i can feel the weather in my bones (causeways) wrote,
i can feel the weather in my bones
causeways

FIC: The Rule of Three

Title: The Rule of Three
Author: causeways
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Sam/Dean
Word Count: 10,950
Disclaimer: All characters, situations, etc. belong to Eric Kripke and others.
Summary: Dean drives south.
Author's Notes: This is the sequel to my Evil!Sam fic The Last Fifty Miles, so this probably won't make much sense unless you've read that first. Huge thanks to xtinethepirate for betaing this TWICE after her computer ate the first copy, and thanks to joosetta for fielding my random questions.

The Rule of Three


Dean has no idea how long he's been knocked out. He tries to match the angle of the sunlight on the walls to a time of day and work backwards, but he has no idea what time it was when he got knocked out in the first place, when Sam--

Oh God, Sam. "I've wanted you since I was sixteen," Sam had said, and Dean had said he wanted Sam, too, and opened the cage. Opened the cage. Fuck.

He traces his fingers along his temple, probing at the bruise, and immediately wishes he hadn't; Sam clocked him good. Or rather, not Sam; the other. "You really didn't want to do this," it had said in his ear right before it smashed his skull open with that cast. But that's the not worst of it: Dean had wanted to do this, wanted to so badly that he forgot everything but his need for Sam.

He has no idea how it got so out of control so quickly. How long has it been since this whole thing started? A week, maybe two? He tries to figure it out exactly but, like the number of hours it's been since he was knocked out, the time seems fluid and slips through his fingers.

Dean might not know how much time has passed, but he can count forwards. Sunlight helps, makes it easier to tick off the time on the wall, but he can keep the minutes and the hours in his head without it, too. It was something he had practiced in dozens of hotel rooms, in the backseat of the Impala crossing the country over and again. He'd have Sam cross-check him with a watch sometimes, to make sure he'd gotten it right, but after a while it wasn't something he had to think about consciously anymore; it started to feel instinctive. So he can count time forwards, and he does: an hour, two.

He doesn't recognize the way the sunlight's hitting on the wall -- he's not familiar enough with this time of year in Michigan, the positioning of the windows or the trees -- but details come to him gradually. It was late afternoon when Sam said he'd wanted Dean since he was sixteen, when Dean opened the door of the cage; the light would have been thinning out towards dusk, then. The cabin is pretty far north, Dean knows, and he wishes he knew just when sunset is; but watching the shifting of the shadows it becomes clear that it's not moving towards sunset at all. The light is becoming stronger, more yellow, hotter.

If he had to guess, he'd say it's probably sometime around noon, and he's disoriented now, badly. He has no idea how long he's been knocked out, if it's just been the night or if it's been longer, a night and a day. Worse, has no idea how far Sam could have gotten in that time. Not only that, he doesn't know where Sam would have gone, or even if it's Sam in control of his body at all.

That's the worst of this. He hadn't been able to tell all the time when it was Sam and when it was the other. And then there's another thought, one that makes his throat seize up: when Sam said he'd wanted Dean since he was sixteen, it could have been a lie. It could have been the other in control of Sam's body, telling Dean what Dean wanted to hear. He doesn't have any way of knowing that Sam ever regained control, he realizes now. It could have been the other faking all the way through. In control of Sam's body, it wouldn't have been that hard to contort his features into a puppy dog face, the muscles and lines that would make Dean fall for it--

Dean thinks of what Bobby said about Mitch's daughter, doing anything she could to get out of the cage, and the mother believing her, and Dean can't breathe, suddenly, is clutching at the bars and wheezing, because that's the thing, isn't it? He can't be sure it wasn't Sam, but he also can't be sure it was -- and trying to get him to open the door of the cage, trying to get out . . . That doesn't sound like Sam.

Dean pushes the thought down.

His stomach rumbles, and that's how he figures it out: it can't have been more than a day since Sam's been gone. Dean's hungry, but it's not the deadly kind of hungry it would be if it'd been days since he'd last eaten. It feels like it's been a long night and it's time for a great big plate of fried eggs and toast and Canadian bacon, maybe some hash browns -- and he really needs to stop that line of thought right now before his stomach eats itself. He puked up everything he ate yesterday, he remembers, so no wonder he's hungry, but he's not starving, not like the winter he was seventeen when Dad went off on a hunt and left him and Sam in a cabin in Montana. They got snowed in for the better part of two weeks, and by the end he and Sam were discussing cannibalism in a way that wasn't entirely joking. The upshot of it is, he knows what hunger feels like, and this isn't it. It's a good thought. It means it hasn't been that long since Sam's been gone. He'll come back to himself soon; he'll remember where he left Dean, what must have happened, and he'll be back.

Dean counts the time. He begins to learn the way the sunlight moves across the walls of the cabin. It's hot still, and humid, and he's thirsty, but that's nothing he can't withstand for a while, although he guesses the nice thing about that cabin in Montana was that at least they never had to worry about running out of drinking water, since they'd been surrounded by it in solid form.

It's not comfortable, sitting in the cage. After a while Dean's ass starts to fall asleep, and he thinks, idly, that when Sam comes back they should put a pillow on the floor for him, or one of those cushions for the bench-seats of canoes. Dean stands up for a bit, stretches, and relishes the popping of his spine. His arms and thighs are sore from getting the cage inside -- yesterday, he remembers. That was only yesterday. He didn't think to stretch afterwards, and even though he showered the soreness is still there. He turned twenty-nine in January, and he's got to remember to stretch now or he feels the strain for days.

The time doesn't pass especially quickly, but it passes: three hours since he woke up, four. It's getting towards the middle of the afternoon. Five hours, six. It's evening now, and bugs are biting. In addition to minutes, Dean starts to count the number of mosquitos he kills.

That winter in the cabin, he and Sam played a lot of trivia. It was an easy way to pass the time. They came out about even in the supernatural categories, Dean edged slightly ahead in sports, and Sam won the rest cleanly. Sam has always known more about everything than Dean does; he had to have been born with a computer instead of a brain. That's what Dean's always figured, with the way Sam remembers everything he's ever learned. Dean's good at remembering things he's heard, rumors and hearsay, things passed on by the mouth. He doesn't retain things he's read but he can remember that winter in the cabin, when they were quizzing each other on medicine.

