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When The World Is Burning

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The news services descended on the destroyed town of Ilchester, Maryland like locusts. During the weeks of speculation that followed, numerous unnamed “sources” offered wildly contradictory stories about what may or may not have happened in the small town. The official story eventually released stated that a terrorist cell had been using the long-abandoned convent to stockpile and create explosives. Even then, the rumours grew. The FBI did not confirm or deny the rumour that these explosives included nuclear material. Anyone who saw first hand what little remained of the town needed no official confirmation.

No news service pointed out that the terrorist theory failed to explain the body of a young nurse which was found in the trunk of a stolen car just outside the blast zone. Several websites, however – the kind that endlessly discussed the faked moon landings and CIA culpability in the 9/11 attacks – most certainly did notice. Few others paid attention or even cared about the anomaly: America mourned the dead of Ilchester.

In the month that followed the Maryland tragedy, the suicide rate in US cities quadrupled. The murder rate doubled.

One week after the disaster in Ilchester, nearly two hundred people died in a Los Angeles church. The media reported it as a mass suicide and suggested a connection with the Ilchester incident: it appeared that a doomsday cult had taken the disaster as a sign of the End Times.

One month after the explosion an unseasonal hurricane swept through Cuba, somehow missed Florida but devastated the coastal regions of Mississippi and Louisiana. Meteorologists talked about global climate change and unseasonal currents, but all the scientific talk really meant that no one could explain it. The death toll is still not known.

A well known evangelical preacher declared on national television that these disasters were signs described in the Bible. He predicted that the long-awaited Rapture, during which the righteous – by which he meant the members of his own Church and those wealthy enough to buy themselves last-minute salvation – would ascend bodily into Heaven, spared the horrors of the apocalypse to come, would occur before the end of the year.

In an isolated junkyard in South Dakota, Bobby Singer obsessively collected the news as it came in. Unlike those idiot reporters, he knew damn well what was happening and took a certain satisfaction in knowing that a certain preacher had missed the boat. It was one small, petty pleasure in a month that brought nothing but bad news and worse. Bobby Singer knew that prophecy said only one man could stop the world going down in blood and flame. And that man was in Bobby’s home, refusing to fight on without the brother he loved...a brother who, in Bobby’s opinion, was dying.

~ * ~  

“Lock the door,” Sam insisted, his once-strong voice cracked and hoarse.

Dean couldn’t bear to see Sam like this. His skin was grey, his eyes dark hollows like bruises. The weeks of detox from his diet of demon blood had taken a terrible toll on him. Sam wasn’t sleeping. He couldn’t keep food down. Hallucinations haunted him and unpredictable seizures racked his body. Sam had lost both weight and muscle tone and the torn shirt hung off his wasted frame.

This was too much. Sam couldn’t last much longer. The demon blood was destroying him from the inside.

“Lock the damn door!” Sam repeated.

Dean nodded, unable to speak. He stepped over the iron threshold and swung the door closed. It clanged into the frame and he locked it. Dean gazed through the slot for a moment, watching Sam pace around the cot. They tied him down at night since the seizure that nearly cracked his skull in two, but he seemed to be well at the moment.

Dean trudged up the stairs wearily. The world was ending. News reached them sporadically, whenever one of Bobby’s contacts thought to call, but it was all bad. Fires and storms, massacres and riots, signs and portents. Castiel hadn’t shown his angelic face since Lucifer rose. And Sam was dying. Dean knew that now. He knew, too, that this time there was no eleventh-hour miracle, no deal to be made. He was going to lose his brother.

Bobby looked up from his book when Dean appeared in the doorway. How is he? Bobby’s expression asked.

Dean shrugged and headed into the kitchen. Not good, his gesture replied. He cracked open a fresh bottle of whiskey, looked for a glass, couldn’t find one so poured it into a mug instead. He swallowed a third of a mugful as if it were beer and refilled the mug.

He wanted to go out there, track down the first demon he could find and feed it to Sam. But Sam wouldn’t accept it. He’d told them he would kick this or die trying. He meant it.

