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Bless in your own light
Dream in your own life
I miss me
I miss everything I’ll never be
And on, and on
~Rocket – Smashing Pumpkins

 

 

There’s something very wrong with the house.

Sam knows it, can sense it¸ the very second they walk in. There is something fundamentally wrong with the house, with its very core.

~~

They rent it cheap. Apparently no one else wants it. It’s owned by a business man who lives in New York and had inherited the old thing when his grandfather died.

It’s fairly large, large for them anyway. A two story farmhouse with peeling paint and a porch with boards that creaks at the lightest touch, it isn’t much to look at, but Sam can’t deny the little burst of excitement in his chest when he found out he’d get his own bedroom. The nearest neighbor is a good mile away, which is perfect by John Winchester, and the back yard extends a hundred yards or so then melts into forest, perfect for training.

The inside is in slightly better condition. Inside the front entryway there’s a grand staircase that leads up to the second floor hallway. A slightly dusty chandelier hangs above, illuminating both stories at once. To the right is the living room while a small hallway next to the staircase leads to the kitchen.

“Cool,” Dean whistles when he first steps in. While impressed, something niggles at the back of Sam’s mind, whispering wrong, wrong. A small shiver trails down his spine like an icy finger.

“Well, it’s home for the next month so have a look around,” John offers.

“First one up gets first pick at the bedrooms!” Dean says with a wink, taking off and jumping the stairs three at a time.

Sam shoves the wrongness down and jogs after, knowing he doesn’t stand a chance at this point, but content to mess around and be normal for the moment.

“What took so long?” Dean questions with raised eyebrows when Sam gets to the top.

“Screw you. Which bedroom do you want?”

At the top of the staircase is the master bedroom. There is another bedroom and a bathroom across from each other, midway down the hall, and another bedroom at the very end.  Dean stares at the closed doors with narrows eyes like the doors aren’t all the exact same.

“That one,” he declares, pointing to the mid-hallway bedroom, “so I’m close to the bathroom – I know how long you girls take if you get there first.”

Sam pauses, letting the jibe roll of him, as something seems to pull him towards the bedroom at the end. Something tugs at his mind, beckoning him.

Sam steps past Dean and pads down the hallway without much conscious thought. The walls are completely white, matching the slightly off-white carpet and white doorframes. For a moment, it reminds Sam of a sanitarium.

Behind him he hears Dean open his own bedroom door and exclaim something about a ‘giant-ass bed’, but it goes mostly unheard.

Sam stares at the door for a moment. Touching the doorknob would…cross some line, start something new, begin a journey – Sam doesn’t know, but he can feel the somethingness of the doorknob. Stupid, you’re a hunter! Sam jerks his hand forward as though part of him is still resisting, and grabs onto the ordinary brass knob.

Everything is so bright white it is blindingly dark. Terror. God, no! Please no! Panic. No! Death. Destruction. HollownessfearagonyhelphelpHELP!

Sam jerks back violently, his vision white and his head full of screaming whispers, and whips around. His heart is thudding painfully in his chest, his unmoving body pumping full of adrenaline.

The hallway is empty and white.

“Yo, Sammy! What’s your room like?” The rushing blood in his ears slows and Sam’s eyes finally focus.

“What?” he asks weakly, spotting Dean’s head sticking out of his bedroom.

“Just asked what your room is like? I bet mine’s bigger.” Sam opens his mouth, but has nothing to say as his mind tries to catch back up. Dean frowns. “Dude, did you even go in?”

“Uh, no…I…didn’t,” he finishes lamely, unable to come up with an excuse. Dean’s eyebrows leap up.

“Okay,” he says, stretching out the word as he walks up to his brother. He gently shoves Sam aside and reaches for the knob. Sam’s mind goes on the fritz, preparing to yell a warning and leap forward and shove Dean aside and save him from the horror-

Dean turns the knob and pushes the door open. Sam just stands there, mouth hanging open. He feels like he’s been shoved off a cliff only to land on a rock a foot down. His body prepared to kick into overdrive/survive/save Dean mode but then…nothing.