How long can you survive without oxygen? had been the question, and the answer fills his mind immediately, the cadence of Sam's voice.

The rule of three. A man can survive three seconds without blood, three minutes without oxygen, three days without water, three weeks without food. It had been followed by Sam's laugh, rumbling and low.

It's mostly an old wives' tale, Dean remembers now; only the first of those things is always true. The rest you can train yourself into, extend; you don't even need to, if you're strong at the start. He's never really tested the press of water against his lungs, and that time in the cabin didn't go on long enough for it to be a true test of hunger. Dean has always kept a stock of water in the trunk of the Impala to ward against breakdowns in the desert, and thus far it's worked. He's put himself up against a lot of things, but as for the outer limits of what his body can take, he's never felt the need to test them.

Dean passes the time by counting the number of hunts they've gone on in the past year: the number of poltergeists they've wasted, vengeful spirits, evil creatures. He counts them by state, by month, by the number of people the things had killed before he and Sam arrived.

Sometime after the long shadows meld into dusk and there's nothing in the cabin but the weight of darkness and the low humming of crickets, Dean closes his eyes and sleeps, curled up on the floor of the cage.

He wakes up with the dawn, his right hipbone shifting painfully back into place and his stomach growling to life. He swallows hard and wishes he had a small stone to put in his mouth, an old way of keeping the saliva running.

Beneath his stomach gnawing on itself there's another bite, and this one's harder to ignore: it's been a day and a half since Sam's been gone. A day and a half, and they didn't tell anyone where they were going. Dean hadn't even thought about it consciously at the time. He hadn't needed to think about it; he hadn't wanted them to be findable, not even by Bobby.

Dean counts the minutes again through the morning, learns the exact angle of light that means noon. He counts the hours through the afternoon, tries to play the trivia game but can't get into it. Around five that evening a thought begins to form, a twisting of his gut; it's the one thing he's always feared above all else, although the circumstances weren't ever like this before. At dark he lets it creep through, and afterwards there is no stopping it.

Sam isn't coming back.

-----

Dean dreams of the ocean, of mountainside streams, of pushing his face down into water and drowning in it. He dreams of Golden Corral all-you-can-eat dinners and of breakfast platters at a thousand nameless diners, pancakes overflowing. He dreams of Sam smiling at him from across a table, of Sam's mouth opening over his, of Sam fucking him down into a bed as Dean bites his knuckles to keep from crying out. He dreams of Bobby storming into the cabin and opening the door of the cage, wide-eyed and frantic.

Only the last of these is true.

-----

Bobby hands Dean a cup of water before he goes looking for a pair of pants for Dean to put on. Dean gulps the water down and refills the cup from the tap. He tries to savor it, remembering the urge to drink his weight in water after long runs and the way his stomach fills to the point of bursting, but he can't slow down until after the fifth cup or the sixth. Bobby, meanwhile, has found a pair of boxers and jeans in Dean's duffel bag. Dean doesn't want to put the cup of water down long enough even to put the clothes on, which is the only thing that tells him how close to delirious he really was.

Bobby gives him a couple minutes to get the clothes on, but he's impatient, Dean can tell. "How much of a head start does Sam have?" Bobby says finally.

Dean remembers the days of counting time, but he lost the count somewhere in the past day or maybe more; he can't remember when it was that he started to dream of water. "What's today?"

Bobby checks his watch. "The twenty-fifth."

Dean backtracks. "Three days, then."

"Jesus Christ, Dean," Bobby exhales. "And I'm guessing he took the Impala, seeing as it's not out front."

Dean nods. "I figured." He moves towards the window. Sure enough, the Impala's gone. The U-Haul's still out there, though. They've getting charged by the day for the rental; they really should have returned it days ago, Dean thinks, and now he's sure he's a little hysterical, because there are so many more important things to be worrying about than the freaking U-Haul. They paid for it on a hustled credit card, anyway.

"Three days of a head start," Bobby repeats. "Jesus."

Three days from Michigan could mean anywhere in the country, Dean thinks. It could mean Canada: they're only a few hours from the border here. Three days' head start, and Dean thinks what Sam could have done in that time -- what the thing in Sam's body could have done. He swallows it down. They'll deal with that when it comes up. Right now they just need to find Sam.

"Let's go," Dean says, but Bobby puts a hand on his arm.

"How long has it been since you ate something? You need to get some food in you first."

Dean shakes Bobby's hand off. "I'm fine."

Bobby stares him down. "Three days without eating isn't fine, Dean."

"Fine," Dean says. He goes to the kitchen, opens one of the cabinets and there's the box of Fruity Pebbles -- "I haven't eaten that since I was twelve" -- and he almost loses it right there, but he grips at the counter, keeps himself together. He grabs the box of cereal and the two packages of beef jerky behind it. "I'll eat on the road."

Bobby frowns but says, "All right," and grabs one of the bags of guns to take out to the truck. Dean checks the guns perfunctorily. It doesn't look like Sam took any of them, which should be reassuring -- he's not planning on killing anyone, at least -- but there are other ways of killing that don't require guns, and Dean doesn't feel any better at all.

Dean gets in the passenger seat of Bobby's truck and concentrates on breathing in through his nose, out through his mouth. They're going to find Sam. They are.

-----

"Do you have any idea where he might have gone?' Bobby asks when they're back in Vassar, trying to figure out which way to take I-75. Logic says south: the whole country's that way, and he and Sam have never been much of ones for Canada. But Dean doesn't really know how much good logic's going to do here.

"How the hell am I supposed to know?" Dean says, but there's a flicker of movement behind Bobby's head: across the street, a bright red pick-up truck is pulling out of the gas station parking lot, and Dean's stomach rolls over. "Wait. Pull into that gas station."

"What is it?" Bobby says, putting the truck in park.

Dean jumps out and shuts the door. "Give me five minutes," he says through the driver's side window.

