Dean's wound immediately started to turn pink with seeping blood.

"Push him toward me, there, that's it, okay easy, easy," Bobby narrated, pulling Dean up and allowing Sam to step free. "You're soaked."

Sam just looked at him.

"Let's get your brother in bed and you can get changed."

Sam helped move Dean from the other side, joining Bobby in half dragging, half carrying him to the single bed and laying him down on the towels.

"Go get changed," Bobby said, his voice the epitome of no-nonsense.

Sam paused a moment to stare in wonder as Bobby covered Dean's legs with a towel and removed his wet shorts without hesitation or embarrassment. Sam grabbed a dry pair of jeans and a T-shirt, hurried past Sal, ignoring the mutterings of not mine but I wanted it so I took it and they blamed him but I had it and that's okay, that's okay.

When he returned, Dean was covered to his waist in the white sheet, shivering so badly that Sam could see the bed shaking. Bobby was frowning, his beard camouflaging the worried lines of his mouth, but his dark blue eyes were sober and still. He was searching through the supplies Sam had set next to the bed.

"Wanna tell me who you got tied up over there?" Bobby grumbled without looking at him.

"Sal," Sam replied, fastening his jeans and shaking out his wet hair. "He's one of the guys that hurt Claire. He beat up Dean—left in him the river after Dean got hurt saving him." The hard edge in Sam's voice cut through the air as the words spit from his mouth.

Bobby simply nodded, straightening up. "The bad guy," he concluded.

"You got that right. What can I do?" Sam asked, resting the back of his hand against Dean's arm, checking. His skin was frighteningly hot to the touch.

"Go to the kitchen," Bobby said, grabbing the gauze pad and tearing open the sterile wrapping. "Find some plastic bags and fill them with ice."

Sam was back in moments with four bags. They wrapped them in the towels from the bathroom and put one under each of Dean's arms, one between his legs, and the other as close to the belly wound as possible. Dean's shivering immediately increased.

"I can't believe he's shaking so much but still so hot," Sam said, chewing on his bottom lip and shoving his wet hair back.

"He needs antibiotics," Bobby growled, laying the gauze pad gently on the opened belly wound. "Medicine. Not Bactine and Band-Aids."

Sam frowned, remembering. "Abe's… going to get something."

"You sure?" Bobby looked at him.

"Yeah," Sam nodded sitting on the opposite bed from Dean, his forearms resting on his knees. "Yeah, I mean… it's all kinda hazy, but I know Abe went to help Dean."

"You kill the witch?" Bobby asked, pulling his hat off, scratching his head and then resting the hat back in its place.

"Uh, no," Sam looked down.

"Then how did…"

"I…pushed it into Sal," Sam said softly.

"You did?"

"I was the only one who could."

"Sam…" Bobby shook his head. "That takes…power."

Sam brought his head up. "So?"

Bobby shook his head quickly. "Nothing… I'm just… well, good. That's good, Sam."

"How did you find us, Bobby?" Sam asked, weariness tapping at the edges of his perception.

Bobby drew his head back. "Are you kidding? How did you think I knew to send you here?"

"Oh, right," Sam rubbed his face, watching as Bobby winced looking at the wound on Dean's shoulder.

"He never let me check this out," Bobby grumbled. "Said it was fine. Of course."

"I think Jo fixed it for him," Sam offered.

"Looks like it should be okay if he could catch a break," Bobby gently took Dean's chin between his fingers, turning his head so that he could examine the fresh bruises. "How you guys managed to get in trouble at a safe house is beyond me."

Sam dropped his head, rubbing at the back of his neck, trying to massage the weariness. It was so hard to concentrate. So hard to think. He felt like there was something he needed to remember, something he needed to do, but scenes were dancing behind his closed eyes and memories were drifting up to him as Bobby spoke. He found himself tapping his foot, concentrating on the motion, the rhythm, the repetition.

"Sam?"

"What?"

"You hear what I said?"

Sam brought his head up, keeping up the beat, focusing on the count. "No."

"Asked if you found the spell," Bobby stood on the other side of Dean's bed, pulling a thin, white blanket from the foot of the bed up to cover Dean mid-chest.

"What spell?" Sam asked, puzzled. Six… seven… eight…

"The one to trap the spirit," Bobby jutted his chin out. "Didn't Abe tell you?"

"Uh…" Sam tried to think, rubbing at his forehead. "No, I, uh, I think he forgot."

"Well, shit," Bobby cursed, rubbing his mouth and looking over at Sal.