“Tell me somethin’ good, Bobby.” Dean threw himself into an armchair, sending up a cloud of dust and sloshing the whiskey in his mug.

Bobby drew in a deep breath and let it out. “I ain’t sure you’ll call it good, but...”

Dean eyed him warily. Oh, god. What now?

“We’re gonna have company.”

“Company? With Sam here?” Dean half-rose from the chair, ready for a fight. There was no one he trusted around Sam right now. No one but Bobby. Maybe Cas, though after Castiel’s betrayal he wasn’t sure about that, either.

“Ellen,” Bobby said. “She found Jo and it sounds like she’s in a bad way. I couldn’t turn her down.”

Dean relaxed. He didn’t like it, but Ellen was solid. “Does she know? About Sam?”

“I told her nothing,” Bobby assured him, “but she’s Ellen.”

Dean understood. Hunters told Ellen things. It was likely she’d heard rumours about Sam. Whether Ellen believed anything she’d heard was another thing.

He finished his whiskey. “Did you find anything?”

“Don’t you think I’d have told you if I did?” Bobby scowled. “There’s no manual for this, boy.” He slammed the book shut. “Tell me again what the angel said about this.”

They’d been through it thirty times already, but Dean repeated Castiel’s words again, for Bobby. “The amount of demon blood he would have to consume in order to kill Lilith will change him. Permanently. Most likely, he would become the next creature that we would feel compelled to kill.”

Bobby nodded gravely. “I think we were on the wrong track with the whole detox thing, This seems to be more like an infection. Sam ain’t in cold turkey so much as...quarantine.”

Dean shrugged. He had heard it all before and had nothing to add. The bottom line hadn’t changed.

“Sam’s fighting it, Dean,” Bobby tried to reassure him. “It ain’t easy – this thing’s in his blood now – but Sam’s strong. He – ”

Maybe it was the whiskey. Maybe it was desperation. Maybe it was divine inspiration. He stared at Bobby. “What did you say?”

Bobby gave him an odd look. “I said Sam’s strong,” he repeated.

“No. You said it’s in his blood.” Dean said the words as if they were a revelation. It wasn’t anything he didn’t already know. This had been about blood from the beginning. But the words resonated in Dean’s mind. It’s in his blood. In his blood. Blood. “Bobby, give me Sam’s phone.”

Bobby reached into a drawer and extracted Sam’s cell phone. He tossed it to Dean who caught it with one hand and scrolled through the stored numbers quickly. Sam still kept the numbers of his old friends from Stanford, though as far as Dean knew he no longer kept in touch with them. He had a lot of Dad’s old contacts in there, too. There were several newer numbers Dean didn’t recognise: a painful reminder of the distrust that had grown between them in the past year. Sam had stored most of those numbers with just initials, deliberately disguising them. The four Dean didn’t recognise were GN, PF, Q and LV. Dean selected the last and pushed the dial button.

“Who are you calling?” Bobby asked.

“A shot in the dark. Help...I hope.” Dean stood, walking away from Bobby as the phone rang. It took so long that when his call was finally picked up Dean expected to hear a voicemail message. Instead, he heard a woman’s voice:

“Sam? I didn’t expect to hear from you again.” Score! Her tone held just a hint of hostility, which worried Dean a little.

“This is Dean.”

There was silence. Then, her tone very different, “Is Sam...?”

“He’s in trouble. I think you might be able to help.”

“Why me?”

She sounded genuinely puzzled and Dean hoped  he wasn’t making a mistake. “Because,” he answered, “the problem is his blood.” He was out of Bobby’s hearing range now, but Dean still lowered his voice as he explained, as simply as he could, what Sam had done to himself. When he was done, he waited, barely able to breathe.

“I don’t know, Dean,” she offered uncertainly. “I might be able to do something but...I need to see him face to face.”

Dean leapt at the chance. “Where are you? I’ll come and get you.” Oh, yes. He was desperate.