He was pretty sure before, but the moment he walks in the sandwich shop, bell clanging above his head, he's certain: Annie catches sight of him in the middle of handing some guy a sandwich over the counter and she freezes for a moment. She pulls herself together quickly, Dean has to give her credit for that, but he already saw it. He hangs back, pretending to scan the menu, while Annie rings up the guy's sandwich.

Dean moves to the side to let the guy out and waits. Annie pushes the hair off her forehead and exhales, a gesture that's so like Sam that it throws Dean for a moment.

"Hi," Annie says. There's a stiffness to her posture that wasn't there when Dean saw her last, and he doesn't have to ask what caused it. He remembers thinking she was hot when he first saw her, and yeah, she is, but he wouldn't have ever acted on it -- now more than ever it's clear that she's just a kid, and the thought of what must have happened leaves a sick taste in his mouth. He should probably do something to make this better, but he doesn't even know where to start. I'm sorry my brother committed statutory rape, but it wasn't really him, you see, it was the evil thing that's controlling his body doesn't really seem like it'd help things much.

Dean doesn't know how to make things better for people, anyway. The only person he's ever really had to try to make things better for was Sam, and the same rules don't apply here. Plus, he's pretty sure he did a crap job of that.

Since he doesn't know how to make things better, Dean gives up the pretense of even trying. "When was he here, Annie?"

"Sunday," she says. "He came by right when I was getting off my shift."

"What time was that?" Dean interrupts.

"Six o'clock. He bought a sandwich and ate it while I closed up. I asked him why you weren't with him, and he said he just wanted a little time alone. He said it was lonely out at the cabin. I said you'd only been there for a few hours, he hadn't hardly had time to get lonely, and he--" She pauses. Dean waits for her to go on, and she does. "He put his hand on my arm and said he wanted to see me again."

Annie shifts a little, fidgets. She seems to need prompting. "And then?" Dean says.

"And then I said my house wasn't that far away and I asked him if he wanted to come hang out for a while."

Dean had known the way this story was going to go the moment he walked through the door, but knowing is different than hearing it. Suddenly he doesn't want her to keep talking at all. But this is his mess, and he's sure as hell got to be strong enough to listen to this.

Annie blushes furiously but doesn't look down as she says, "And things went from there. I guess you can figure out the rest."

It takes Dean a moment to recognize the taste in his mouth as relief. "Yeah," he says. "I guess I can."

Annie's quiet after that, and Dean can't even begin to guess what she's thinking. Is she wondering at his timing, why he's only now coming by? Is she wondering who it is that's waiting in the car outside, and why Sam isn't with him now? Dean has no idea. He feels like maybe he should hug her or something, but hugging's never really been his thing, and he's not sure that it wouldn't make things worse if he touched her.

The silence is beginning to stretch too long when Annie says, "Dean?"

"Yeah?" he replies. Careful, he thinks for some reason. Careful.

"Sam," Annie says slowly. "He's . . . not entirely all right, is he?"

Dean swallows. "How do you mean?"

Annie bites her lip. "I mean, he's schizophrenic or something, right?"

Dean knows an out when he hears one. "Something like that," he says. "He forgot to take his meds." He hates himself a little for what he's about to say, but he says it anyway: "Look, Annie, he doesn't even really remember what he does when he's not on his meds, and--"

Annie stops him. "It's okay. You don't have to apologize for him. I'll be okay."

Maybe she will be, maybe she won't, but it's an out Dean's going to take. He nods, then says, "Do you mind if I ask you something else?"

"Sure."

Dean can't help thinking he's pushing his luck, pushing the limits of what she'll believe without asking too many questions, but he asks it anyway. "Do you know what direction he took out of town when he left?"

Annie stares. "How do you know he left town after that?" she says.

Dean doesn't let his expression change. "He was gone for most of the night before he came back. He couldn't really remember anything until today, but he said there was a highway. We're just trying to piece it all together, what he did when he wasn't himself."

It's a good line, and wasn't himself is as good a phrase for this as any.

"I can't be positive," Annie says finally, "but the way he turned off my street, I'd be willing to bet he went south."

It's not certainty, but it's better than what he and Bobby were operating on. "Thanks, Annie," Dean says, and means it.

She smiles with her mouth but not her eyes. "You're welcome."

Dean turns to go, but on impulse turns back. "Have you got a pen and a piece of paper?"

Annie hands him a notepad for taking orders and a stubby pencil. Dean scrawls his cell phone number down and hands the pad and pencil back to her. "In case you need anything," he says. He doesn't want to examine too closely just what it would be that would be enough to make her call.

Annie smiles again, tightly, and says, "Thanks. See you around, Dean."

Dean returns the smile and doesn't say, No, you won't. The door clangs shut behind him and he's suddenly certain that she's going to rip up his number and throw it away. He's oddly glad about it.

He heads back to the truck and gets in.

"Well?" Bobby says.

Dean breathes in, exhales. "Head south," he says.

-----

They're an hour south of Vassar when Dean thinks of it, and laughter bubbles up in his chest. "His cell phone," he says at Bobby's questioning stare. "Sam never goes anywhere without his cell phone."

Bobby's voice goes gruff, the closest he can get to letting Dean down easy. "I tried calling him before," Bobby says. "He never picked up."

Of course Bobby would have already tried. Dean still says, "I'd like to try again, if you don't mind," and holds out his hand for Bobby's phone; Dean's hasn't been charged in days. He vaguely remembers the low-battery beep echoing through his dreams.

Bobby doesn't reply, just hands him the phone.

Six rings and it goes to voicemail. It shouldn't hurt as much as it does. Instead of leaving a message, Dean hands Bobby back the phone and hunches down in the passenger seat to sleep.

-----

A couple hours further south they stop for lunch and run all of Sam's credit cards. They don't get any hits. It's not like Dean really expected they would. Sam's not stupid, and from what he's seen, neither is the other. But that's the thing: without any credit card traces, there's no way to track Sam short of putting up missing persons posters and waiting for the second coming of Christ. They could bring the cops in, except that they can't: it's been six months since Deacon sprung them from jail, and the missing persons warrant is still out. Besides, there'd be no quicker way to drive Sam underground than to call in the cops.