Sam dropped his eyes to Dean's shaking form. Four, five, si—

"Jesus Christ," Sam breathed. Dean's lips were moving silently, but as Sam counted, he saw his brother doing the same thing. A small shiver shook Sam as he felt goose bumps climb his arms. Dean had always counted when he hurt, when he needed to think, when he couldn't concentrate. Sam had never bothered to ask why; it was just something Dean did.

But now he realized that there were too many voices in Dean's head. Too many possible scenarios to consider. Too much responsibility to bear. Counting the beats to a song, or the rhythm of the wiper blades on a wet windshield, or the dotted lines on the highway was a way for Dean to bring the world into focus… keep it from slipping away.

Dean shifted, stirring the ice packs. Sam moved over to his bed, trying to adjust them back in place.

"No," Dean shook his head against the pillow, trying to push the ice away.

"You need to keep them on you, Dean," Sam said. "You've got a fev—"

"Been in Sam since he disappeared…"

Sam went cold. His words of protest literally died on his tongue.

"What's he saying?" Bobby said, leaning closer.

Dean thrashed slightly, pushing the ice from the bed. "Bitch..." Dean spat, "took him away from me…"

"Dean—"

Dean's eyes flew open, the pupils so large there was barely a hint of green. "Go 'way… get 'way from me…" He pushed himself up to the head of the bed, his back against the wall, the blanket and sheet falling to his waist, the gauze pad threatening to fall loose.

"Dean, it's me. It's Sam."

"No," Dean shook his head. "No… he wouldn't… he didn't…"

Sam reached out. Dean pushed his hands away.

"Saw him shoot…"

The words hit Sam like a slap and he bent forward.

"…wasn't him… wasn't Sam."

"I know, Dean," Sam whispered. "You knew. Hey, hey, easy, big brother, okay? Take it easy or you're gonna start bleeding again. It's me, okay? It's Sammy."

Dean pressed his back against the wall, trembling, his hand sliding toward his belly wound. "Sam?"

"Yeah, it's me, you with me?"

"Where's… where's Dad?"

"Dean, come on, man, come on back to me, okay?" Sam reached for him again and Dean knocked his hand away.

"He was here… I heard him."

"You heard Bobby," Sam tilted his head toward the older man.

"Bobby?"

"Hey, Dean," Bobby stepped forward. "You got yourself in a fix."

"Bobby," Dean repeated, still staring at the bearded hunter.

"Yeah," Bobby nodded, staying where he was, not crowding him.

"Not Dad," Dean looked over at Sam.

Sam shook his head. "No, Dean. Not Dad."

Dean slumped on the bed, his face crumpling slightly as he pressed a hand tighter against his wound. "I coulda… coulda sworn I heard… heard him… singing."

Sam blinked. "Singing?"

"He… he used to sing," Dean melted further into the bed. "Sing to Sam when he was sick… when he couldn't… couldn't sleep."

"Dad… sang to me?"

"Thought I was asleep," Dean's head dropped sideways and Bobby reached out to straighten him in the bed. "Wasn't, though…" Dean closed his eyes again on a sigh.

Sam looked up at Bobby. "Dad…sang to me."

"So I gathered," Bobby said gruffly, repositioning the ice packs around Dean.

Dean groaned, his face pulled into a tight fist of pain. Sam reached for him a third time, grasping Dean's hot hand in his, relieved when Dean didn't push him away.

"Sam," Dean whispered, eyes closed, lips cracked.

Bobby wet a towel and handed it to Sam, who pressed it against Dean's mouth.

"I'm here," Sam assured him.

"Fuckin' hurts, man," Dean growled, completely lucid, eyes blinking open, though heavy. "Wanta kill that sonuvabitch."

"You mean Sal?"

"Yeah… bastard…"

"Don't worry, brother," Sam gripped Dean's hand, nodding when Dean tightened his fingers around Sam. "I think we got that covered."

Teeth clenched, Dean pressed his head back into the pillow, neck arching up as his body shook.

"Think you could swallow a pill?" Sam asked.

"Hell yeah," Dean whispered.

Sam indicated the Percocet with his eyes. Bobby nodded, tapped a pill into his hand and hurried to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. He returned and coaxed Dean's head up with his strong hand, sliding the pill between his lips and helping him swallow the water.

"When'd you get here?" Dean asked as Bobby eased his head back down on the pillow.

"Not soon enough," Bobby commented. "You two were supposed to be lying low."

Dean closed his eyes, a cough shaking him. "Can't get much lower than this."