She told him where she was and Dean could breathe again. If he pushed the Impala to her limits, he could make it there and back before dawn. “I’m on my way,” he told her and pocketed the phone as he dashed for his car without even taking the time to tell Bobby why he was leaving.

~ * ~  

Dean floored the gas as soon as he reached black-top. He might have enjoyed speeding through the night if it didn’t remind him so strongly of that night in Ilchester. That was the last time he had pushed the Impala this hard, but then Sam was at his side. Now Dean was alone, holding on to one last, desperate hope that he might save Sam’s life.

“He’s coming,” Sam breathed. He was staring at the glowing light forming around Lilith’s blood.

“You want to be here when he arrives?” Dean demanded. He tugged Sam’s arm. What the hell was wrong with him? Couldn’t he see they had to get out of here? Sam seemed mesmerised by the light, but that light was going to destroy them both.

“Sam!” Dean yelled again. “We have to go!”

For a moment, Dean seriously considered leaving Sam behind. Sam did this. He broke the final seal. If he wanted to stick around and be Lucifer-chow, maybe...

Suddenly Sam snapped out of it. He stared at Dean. By then the light was so bright it made Sam’s skin translucent.

There was no more time. “Sam, now!” Dean barked. He ran for the door, not daring to look back. He heard Sam’s footsteps behind him. But there was another sound, too, a high-pitched whine that Dean recognised as the voice of an angel. Castiel’s voice could shatter glass; this sound was so much stronger. It seemed to reach inside Dean’s skull. He felt a kind of pressure inside his body; it wasn’t pain exactly, but like something inside was expanding and any moment he would explode. Dean reached the end of the corridor. Sam was at his heels.

There was dust falling all around them. The light was so intense it was like the sun itself. The screaming angelic voice almost drowned out the sound of the explosion, but Dean felt it. The ground beneath their feet rocked. The wall beside them crumbled and collapsed. The noise around them was unbelievable.

“Sam!”

“I’m here! Run!”

Dean heard the beam ahead of them crack. He knew they would never make it, but he tried anyway, running full-pelt toward the exit.

They burst out into the night. Dean threw himself into the Impala and had the engine going and his foot on the gas before Sam slammed the door on his side.

“Oh, god,” Sam muttered, craning to see out of the rear window.

“Don’t look back, Sam!” Dean steered them onto the road. It was night, but the sun shining out of the convent illuminated everything as clearly as daylight. They had to outrun the light. Dean floored the gas.

They were halfway to South Dakota before Dean remembered that the Impala shouldn’t have been there at all. Castiel sent him to Ilchester, angel-express. The Impala was still at Bobby’s place...except he was driving her.

“Thanks, Cas,” he murmured and kept right on driving. For once, a miracle came at the right time.

When they finally reached Bobby’s place and the adrenaline had worn off for them both, Dean had time to accept what happened back there. Lucifer was free. Because of Sam. Because Sam chose Ruby over his own brother. He chose his pointless revenge and look where it led.

Angry didn’t begin to cover it. Bitter. Betrayed. Terrified. Dean would never be able to trust Sam again, or so Dean thought then.

But that was before Sam started to feel the cravings. It was before Sam locked himself in the panic room, insisting he would kick this or die trying. It was before Dean spent weeks listening to Sammy screaming in pain and terror, night after night, as the demon blood destroyed him from within.

Now, the only thing that mattered was that Sam was dying.

~ * ~  

With Dean gone, Bobby found sleep impossible. Sam had been doing well all day, but as if he somehow knew Dean was no longer near, he relapsed into screaming for help as night fell. Bobby had been through this often enough to know there was nothing he could do for Sam. Bobby had built that iron room intending it to be a refuge, a place of safety. The Winchester boys had turned it into a prison cell, locked from the outside instead of from within. He went down there with fresh water, leaving it just inside the door so Sam could find it when he was able, and returned to his lonely house.

Sleep just wasn’t happening. Bobby continued his futile search for answers in his books. When he was too exhausted to read, he found other things to do. He checked every weapon in the house and renewed the salt and sigils around the place.