Because he doesn't know what else to do, Dean shows Sam's picture to a couple of gas station attendants: one in Sidney, Ohio, another in Falmouth, Kentucky. They haven't seen him; Dean didn't really think they would have. He's got to try, though. He doesn't know what else he's supposed to do.

It's all too familiar, this hunt, this feeling of uselessness. When Sam was possessed by the Meg demon, Dean went through these same motions. There wasn't anything else for it than to wait for Sam to come back to himself and call that time, either.

It's been three days so far. It took a week, last time, and Dean dealt with it. It sucked, but he got through it. He doesn't remember it being this bad last time, though. He doesn't remember this constant crushing of his chest against his lungs.

But he got through it last time. He can do it again; he can make it through another week. He doesn't want to think what will happen if it takes Sam longer than that.

-----

Bobby pulls over for the night in Brayton, Kentucky, seven hours south of Vassar. They get a room in the Black Dog Inn. Nobody questions it when Bobby asks for a double.

Bobby brings in every gun he's got in the truck and sets to cleaning them. It's a lot of guns. Dean helps him for a while until Bobby says, "I'd like to clean my own guns, if you don't mind," and Dean stops. Because yeah, he gets that: no matter who it is that's trying to help, they're still your guns; it's still your life that could depend on them working, and you don't want to trust anyone else with that.

Dean gets his own guns out and starts to take one of the rifles apart. Usually the ritual of it is calming, but he can't get into it, and he puts the pieces down. "I'm going to go for a walk or something," he says.

Bobby looks up sharply, oil rag in hand. "Dean--"

"I'm not going to do anything stupid, all right? I'm not going anywhere. I just want to walk around for a minute. Jesus Christ."

Dean didn't realize he was going to snap until he's already done it. Bobby's eyes flare wide, but all he says is, "Be back in fifteen minutes."

"Fine," Dean says, and he's gone.

The Black Dog Inn is built on an incline, but then, it seems like everything in this town is just barely clinging to the side of the mountain. They're deep in Kentucky, coal-mining country, backwoods thick in the vowels. It's not any cooler here than it was in Michigan, but Dean jabs his hands into the pockets of his jeans anyway to push the fabric away from his legs. He could probably walk across half of the town and back before his fifteen-minute limit is up, he thinks, but instead he heads straight for the office.

It's already someone different behind the desk than the guy who was there when Bobby checked in: a pimply kid with headphones on, tapping on the counter in time to his music. He scrambles to take the headphones off when Dean walks through the door. "Can I help you?" he says politely.

Owner's kid, Dean thinks. "Yeah. I--" He hesitates, feeling stupid about what he's about to do for some reason, but he goes through with it anyway, pulls Sam's picture out of his wallet and slides it over the counter. "Have you seen this guy anytime recently?"

The kid frowns. "Really tall guy driving a black car?" he says, and Dean's entire body goes slack with relief.

"Yeah," he says, "that's him." Dean can't quite fight down the urge to laugh; a lone giggle makes it out, which he tries to pass off as a cough. He doesn't think the kid's buying it. He scratches at his wrist. "When was he here?"

"Monday," the kid says. "He checked in pretty late and left really early in the morning."

"How early?" Dean asks, gripping at the counter.

"Probably around eight," the kid replies. "Before we started serving breakfast, anyway. Why are you looking for him?"

"He's my brother," Dean says, and the kid nods.

"He run out on you?"

"Something like that," Dean says, but he can't hold the grin down anymore: Sam was here, of all places, and not that long ago. They're heading the right direction, he and Bobby; Annie was right about Sam having headed south, and he's so fucking glad for this, even if the information's a couple of days old, even if they're still incredibly far behind Sam. It's something, more than they had before, and Dean can't help grinning a little over it. It wasn't that he ever thought they weren't going to find Sam; it's just that he feels better knowing they're on the right track.

-----

Bobby looks up sharply when Dean walks back into the room. "What's got you grinning?" he asks, wiping off his oil-covered hands on a rag.

"He was here," Dean says, kicking off his shoes. "Sam was here on Tuesday. The kid at the desk recognized his picture."

Bobby just stares for a minute. "That's some kind of coincidence," he says finally.

"You're telling me. He was here, Bobby." There's something about the way Bobby's looking at him that's a little off, but Dean can't keep the excitement out of his voice.

Bobby shifts one of the pistols he's been cleaning from hand to hand. "Of all the places for Sam to have spent the night," he says, "why here?"

"I don't know," Dean says, "but he did, so let's get some sleep so we can get right back out there in the morning and find him, okay?"

"There's just something bothering me about this," Bobby says slowly. "That's all. I don't know, Dean. I just don't have a good feeling about this."

"What's there to not have a good feeling about?" Dean says through his grin, and the room explodes.

Dean hits the floor and covers his head with his hands, but before he's even all the way down he can tell he wasn't right: it wasn't the room that exploded, it was the ceiling, and it was the ceiling above Bobby's head. The air is thick with plaster but Dean's up already and moving through the dust. Bobby is prone, unmoving. He's covered in detritus and he's bleeding but that's nothing vital, he should be fine, except that he was right by the source of the explosion and he has to have all kinds of bruising. That sort of thing would hurt like a bitch, but Bobby's not crying out in pain; he's not making any noise at all. And then Dean sees it: the strange twist of his body, his back's unnatural curve--

"Bobby," Dean says urgently, "Bobby," but he doesn't reply. Dean presses his fingers against Bobby's throat, leans his ear low over Bobby's mouth -- and there, he's not imagining it, there's a bit of breath, the faintest of pulses against his fingers. Bobby's still alive.

Some long-buried first aid knowledge surfaces -- spinal cord injury, don't move the victim -- and Dean runs outside. The owner's kid is already there. "What happened?" he says, wide-eyed, staring past Dean into the room. "I heard -- holy fuck."

"Call 911," Dean says. "You've got to call 911."

The kid looks a lot taller than he did a minute ago; that's because Dean's sitting down, he realizes. He slid down to the curb without even noticing it. The kid's still staring at the room.

"Do it!" Dean snaps up at him, and that shakes the kid out of it; he sprints back towards the office.