Rambling words of insanity drifted over the trio from Sal, and were summarily ignored.

Dean grit his teeth against another wave of pain, gripping Sam's fingers so tightly, Sam saw the tips go white. "What... what's the plan…" Dean gasped.

"Abe's gonna bring you back some help," Sam assured him. "He'll be here soon, okay?"

Dean's eyes blinked open, wide, as if suddenly realizing Sam was next to him. "You…you're okay?"

Sam's smile trembled at the edges. "Yeah."

"You sure? No… darkside?"

Sam shook his head. "Not this time."

Dean relaxed slightly. "'S good… good." His eyes drifted shut, then he bounced them open with a gasp. "Sam!"

"I'm here."

"Fuck…" Dean pressed his lips tight, his body curling slightly to the side as he pressed his hand to his belly. "I can't… man… it's…"

"Hey, hey," Sam scrambled closer to the bed so that Dean could see his face. "Take it easy. All you gotta do is hang in there, okay? Just hang in there and Abe is gonna be here, soon."

"Abe," Dean panted. "Right."

"He won't be much longer, okay?"

"'Kay…" Dean swallowed. "Where's Lobo?"

"Who?" Bobby spoke up.

"This… wolf-dog that kinda adopted Dean," Sam explained. Focusing again on his brother, Sam said, "I made him leave."

"Why?"

"Well…" Sam paused, embarrassed. "I didn't know if it would… y'know, go into him."

Dean blinked. "The spirit?"

"Yeah."

"You think a dog has… a dark side?" Dean forced out.

I think that one could… "Better safe than sorry, right?"

Dean didn't reply. Sam watched as his eyes pressed tightly closed, a muscle dancing along his jaw line, his lips white around the edges. Sam knew he was close to losing him back to the darkness of the fever.

"Dean," Sam said, shaking his brother'shand. "Hey… hey, Dean."

"Hmm?"

"What did Dad sing?"

"Dad?" Dean blinked his eyes open, panting. Sam watched him press the flat his hand against his stomach once more.

"Yeah, you said he sang to me when I couldn't sleep… what did he sing?"

Dean's eyes widened slightly; Sam recognized it as a forced effort at consciousness. "Turn the Page," he said softly.

"Yeah?"

Dean nodded. "Loved Seger. Him and mom both."

A smile softened the worried lines on Sam's face, his eyes watering at the thought of Dean's memory of their mom. "I didn't know that."

Dean began to relax by increments, and Sam knew the pain medication was finally taking hold. His hair splaying in a short brush against the pillow, Dean nodded drunkenly.

"Not a monster," Dean whispered, his eyes sliding closed.

"What?" Sam asked, feeling Dean's hand go limp in his. "What was that?"

"Think he means your daddy," Bobby said softly from behind him. Sam looked over his shoulder. Bobby had his back to the opened door, one booted foot resting on the seat of a kitchen chair, and Sam's Glock in his hand, checking the ammunition. He wasn't looking at Sam. "Your dad wasn't a monster, Sam."

"I know that," Sam snapped. "I never thought that."

"He had a screwy way of showing you both—'specially your brother, there—but he loved you boys," Bobby continued.

Sam looked back down at his brother's hand resting in his as Dean was sturdy: veins rippled over muscles, thin, white scars edged knuckles, capable fingers tapered into blunted ends. He turned his own hand over, noticing the difference. The grace in his tapered fingers, the absence of scars.

Bobby began to hum, low, mellow, his tone rumbling through the tight air of the room and easing the tension from Sam's shoulders.

Sam had John's hands. He'd seen that before. He watched his brother and his father all of his life. He'd mirrored them, rebelled against them, cried for them. He had watched his father clean his guns hundreds of times, watched as his quick, sure fingers moved over the chambers and bullets, the motion like that of a person playing an instrument. Sam had recognized his own hands watching John.

"But your thoughts will soon be wandering the way they always do, when you're ridin' sixteen hours and there's nothin' much to do. And you don't feel much like ridin', you just wish the trip was through."

Sam found himself humming softly as Bobby continued to sing, lifting Dean's limp hand and resting it on his brother's hip. He'd watched Dean's hands work on the Impala's engine, sure and steady, almost caressing the different components as though he were coaxing a lover to open up for him. He had seen Dean's hand strike out in anger and reach out to save. He had seen him surrender and struggle and he knew… he knew his hands were nothing like his brother's.