The next time he checked on Sam the boy was huddled against the wall with blood running down his face. He looked up when Bobby entered and seemed to recognise him, but he couldn’t string two words together. Bobby coaxed him back to the bed and got him to drink some water. He tended the wound – a fresh cut above Sam’s eye – as best he could. Hating himself for it, Bobby tied the restraints back around Sam’s wrists and ankles. What scared the crap out of him was the way Sam just lay there and let him do it.

Sunrise found Bobby at the battered old desk again, polishing and sharpening knives that already shone like mirrors and had no need of a whetstone. In the cellar beneath him, Sam was quiet. He had been sleeping peacefully – or perhaps unconscious – the last time Bobby checked on him. But that was an hour ago. Bobby laid his whetstone aside and hauled himself up to check on the boy once more. That was when he heard the rumble of the approaching Impala.

Bobby rubbed at his eyes. He swayed on  his feet, the sleepless nights catching up with him. Slowly, he made his way toward the door. He heard the creak of the Impala’s doors and Dean’s voice. So he’d found whomever he’d gone looking for. Bobby had no idea how far Dean would go in his desperation to save Sam; he could only hope Dean hadn’t forged another deadly bargain.

But even Bobby wasn’t prepared for what he found when he opened the door.

The woman with Dean was average height with long, dark hair falling in a silky curtain around her oval face. Her pale skin was tinted pink by the rising sun. She wore a black, leather coat that fell almost to her ankles. The effect might have been sinister except the coat was open at the front, revealing a gypsy-style blouse patterned with pink roses over tight, stonewashed jeans. She looked toward Bobby as he opened the door and he got a good look at her eyes. He knew what she was.

Bobby moved to block the doorway. “Boy, what the hell are you doing?”

Dean simply met his look. He seemed very calm. “It’s okay, Bobby. She’s a – ” he broke off and glanced at the woman. “Well, I guess friend would be exaggerating.”

Bobby didn’t get the joke. “I think the word you’re looking for,” he said, not troubling to hide his irritation, “is vampire.”

“Yeah. She’s that, too,” Dean agreed easily, as if it meant nothing.

Bobby could only stare at them both, exasperated. He was terrified of what Dean thought this thing might do for Sam. He knew what losing Sam would do to Dean. He knew the boy was desperate, but this...

The vampire spoke in soft, melodious tones. “I’d like to get out of the sunlight, if you don’t mind.”

Vamps weren’t Bobby’s speciality. Most of what he knew about them, he’d gotten from John Winchester who (as far as Bobby knew) had never met one either. There weren’t many of them left.

“Bobby, it’s okay. Trust me,” Dean pleaded.

Damn it, boy. If you think I’ll let you do this to your brother... Bobby stood aside reluctantly. Dean muttered his thanks as he walked past. The vampire hesitated at the threshold.

“Do you need an invitation?” Bobby asked her, thinking if that piece of lore were true, Dean was going to have some explaining to do before he would let her in, sunlight or no sunlight.

She gave a small smile. “I can cross a threshold without being invited. I prefer to be welcome, though. It’s simple courtesy.”

Old fashioned courtesy, Bobby thought, wondering how old this vamp was if something like that mattered so much to her. “Fine,” Bobby said ungraciously. “Come on in.”

“Thank you.” She stepped into the doorway. “I’m Lenore,” she offered, “and I’m here to help, if I can.”

Bobby followed them into the house. He caught up with Dean and grabbed his arm. “You’re gonna let a vampire loose on Sam?” he asked incredulously.

“Lenore doesn’t kill people,” Dean replied, which didn’t answer Bobby’s question at all. “How is he?”

“Had a rough night,” Bobby answered. “Sleeping, last time I looked in on him.”

“Right.” Dean turned to Lenore. “Now?”

“I’m ready,” she agreed.

Dean led the way down into Bobby’s cellar. Lenore followed, her long coat dragging on the stairs. Bobby brought up the rear. Dean couldn’t be this desperate...could he? Yeah, he could. Last time Sam died he sold his goddamn soul.