A man and a woman come out of a room further down the row. They walk up to Dean and the man says something to him; at least, his mouth is moving, but no sound comes out. The woman stares past Dean into the room and forms her mouth into the perfect O of a cartoon scream. Dean looks down and finds shards of glass in his right arm. He begins to pull them out. There are a lot of them, a few dozen at least, so he has to concentrate. One at the time he pulls them out.

There are flashing lights and firemen sometime after that. They try to talk to him, too, but there's no sound coming out of their mouths, either. Dean just smiles at them and shakes his head. "You're going to have to speak up," he says patiently, but he can't hear himself talking, either, and that's when it clicks: it's not that people aren't making any sound, it's that he can't hear it.

One of the firemen must have guessed something's wrong, because he grabs Dean by the arm. Dean doesn't try to fight him off, even though he's pretty sure he could take the guy. He lets the fireman lead him toward an ambulance and sit him down on a stretcher. There's a paramedic who wants him to lay back but he won't do that. He tries to explain that to the paramedic -- if anything's wrong with him, it's not something that he needs to go to the hospital for; he's just waiting for his hearing to come back -- but that doesn't get through to the paramedic, not all of it, because the guy's still pushing on him.

And then his hearing comes back, a quick-building roar of shouting and sirens. The paramedic who's been trying to get him to lie down is yelling something to another paramedic about shell-shock and hearing loss. Dean slips out of the paramedic's grip while he's turned -- he should have known better than to take his eyes off Dean -- and goes looking for Bobby. It doesn't take long.

They've managed to get him out of the room and onto a stretcher somehow. He's still unconscious.

"Is he going to be all right?" Dean asks one of the paramedics.

"I'm going to have to ask you to back up, sir," the guy says firmly, not taking his eyes off Bobby.

"No, look, I'm his nephew," Dean lies.

The guy's demeanor changes a little, goes kinder for Dean's benefit. "We won't know for a while yet," he says, but he lets Dean ride with Bobby in the ambulance. It's a long trip on winding roads, the gurney jerking with each bump over poorly-paved asphalt. About ten minutes in Bobby groans back to consciousness when they round a hairpin curve, which Dean figures has to be a good thing -- he's definitely alive, for sure -- except that now he's groaning with every bump they go over. Dean thinks of Bobby's back, the strange twist of it--

He's going to be fine. He is.

After a year at least they get to the hospital. The paramedics lower the gurney to the ground as Bobby grunts in pain, rush him into the emergency room. A nurse stops Dean as he blindly tries to follow the paramedics in. "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to wait here," she says. "We'll let you know what's going on as soon as we can."

"Okay, sure," Dean says, turning.

"Wait, let me have someone check out that shoulder for you," the nurse says, frowning.

Dean cranes his neck. Only then does he notice the blood on his left shoulder. "I don't think it's mine," he calls after the nurse, but she doesn't listen to him.

It is his, as it turns out, but it's just a few pieces of glass wedged into his shoulder, and none of them particularly deep; there's just a lot of blood. They didn't hit anything vital and there's no need for anything more than a couple of Band-Aids, although the nurse puts a couple stitches in the longest of the gashes just for fun. He tells her not to bother numbing him; it's a couple stitches in his shoulder, he can take it, and the pain is good: it slams him back into himself. He was out of it for a while there, but the sudden bite of the needle in his shoulder pushes the situation into focus: he's in a hospital in the middle of nowhere; something is terribly wrong with Bobby's back; Sam is days ahead of him, somewhere to the south.

Sam. Dean has no idea how long it's been since he last thought of Sam -- right before the explosion, when he came back from the office, where the kid at the desk said he'd seen Sam -- but Dean has no idea how long it's been since then. It could be a couple of hours; it could have been a day. It was sometime after dusk when he went to talk to the kid at the desk, and it was full-dark for the ride through the mountains, but he has no sense of how long it's been since then. There's no clock in the room, and even if there were he doesn't know how much it would help him.

The nurse doesn't seem to notice his rising panic. She finishes dressing the wound and says, "You can go back to the waiting room now, if you want. You're sure you don't need any Tylenol or anything?"

"I'm sure," Dean says, pulling his shirt back on. He needs to get a new shirt, but the duffel bag is somewhere back in the hotel, buried under a pile of rubble and dust, and he doesn't know when he's going to see it again. At least he's got his wallet and his cell phone in his pocket; other than the keys to the car, that's really all he needs, and then he remembers that he doesn't have the Impala, either. Sam does.

Dean goes back to the waiting room, but he's itchy, can't stay still. He needs to be doing something, and he doesn't know what it is that he thinks that could be; he's no surgeon. He doesn't really want to examine just what it is that he is thinking about too closely, even though he knows: Sam. He was at the Black Dog Inn a couple days ago; that's the first sign of him Dean's had, and he hates the thought of losing the trail now that he's found it. Bobby's in surgery; there's nothing Dean can do for him here.

He doesn't realize he's made up his mind until he's at the receptionist, telling her that he's going to call Bobby's wife and she'll be here for Bobby. "You got somewhere else to be?" the receptionist asks, disapproving.

Dean draws his mouth tight and thin. "Yeah. I do."

-----

Dean goes out into the parking lot and calls Ellen, tells her Bobby's had an accident and that she's pretending to be his wife for the purposes of Carroll County Hospital. Dean can hear the heaviness of her silence over the cell phone. "Where are you haring off to that's so important that you can't stay with Bobby and you're calling me?" she asks finally. "Dean, where's Sam?"

Dean hangs up on her, and then he steals a car.

The pickings are pretty slim, but at least it's dark out. He picks an old Toyota Camry because it's parked around the side of the hospital, away from windows, and because it's easy to break into and easier to hotwire. Less than five minutes and he's pulling out of the hospital lot and looking for the highway.

He follows smaller roads to bigger ones, and it's not long before he's in luck: on the right is an on-ramp for 55 South. He takes it.

-----

Somewhere in Tennessee it occurs to him that he should be tired. He's pretty sure that the last time he slept, it was on the floor of the cage -- he has no idea how long it was between when he lost track of time and went delirious and when Bobby arrived -- but that's not real sleep, not the kind that leaves you feeling better. But Dean isn't tired. He doesn't know when the last time he got a normal night's sleep was; not since the whole mess with Sam started, that's for sure, and how long has that been? It doesn't matter. He's not tired and he's not going to stop driving, not now that he's finally on Sam's trail for sure, and when he's got so much time to make up for.