"And you feel the eyes upon you as you're shakin' off the cold. You pretend it doesn't bother you, but you just want to explode."

"Bobby?"

The room was so still, save for Bobby's soft baritone, that Sam heard Bobby jerk at the sound of Maggie's voice. He looked over his shoulder, surprised to see the color drain from his friend's face. Resting a hand on Dean's arm, Sam twisted to find Maggie in the doorway, dirty, disheveled, bloody. Here green eyes were shining with unshed tears and she held herself so still that Sam thought a breath would shatter her.

"Mags," Bobby whispered, his voice strangled. He slid his foot from the chair, turning around slowly. "Been a long time."

Maggie nodded, stepping further into the room. "Bobby," she repeated, as if saying his name made him real.

Bobby set the Glock on the table, within reach, facing Sal. Sam took note of its position, looking over at the possessed hustler for the first time since they'd pulled Dean out of the shower. Sal's wrists and ropes were red with blood, loosening with his continued attempts to escape. His face bore the evidence of desperate fingernail scratches and his clothes were torn.

He was laughing softly, his eyes closed. Sam swallowed, knowing that only one thing had kept him from that madness: Dean.

"Where have you been?" Maggie said, stepping further into the room.

"I've, uh…" Bobby started.

Maggie faced him, and Sam saw the tears had fallen in twin trails of misery down her cheeks.

"You son of a bitch!" she breathed.

Sam never saw her move but the crack of her hand across Bobby's face was louder than any gunshot. Bobby's head snapped sideways and he actually staggered under the force of the blow.

"Where. Have. You. Been?" Maggie snarled.

She tried to slap him again and Bobby caught her wrist.

"Mags," Bobby whispered. "What happened?"

Sam stood. He wanted to help, but felt almost voyeuristic as he faced Bobby and Maggie. They were the same height, Maggie's sturdy figure looked almost as formidable in her incensed state as Bobby's deliberate scowl. She didn't drop her hand and Bobby gripped her just above the Celtic tattoo that decorated the inside of her right arm.

"You're too late," Maggie growled, emotion choking her. "You're too damn late."

"Maggie?" Sam said softly.

Maggie blinked, looking over at Sam, then past him, down at Dean sleeping on the bed. She seemed to come back to herself and her knees trembled.

"Oh, God, Bobby," she sobbed. "He's dead."

"What?" Sam said.

"Who?" Bobby replied at the same time.

"Yeats."

"Yeats is dead?" Sam breathed.

"Yeats?" Bobby exclaimed. "He's back?"

Maggie sniffed, and Sam saw her waver. Still holding her arm, Bobby pulled her forward, setting her carefully on the kitchen chair.

"He never left," Maggie whispered. "After you… he… he never left me, Bobby. And… and I couldn't save him."

Sam took another step closer. "What happened, Maggie?"

Maggie swiped at her face with the back of her hand. "I heard that gunshot," she said, here eyes on the middle distance. "And I knew. I just knew. But I had to see…"

"Did Claire—" Sam started.

"He did it himself."

"What?" Bobby exclaimed. "No way. Not the man I knew."

Maggie met his eyes. "A lot can change in ten years, Bobby."

Bobby looked down.

"Was Claire there?" Sam pressed.

Maggie nodded. "She… she looked… satisfied. But… also…" Maggie shook her head. "He had my gun in his hand—the one I keep under the bar—and his face… half his face was gone. I didn't think. I just charged in and Lobo—"

"Lobo was with you?" Sam interrupted.

"He went right for her… I didn't think. I just went to Yeats like I could… I don't know… put him back together? I don't know," she sobbed. "But Lobo went for Claire. I heard her say something and he yelped and… I think I kinda blacked out for a bit because the next thing I knew… I was alone with Yeats."

"Are you sure, Mags?"

"Sure about what?" she asked Bobby.

"That he did it?"

"The gun was in his hand," Maggie swallowed.

"She's a witch," Bobby reminded her. "Maybe she—"

"Doesn't matter," Maggie interrupted. "He's dead. And I didn't do a damn thing to stop it."

"What could you have done?" Sam asked.

Maggie lifted a shoulder. "Gotten to the truth a long time ago. Helped him deal with what happened to his daughter." She looked at Sam. "Loved him."

Bobby pushed to his feet, clenching and unclenching his fists. "We need to find that witch."

"Why?" Sam said. "It's in Sal, right? We can just—"

"We can't trap it without her," he shook his head. "I told Abe, but—"

"Don't blame him," Sam broke in. "Blame me. I should have found something like that when I was researching."