Dean opened the window-slot and peered through. “Hey, Sammy. How you doin’?”

Bobby heard Sam’s voice, but not the words. He sounded awful, his voice worn down to a sandpaper rasp.

The lock clanked as Dean opened it. He walked in.

This room – what the Winchester boys insisted on calling a panic room – was built to keep out almost every supernatural creature. The walls were iron coated with salt. The whole of the interior was a devil’s trap. There were protections from thirty different religions carved and painted on the walls. None of it seemed to bother the vampire; Lenore followed Dean as if it were a regular room. Bobby hung back, waiting just outside the door.

Sam was still tied to the bed. The bruises and dried blood stood out vividly on one side of his face. He looked up, saw Dean and looked past him to the vampire. His expression turned to bewilderment.

“Am I dreaming again?” he asked, almost plaintively.

“No, Sammy,” Dean answered.

Lenore sat down on the bed beside Sam. “I’m real, Sam. Dean called me. He thought I might be able to help you.”

“How?” Sam asked.

“Well,” Lenore smiled, “I do know a little about drinking blood.”

~ * ~  

It was Ruby he saw in the beginning. She came to him when it started hurting, offering comfort, help. Offering the poison in her veins. Sam killed her, over and over. He beat her to a pulp and tore out her heart with his bare hands. But she always came back. She wasn’t real, he knew that. But it sure felt real.

Sometimes, he saw other people. Jessica, taunting him from the ceiling. Dean, ranting about how worthless Sam was or how he betrayed his brother. Gordon Walker, telling Sam he was a monster that needed to be taken down. Sam could not disagree.

So when Lenore walked into the iron room, Sam could not believe she was really standing there. After all, last time they spoke he had promised he would never contact her again. Yet here she was, saying she’d come to help him.

“I do know a little about being addicted to blood,” she said, and he could almost see laughter in her dark eyes.

Sam stared at her, speechless. It would never have occurred to him to ask a vampire about his demon blood problem, but it did make a kind of sense. Lenore understood addiction and she certainly knew about drinking blood. She was probably the only person he knew who wouldn’t be disgusted by the things he had done in the past year.

Lenore laid her hand over his. Her skin was cool to the touch. “Dean has told me most of it,” she said. “What we don’t know for certain is how the demon blood has affected you.”

“It gave me power,” Sam began to explain.

Lenore interrupted. “I have tasted your blood before. Do you remember?”

It was a thousand years ago. Lenore was a prisoner, being tortured by Gordon Walker when Sam and Dean found them. She must have been in agony, but she’d refused to give up her fellow vampires. Walker had attacked Sam with a knife. He held Sam’s bleeding arm over Lenore’s face so his blood dripped down toward her lips. He’d been trying to prove she was a monster like every other fang. Lenore was sick from dead man’s blood and she must have been starving, but she resisted this new torture. They could all see her blood-hunger, but she retracted her fangs, proving that Walker was wrong about her.

“I remember,” Sam answered.

She looked toward Dean, who was struggling to control his expression. Dean knew what was coming, Sam realised, and he didn’t like it. That made Sam nervous.

Lenore stroked his hand absently. “Whether I can do something for you now depends on two things. The first is easy to discover, but for the second we’ll have to rely on our best guess. That means there is some risk in this.”

Sam tugged at the restraints around his wrist. His whole body ached from bruises and seizures. His throat was raw from screaming. And he knew he looked even worse than he felt. “I’ve got nothing to lose,” he told her honestly.

“You may have been drinking blood, Sam, but you’re not a vampire. You’re alive. That means that what you drink doesn’t go directly into your blood. There are biological processes involved. But there is a connection.”

Dean made a sound that might have been a stifled laugh. Sam hadn’t heard anything funny.

Lenore turned to look at him. “You’re surprised I understand biology? I take night classes, Dean, and I was a nurse, many years ago. Did you think vampires party all night, like in a trashy movie?”

Dean looked chastened. “Well...yeah,” he admitted.