Dean gets coffee and a chicken biscuit from a Hardees drive-thru in Spring Hill, Tennessee a couple hours after dawn. He doesn't even really feel the caffeine but the chicken biscuit goes straight to his blood, crispy and flaky and hot, just the right amount of oil and salt. He gets gas at the same exit and shows Sam's picture to the attendant; he doesn't know why, but he's sure even before he pulls the picture out of his wallet that the guy will have seen Sam. And he's right: the guy frowns and says, "He was here yesterday," and Dean can't help grinning stupidly at the guy. Either Sam's slowing down or Dean's catching up, and either way it doesn't matter: he's going to find Sam, and soon.

On impulse he shows Sam's picture to the girl at the Wendy's drive-thru window in Cullman, Alabama when he gets lunch, and she's seen him, too. "Last night," she says, and he smiles at her, takes his change in one hand and his bag of burgers in the other. He's always liked Wendy's burgers, but these are the best he's ever tasted. Anticipation is thrumming through his blood. When he catches a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror he thinks he maybe looks a little insane, cuts on his face from the explosion and dark rings under his eyes, but it doesn't matter.

In Priceville his cell phone buzzes in his pocket and the beginning of "Smoke on the Water" blares out. There wasn't any question in Dean's mind of who it would be, and the name on the screen confirms it: Sam.

"Dean?" Sam says. "Dean. I'm in Birmingham. The Winfrey Hotel. Room 213."

He hangs up before Dean can even get a word in, but it doesn't matter: there's a sign on the right: Birmingham -- 75 miles. He'll be there in an hour; he's almost done it. He's going to catch up to Sam.

Dean almost misses it. He goes to close the phone, and he almost does it without thinking, but something nags at him and instead of flipping it shut he looks at it and his stomach rolls over: the screen of the phone is dark. He hasn't charged his cell phone since before Sam left him in the cabin. It ran out of battery two days ago at least, if not before, and yet Sam just called him on it.

There's a sharp metallic taste in his mouth. After a while he realizes he's remembered to feel fear.

Dean's been so caught up in everything that's been going on to remember to be afraid of what's going to happen when he does catch up with Sam. But now that he's had the thought he can't push it down: it wasn't Sam in control of Sam's body when he left. Dean has no idea how long it's been since it was actually Sam in control of his body. He doesn't know which of them it was that called him and gave him the number of that hotel; now that he thinks about it, he doubts it was Sam. When Sam was possessed before and finally got enough control back to call Dean, he was terrified.

But the voice on the phone this time didn't sound terrified at all.

And there's another thought, worse: all these times people have seen Sam in gas stations, fast food places? Bobby had thought there was something weird about it; he thought there was something wrong when the kid at the desk said that Sam had been at the Black Dog Inn. Dean didn't worry about it, didn't think there was anything going on there. But that explosion . . . Dean hasn't been thinking about it, because he didn't want to, but he's thinking about it now: did the thing that's controlling Sam's body know that they were going to be there? Did it lead them there? Dean tries to remember if there was some reason that they stopped at that exit, if he felt some particular pull towards Brayton; he can't remember that he did, but then again he wasn't paying attention to that sort of thing.

Dean eases his foot off the accelerator now, lets the car slow five miles per hour, then ten. Bobby knew something was wrong; Bobby figured it out, and Dean was so caught up in the idea of finding Sam that he didn't want to listen to him. Dean's thinking about it now, though, all right. He just got a call on a cell phone that hasn't been charged in four days, and he doesn't know what he's driving into. He needs to pull over and call for back-up. He needs to do anything other than head straight into this alone. If he's ever been sure in his life that he's driving into a trap, it's right now.

Dean means to keep his foot off the gas pedal, he does. He means to put on his turn signal and take the exit for the next town, find a pay phone and call the Roadhouse. He means to do all of this. Instead he puts his foot back on the gas and accelerates towards Birmingham, sixty miles ahead.

-----

He gets into town a little after nine-thirty. The town is dark under the sheen of the half-moon. It's a good-sized place. Dean should have at least had to drive for a while before finding the hotel, if not stop and ask someone for directions, but somehow he takes all of the right turns and there it is, rising up before him. He doesn't think it's a coincidence.

The Winfrey Hotel is a two-story place, upscale; not their usual style. Ratty, run-down places tend to ask fewer questions when you come back in at two in the morning covered in dirt and blood. Places with nice carpeting and bellhops have always made Dean nervous, and he doesn't want to examine too closely why it is that Sam's staying here now. He parks the Camry at the end of the lot, not bothering to lock the doors. If someone wants to steal his stolen car, they're welcome to it.

The lobby's pretty crowded when Dean walks in; it looks like some kind of high school sports team is spending the night at the place. A little ritzy for a bunch of high school kids, Dean thinks, but the crowd means he doesn't have to bother lying his way past the desk; he just heads straight for the door off the back of the lobby, the long polished brass and maroon-carpet hallway. Room 213, Sam had said on the phone; Dean's at Room 240 right now, and the numbers are decreasing. The numbers cut off abruptly at the end of the hallway, but there's another hallway leading off to the left, moving in the right direction now. Dean runs his hand against the brass accent on the wall, just for the sake of smudging it.

It's a pretty big hotel, bigger than it looked from the outside, but the numbers are getting closer: he's ten rooms away, then five. 215, 214, Dean's there. It says 213 on the brass placard beside the door and he doesn't realize it until just now but his heart is trying to break through his chest and he can't remember the last time he breathed. Nothing else for it, Dean thinks, and knocks on the door.

There was another moment before that Dean had thought of as the turning point, but this is another: his hand on the door. There's still time, now. He could still make it to the end of the hallway -- it's not far -- and out the door, could still get out of here and call for backup. He could still do it; there's still time.

And then there isn't.

The doorknob turns and the door opens, and there, behind it, is Sam. His face collapses inwards when he recognizes Dean, all the tension leaving his muscles, and he says, "Dean."