"I'm not blaming anybody, boy," Bobby snapped. "We need that spell and we need the witch. The more darkness inside a person, the faster the ikiryoh will consume them. If it breaks free, we're toast. Hate to say it, but someone's gonna die."

Sam rubbed his face, drawing his fingers together at his lips. It was too much. Too much. Dean groaned in his sleep and Sam looked over his shoulder.

Hang in there Dean… Abe will be here soon…

Sam turned back to his brother, dropping down beside the bed, curling his fingers around the corded muscles on Dean's forearm. The heat there scared Sam. How long could someone burn from fever before…

No. No, Dean's not going anywhere. He promised, and he always keeps his promises. Always.

The rumble of an engine and slam of metal against metal as the truck door shut left Sam feeling weak with relief. Abe's booted footsteps echoed through the room and he was in the house before Sam could turn around.

"I hurried," Abe said by way of greeting. "Is he still with us?"

Bobby stepped forward. "Hell, yeah, he's with us." He grabbed the supplies from Abe, set them on the table, then thrust out a hand. "Bobby Singer."

Abe shook it. "Abe Nakomis."

"Yeats is dead," Maggie informed him woodenly.

"What?" Abe stumbled back a step, shock plain on his face, his eyes fluttering with uncomprehension.

"Listen," Sam broke in. "Dean needs help now."

"Yeats is dead?" Abe repeated, his voice strangled.

Maggie nodded. "Claire was there, but I don't know… and Lobo's hurt."

"No," Abe breathed. "No, I let him—"

"HEY!" Sam bellowed. Dean jerked at the sound but didn't wake. "Not that I don't care, but we have more pressing issues at hand here."

Abe rubbed a shaking hand over his face. "Right… uh… Doc said he needed that bag with the blue letters via IV and then we have to give him two injections of this," he pointed to two large syringes, "two hours apart. After that… the fever should be gone and he can take these pills."

"And if the fever's not gone?" Sam asked.

Abe looked at him, silent.

"Right," Sam pulled at his lower lip. "Okay, so who knows how to start an IV?"

"I can," Bobby said, heading into the bathroom to wash his hands.

Sal's crazy laugh echoed softly in the corner of the room. Sam watched Abe eye him.

"We've been mostly ignoring him," Sam informed him.

"Ignoring evil only feeds its reality," Abe whispered. "The devil hides in plain sight, convincing us with apathy that his threat is unreal."

"What are you saying?" Sam challenged testily, tying the IV bag of saline solution to the top of the bunk bed so that the plastic tubing fell down to Dean's arm.

Abe swallowed shaking his head helplessly.

"Way I see it," Sam continued, "I got two choices. I can take care of my brother, or I can get rid of Sal."

"What if by doing one you do the other?"

"Jesus, you talk like friggin' Yoda," Sam growled, shoving a hand through his hair.

"And you're starting to sound like your brother," Bobby grumbled. "Ease off, Sam."

Sam sighed, glancing at Abe. "Sorry."

Abe nodded. "Not everyone who discovers this world is fit to live in it."

Sam blinked. "I'll figure that one out in a second."

Abe handed Bobby the blue rubber band to wrap around Dean's arm as a tourniquet. "I mean that I think I'm meant to be a different kind of hunter. It's not simply a matter of eliminating evil. It's a matter of saving lives."

"Sometimes, you can't do both," Maggie whispered from the chair she still sat in.

"Sam, pay attention," Bobby ordered. "I need your help here."

"I'm with you." Sam felt his focus hone in to the vulnerable space on Dean's arm on the inside of his elbow.

"I'm going to find his vein. When I do, I want you to release the tourniquet. Then we'll pull the blue stopper off and feed in the saline line."

"Done this before?" Sam asked.

"A time or two," Bobby muttered, holding his mouth carefully as he ran his thumb over the thinner skin of Dean's arm, carefully inserting the needle into the vein, feeding the catheter into Dean's arm, then nodding at Sam to release the tourniquet.

He pulled the needle free, then attached the tubing of the saline IV to the catheter and opened the valve so that fluid began to flow into Dean's body. Using two strips of the white medical tape from the pile of items next to the bed, Bobby secured the IV in place against Dean's arm.

"Hand me one of them syringes," Bobby asked Abe.

Opening the sterile package and pulling the cap off, Bobby squeezed a drop out of the top to eliminate any air bubbles, then inserted the needle into the IV port, pushing the entire dose of antibiotics into Dean.