Lenore was smiling when she looked back at Sam. “Demons don’t have blood. That’s the part of this that doesn’t quite add up. A demon is just smoke, air, the twisted remnant of a soul. But we’re not dealing with science here. We’re dealing with the supernatural. So none of us can know exactly what drinking demon blood has done to your system. I need...” Here, Lenore hesitated and Sam knew before she spoke what she was going to say. “I need to taste you again. Then I’ll know.”

Dean’s unhappy look made sense to Sam now. “You...you want to bite me?”

“It doesn’t need to be so intimate. Dean can cut you, if that’s easier.”

Unbidden, the memory of Ruby rose into Sam’s mind. The knife in his hand, cutting into Ruby’s body. Watching her blood well up around the blade, flowing over her skin before he –

No. He couldn’t let Dean cut him. He looked past Lenore to his brother. “We’ll need peroxide and bandages.”

Dean nodded. “You sure about this?”

Sam wasn’t sure of anything but he nodded. He waited for Dean to leave then craned his neck to see Bobby, still waiting outside the door. “Give us a moment, would you?”

Bobby frowned, but he closed the door. It wasn’t exactly privacy, but it was enough.

Sam let his head fall back onto the pillow. “When’s the last time you drank human blood?” he asked.

Lenore began to untie Sam’s left wrist. “I’m not sure a few drops of your blood qualify as a drink.”

He wasn’t sure a few drops of his blood qualified as human. “And before that?” he prompted.

“Nearly forty years.” She leaned across to untie his right hand.

“And when you were talking about biology, you were careful to limit what you said to the living. It doesn’t work that way for you, does it?”

“What’s your point, Sam?”

“I want to know what drinking my blood will do to you.” As Lenore released the restraints, Sam sat up. He moved slowly, his stiff muscles unresponsive. He did not rub his wrists.

Lenore’s expression turned serious. “A taste won’t do anything to me.”

Sam knew she was avoiding the question. “But if you help me the way I think you mean to – ” he objected, but broke off as the panic room’s door swung open again.

Dean was carrying the smaller of Bobby’s two medkits and a shining bowie knife. He set the medkit down on the floor beside the bed and picked up the knife.

“No, Dean,” Sam said quickly. “Not that way.” He swung his legs over the side of the bed. His vision blurred as he moved and his head swam. He felt Lenore’s hand on his shoulder. With an effort, Sam straightened, blinked his vision clear and looked at her. “What do you need to be certain? Heart’s blood?”

She hesitated. “A vein. Your wrist is best, but that’s painful.”

Pain didn’t scare Sam. He offered her his left hand without hesitation. He saw Bobby still watching from the doorway, his expression very dark. Likely Bobby thought Sam was replacing one supernatural problem with another. Sam half agreed with him, but at this point it was a risk he was willing to take. All or nothing.

Lenore took his forearm in both of her hands. Her fingers were cold, but not corpse-cold. It was as if her natural body temperature was just a bit lower than his. She pushed his sleeve up to his elbow and closed her eyes. Sam waited. Lenore hesitated for so long Sam thought she was going to bottle out. He would have understood. It couldn’t be easy for her to be offered human blood after so long, and yet to have to restrict herself to a mere taste.

Lenore lowered her face and Sam saw her white fangs flash before he felt the sudden, sharp pain of her bite. Instinct made Sam try to jerk his hand away from that pain but she held him fast, her hands much stronger than he anticipated. Sam felt her lips close over his skin, a moment of suction, the rasp of her tongue. She released him, then, and pulled away. She raised her face to the light, her fangs sharp and bloody. Dean’s expression held pure disgust; once, Sam would have felt the same. Now, well...glass houses and all that.

Lenore opened her eyes and looked at Sam. He saw hunger in her eyes, but for an instant he saw something else: fear. What she tasted in his blood made her afraid of him.

Dean was already kneeling beside him, lifting a bottle of peroxide to Sam’s bleeding wound. “Well?” he demanded of Lenore, impatiently.

Lenore opened her eyes. When she spoke, her tone was dreamy, as if she were a little high. “Yes,” she said.