Dean can't help himself: he grabs him and pulls him close, because it's Sam. It's really him, and not the other. It's Sam, and Dean clings to him. He thinks that if he keeps Sam close enough they could bleed into one another. The thought doesn't really make sense even as it moves through his head, but he presses his hands against the muscles of Sam's back, pushes his face into Sam's shoulder.

Dean's reluctant to let go of Sam long enough even to get inside the hotel room, but somehow they manage to get inside and get the door shut. Dean manages to let go of Sam; it takes a lot of effort, and Sam smiles wryly at him. "Missed me, did you?"

"God, Sam," Dean says, letting his relief color his words. It's all he can do to keep from pulling Sam back into another hug to make sure he's really there, and God, he really is turning into a girl, isn't he? He doesn't care.

"It's good to see you, too," Sam says, sitting down on the edge of the bed, and only then does Dean notice the blood on Sam's knuckles.

"What happened to you?" he asks.

Sam holds his hand up, examines it. "I'm not sure," he says slowly. "Today's the twenty-sixth, isn't it?"

Dean starts to nod, then catches himself. "I'm not actually sure. It's been a weird past few days."

Sam's mouth curves into a downwards smile. He picks the remote up off the table beside the bed and turns the T.V. on. The ticker-line along the bottom of the local news station says it's the twenty-sixth. "It was the twenty-second when we got to the cabin in Vassar, wasn't it? Dean, I don't remember anything since that night."

"Since that night," Dean echoes. "Since when that night?"

Sam swallows. Dean watches his Adam's apple shift. "Dean."

"Tell me you remember what you said." Dean only realizes he's clenching his fingers into fists when he feels the bite of his hangnail into his palm. He wouldn't normally notice the pain, but the moment is stretched thin, crystalline. Out of the corner of his eye he can see the T.V. flickering; he can hear the sleek A.C. unit whirring to life.

Dean can see the fine lines of Sam's forehead, the crinkles of his mouth, the way Sam's shirt pulls over the muscles beneath it and the way Sam is turned towards him, the groan of the mattress as Sam shifts forward on it and says, low and raw, "I said that I'd wanted you since I was sixteen. I remember that part, Dean."

The words are barely out of Sam's mouth before Dean's kissing him. He can't stop himself; he doesn't even notice he's moving across to the bed until he's there, and he can't stop himself once he is. Dean curls his hands around Sam's head and licks his way into Sam's mouth, presses against him. Sam falls back onto the bed and pulls Dean down on top of him, their hips slotting together, and Dean can't stop kissing him.

"Less clothes," Sam breathes against his mouth. Dean would rip his shirt off his body if it meant he could keep kissing Sam while he took his shirt off; as it is, it takes him a few tries before he gets away from Sam. He pulls back just long enough to get his shirt off. Sam shrugs off his own shirt and goes for Dean's belt; Dean cants his hips back to give Sam better access.

Dean slides his mouth along Sam's shoulder as Sam pushes Dean's pants down and off. Dean sucks a breath in when Sam grabs his cock, and it's too much already, Sam's huge hand jacking him hard and fast. Dean scrabbles at Sam's belt, shoves his hand down Sam's pants. Sam hisses and arches into Dean's hand, grips down harder on Dean's cock, and that's what does it for Dean, the tightening of the grip, and he bites out, "Sam," as he comes. Sam's eyes darken with lust and it's not long before he's coming, too, pulsing into Dean's hand.

Dean is boneless, falling onto the bed beside Sam and pressing himself against the length of Sam's side. Dean doesn't have to be looking at Sam to know that Sam's grinning. He smiles against Sam's side and sleeps.

-----

Dean wakes up naked in the dark, and panic seizes him: he showed up and he and Sam -- had sex, is what he means to think, but he can't quite wrap his mind around the thought -- and he's alone in the bed, and Sam is--

--nowhere to be seen, except there's a sliver of light along the bottom of the bathroom door, and Dean swallows down his relief.

But then the door opens and Sam steps out, fully dressed, shoes on, and it's like the relief was never there at all. "Sam?" Dean says, the sharp bite of fear pushing through his tiredness.

"Dean," Sam says. Three strides and he's across the room, cupping Dean's chin in his hand like he's a skittish animal or a girl, long fingers tilting Dean's face up. "Hey," he says softly. "It's okay."

Dean stares into his eyes, heavy and dark. He pretends Sam can't feel the way his blood is racing through his veins. "What were you up to before, Sammy?"

Sam moves his hand off Dean's jaw, slides it around to stroke Dean's hair. "Shh, Dean. It's okay." It's the sort of thing Dean used to do for him when Sam was very small, and it's an incongruous gesture, coming from Sam. It's harder to resist the urge to stop talking and relax into the movements of Sam's hand than Dean would like.

"Just answer the question, Sam," he says, quiet but firm.

Sam's features shift into a strange half-grin. "Fine. I was out at a bar, but then you knew that. You can smell the cigarette smoke, can't you?"

Dean can: the sickly dryness lingering in the air. He hadn't realized he'd noticed it, but he had. "I guess I did know that," he says slowly.

The smile deepens on Sam's face, cutting into his cheeks. "So I guess you don't need to ask what else I was up to, do you?" He's still stroking Dean's head, tugging at the short hairs behind his ears, and Dean can't help reacting to it, leaning into the touch, even as he shudders.

"I guess not," Dean says, voice scratching in his throat. "Tell me something, though. What should I call you?"

Sam's hand doesn't stop moving over his head. "What do you mean?" he says too easily, voice too devoid of strain.

"You're not Sam," Dean bites out, but Sam's face is near to his now, and there's nothing off about it, not a single line out of place. He presses in closer and Dean lets him; God help him, Dean lets him.

"I'm your brother," he breathes against Dean's mouth.

"You're not Sam," Dean repeats, but the words fall silent as Sam's mouth closes over his, Sam's tongue stealing the sound away so that it's like it was never there at all.

-----

When Dean wakes up, light is filtering through the blinds and Sam is smushed against him, arm draped over his chest. Dean's naked and Sam's shirtless. Sam's pants are shoved halfway down but he's still wearing shoes, and it's that that propels Dean out of the bed and into the bathroom, breathing hard with his back against the door.