"Now… we wait," Bobby said, his eyes on Dean's still face.

Sam sank down onto the bottom bunk, weariness finally taking hold and digging in. He couldn't move if someone put a gun to his head.

"Think I'm gonna… lay down a sec," he said, his eyes on Dean as if asking permission.

"Good idea," Bobby replied, grabbing a spare chair from the table and turning it around backwards, straddling it so that he could watch Dean and lean on the back. "You all should get some rest."

"I'm going back to Yeats," Maggie declared.

"No," Abe and Bobby said in unison. Maggie blinked at them in surprise.

"Everyone stays here until we can figure out our next steps," Bobby declared.

"I agree," Abe said.

Maggie snorted. "Oh, well, if you agree—"

"Margaret Anne," Bobby said softly. "It's gonna be okay. Just… just stay."

Maggie reacted to her full name, nodding, then leaned forward and covered her face with her hands. Abe slid sad eyes over to Sam, then back to Dean. He stepped to the doorway, then looked back at Bobby.

"Someone needs to keep watch," he said. "I'll take the first shift."

Sam watched Bobby nod, reach up and flick off the light, and they were wrapped in the soft gray of night. Sam was suddenly aware that he couldn't see Dean. He could hear him breathing, but he could also hear Sal's soft maniacal laughter, the rustle of Bobby's wiry beard as he scratched his chin, Maggie's muffled sobs as she mourned her friend, the click of Abe's ring against the silver bangle he now wore on his wrist.

The sounds of night tangled together and wound around Sam until he wanted to come out of his skin. He grabbed his pillow and, mindful of the plastic tubing draping from the corner of the bunk down to his brother's arm, crawled down to the floor. He propped the pillow against the corner between the bed and the wall, leaned back and rested his arm on the bed next to Dean.

"Night's always longer than the day," Bobby commented softly.

"Yeah," Sam agreed. Especially when you didn't always know if the coming of the day would bring tragedy or peace. He rested the tips of his fingers on the back of Dean's warm hand. "Yeah," he repeated, letting his eyes fall closed.

The wet, ripping sound seemed far way.

Sam had lost all sense of time, his sleep the deep, dreamless coma of the exhausted. He heard the sound like that of an itch in the back of his mind. Confused, he opened his eyes, surprised to see Maggie laying on the lower bunk, her back to him. A second empty syringe lay capped on the floor next to him, meaning Maggie or Bobby had remembered to give Dean his dose of medicine.

He turned his head and saw Bobby resting his head sideways on the back of the chair, snoring softly. Dean lay as he had before, but Sam felt the difference in the warmth of his brother's skin under his stiff fingers. Sam licked his lips, thinking that maybe what had woken him was the fact that the fever was leaving Dean.

He could see Abe sitting slumped against the porch post, the infant light of dawn just barely grazing the horizon. Stretching his arms out in front of him, Sam rolled his neck, cracking the joints and easing the stiffness. He pushed his sore muscles forward, rocking to his knees… and froze.

Sal was in the corner, panting a crazed laugh, his face bloody, his wrists bloody, his mangled arm a gory mess. Ropes saturated with his own blood hung from his right wrist and his left hand was pulling, tearing at gouges he'd made in his chest overnight.

"Jesus," Sam exclaimed. Dean jerked at his tone, groaning, his eyes blinking open.

"Sam?" he whispered.

"Oh, Christ," Sam stood. "Bobby! Abe! Wake up."

Dean tried to push himself up, but his arms trembled. He winced. "Sam?"

Bobby's head jerked and he clumsily wiped drool from the corner of his mouth. Abe stumbled into the room and the bunk bed squeaked as Maggie sat up.

"What?" Bobby muttered, then his gaze sharpened on Sam. "What is it?"

"We've got… trouble," Sam informed them, pointing.

In horror, they all stared into the corner as Sal quietly ripped his skin from his ribs, the light leaving his crazed eyes as the wet shuck sickened the onlookers. No one moved. No one breathed.

You're gonna pay for what you did to my brother… Sam's words came back to haunt him in the final moments of the hustler's life. Sal's hand fell away from his shattered torso, his head lolled back as the gaze of empty eyes rolled to the ceiling.

Oh God, Sam thought. What have I done?

With stuttering grace like an image from a still-motion camera, the ikiryoh began to climb free from Sal's chest, spilling blood and organs in its wake, emerging clean, gray skin glowing eerily, dark hair dusting an innocent face.

Sam gasped as it lifted black eyes to take them all in.

And smiled.