When he had woken up in the middle of the night, it had been the other in the room with him, not Sam. Dean had known that, he'd known it, but -- he wets a washcloth and wipes the dried come off his cock, his stomach -- they had sex anyway, and he tries to remember how he could have possibly gone from that realization to having sex.

Dean brushes his teeth, splashes cold water on his face and tries to ignore the clenching of his guts. But no matter how he twists it, unexplained memory loss is bad news. He thinks of the first few nights Sam came home confused -- "I wasn't planning on sleeping with anyone, Dean" -- the earnestness on his face, how badly he'd wanted Dean to tell him it was going to be okay, there was an explanation for this and they were going to figure it out . . .

It's not a good feeling, not knowing why he acted the way he did last night, but behind it is another feeling, worse: he's failed Sam. Dean told him they were going to figure this out, they were going to solve this, and they haven't; Dean hasn't. He got Sam into the cage but he couldn't keep him there. He let the other trick him into opening the cage right back up; he didn't even last a few hours. Dean was too stupid then, too weak and too easily tricked, and he's still failing Sam now.

"What am I supposed to do?" he bites out, gripping at the sides of the sink, but there aren't any answers, not for this. He stays there for a long time, until finally Sam's voice wafts through the door.

"Dean?"

Dean does the only thing he can. He ties a towel around his waist and goes to Sam.

Sam's sitting on the bed nearest the bathroom. His face is open, full of concern. "Dean," he says softly. "You don't need to worry about that."

Dean swallows, his throat sticking. "What don't I need to worry about?"

"This," Sam says, spreading his arms wide. "Everything. Me."

"I've always worried about you," Dean says, sitting down on the bed next to him. It feels like the words are coming from somewhere far away, like they're moving through a dream.

Sam smiles a little. "I know you have. But you don't need to anymore, don't you see?"

Dean shudders. "I'll always need to worry about you, Sam. It's my job."

Sam grips Dean by the arms, holds him steady. "But I'm okay now, Dean. I'm better than I ever was before."

Dean exhales, relaxes in Sam's grip. "I know," he says, and he's surprised to realize it's true: he does know. Sam's okay, he's fine, and Dean smiles at the thought.

Sam returns the smile.

-----

They raid the continental breakfast and leave right after that. It's good to be behind the wheel of the Impala again, Sam in the passenger seat beside him. They aren't heading anywhere specific; it doesn't matter. They're on the road, and that's the important thing.

They compromise on the music -- "Nobody doesn't like CCR," Sam replies when Dean asks if Sam wants to listen to his girly crap -- and Dean sings along softly when it looks like Sam's sleeping:

Don't go round tonight
'Cause it's bound to take your life


Sam isn't really sleeping, though. Dean catches him mouthing along, eyes still closed:

There's a bad moon on the rise


They're heading west, their default direction: no matter where they start out, they always seem to end up heading west. It's a Friday morning and the highway is clear; they don't stop until Dean's stomach growls for a minute straight, sometime after two.

"I think that means lunchtime," Sam says, smirking.

Dean swats at him, but pulls off at the next place he sees, a truck stop diner. It's pretty quiet but everything that's coming out of the kitchen smells great, so Dean's not complaining. He orders an enormous bacon cheeseburger and chows down. Sam is giving him one of those you're going to have a heart attack and die by the age of forty looks, but Dean really fails to see how Sam can take the moral high ground when he's eating a basket of onion rings. That's all beside the point anyway, point being, this is one damned good burger.

It's almost unbelievable how good it is to be back with Sam, too. It's crazy how hard it was to be away from him for those four days. When Dean thinks about the fact that they barely spoke for the last two years Sam was at Stanford, let alone saw each other -- Dean can't figure out how he withstood it. He's back with Sam now, though. That's the important thing.

They take their time eating lunch. There's no reason to hurry, and especially when Dean's got a burger like this in his hands, he wants to give it the kind of attention it deserves.

"That," he says to the waitress when she comes to clear their plates, "was an awesome burger."

She grins at him and sets down the check.

"Do you mind getting that?" Sam says, standing up. "I'm going to go to the bathroom."

"Yeah, sure," Dean says, watching Sam walk towards the back of the diner.

Dean doesn't notice it at first, digging through his wallet for a couple of crumpled fives. He doesn't notice it when the waitress takes his money, and he doesn't notice it while he watches her counting coins out of the register. When she brings his change back to the table, though, that's when he notices it: the slow build of returning detail, like watching a heat mirage resolve into what's actually there. It doesn't even entirely make sense in his head, but the sounds of the diner are louder, the colors are brighter, and Sam--

--isn't with him at all. It's not Sam that's with him, it's the other; he doesn't know how he didn't notice it before, how he could have possibly failed to see it, but it's been too easy, this whole day, everything falling into place too well, and shouldn't he have noticed that before? Things can't be easy with Sam right now, not after everything that's happened, but today's been like it used to be, those rare times before when it'd been long enough between the deaths of people they loved that they could almost be okay again, when there wasn't something huge hanging over their heads, like the possibility of Sam turning, and Dean needs to get out of here, he needs to get out of here right now.

There's a hand on his arm. There's a hand on his arm and Dean relaxes into it. "Sam," he says, the word warm on his tongue, and Sam smiles at him.

"Hey. You ready to get out of here?"

"Yeah, sure," Dean says, sliding his wallet back into his pocket. He's got the oddest feeling, like there was something he was worrying about just a few minutes ago, but it slips through his mind too quickly to catch. It can't be that important, anyway, if he can't remember what it is. He follows Sam back out to the Impala, squinting into the sunlight, and everything is fine.

-----

Dean has no idea what day it is, but time doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is Sam's mouth pressed against his throat, murmuring, "I'm okay, Dean. We're okay. We're better than we've ever been," and finally, finally Dean knows that it is true.

the end


Download: Bad Moon Rising -- Creedence Clearwater Revival, in case any of you don't have it. Let me know if the link breaks!
Tags: evil sam, fic, sam/dean, spn
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