“Aww!” Dean moans loudly. “Yours is bigger…” Sam finally lets his gaze swing to the room that is now his.

True to Dean’s word, it is a fairly large room, especially for one Sam has all to himself.  The walls are a light cream color and the furniture a dark mahogany color. A four poster, double bed with a deep red – blood red! – canopy is up against the right wall, opposite the double-door closet. Straight across from the doorway are two large windows, tinted slightly by dust, which look out into the trees on the side of the house. The tan carpet is dusty as well, but still retains some of its softness.

Dean bounds forward and opens the closet. “Man, this is gonna be awesome!”

Sam swallows, his mouth dry and tongue thick, and manages to ask, “What’s your room like?”

Dean shrugs, “Cool, but…I think it belonged to a chick. There’s this big-ass vanity with a mirror on it. And the walls are purple! Purple, Sammy! We should trade. Clearly that room fits you much better.”

Yes! Sam’s mind screams, begging him to get as far away from this room as possible. But, he tells himself sternly, he was just being stupid before. It’s just a room, just like every other room in the house. Besides, Dean would never let it go if Sam actually chose the purple room.

“Jerk,” he mutters, half-heartedly. Dean frowns again, his hands still resting on the open doors of the closet.

“You okay, Sam?”

“Yeah,” he replies, putting a physical effort into outwardly perking up.

“I mean, I know how you geeks like your school, but it is summer and, hey, at least we’re staying in one place, right?”

“Yeah,” Sam repeats. Dean gives him a crooked smile, shuts the closet doors, then steps forward and wraps an arm around Sam’s shoulder.

“Let’s go see what they got for grub in this town.”

~~

“Tomorrow I’m gonna head out to help Bobby with that spirit. I want you boys to start digging into the local lore, mysterious deaths, the usual. It’s looking like there’s a good three weeks or so between deaths so we still have some time before someone else is killed.”

Sam nods along, not really paying attention to what John is saying. He shoves his Chinese take-out around on his plate and focuses on the sound of Dean practically inhaling his own food.

They’re sitting in the dining room, something that’s never been done in the Winchester clan before. Besides the table, the only other furniture in the room is a magnificent hutch with glass doors and dozens of antique bowls and goblets. Along the back of the hutch is a mirror, so the back of the items can be seen as well. Eating Chinese takeout on paper plates actually feels a bit like debauchery here.

“Sam!”

“What?” he asks, head bobbing up and attention coming back. John rolls his eyes and does that little breath-through-the-nose that really means Sam, I’m disappointed. “Sorry,” Sam mumbles, eyes dropping back to his plate, “I was spacing a bit.”

“Spacing on a hunt could get you killed.” Sam wants to point out that just because he spaces at lectures during dinner does not mean he would space out during a hunt (which he wouldn’t) and John always says that about everything so it doesn’t really count. But he’s too tired for a fight so he doesn’t say anything.

John shifts the conversation back to the hunt which Sam takes as an invitation to zone out again. There’s a weird dread shifting in his stomach that really doesn’t want to go to bed. Despite his earlier excitement, Sam no longer wants his own room. Especially not that room. He wants to ask if he can sleep with Dean in Dean’s room but he’s sixteen and a hunter and he’s always rebelling for independence and Dean would probably freak out a little.

John and Dean finish and Sam assures them he’s ‘just not hungry’. They put away the dishes and head up to bed.

~~

Sam sits on his bed, in his hand-me-down-from-Dean pajamas. Even at sixteen the pajamas hang baggy on his thin frame. Because where Dean had muscle, Sam has nothing.

He sits there for a good ten minutes, staring at the closed door and the light switch next to it. The room’s really not so bad in the old, yellow light. It’s comforting a bit, the aged glow. And the closed curtains are so thick and heavy, it’s easy to believe they can keep out all the creatures of the night.

It’s not so bad.

But Sam can’t get up to turn off the light. He studiously ignores the closet on the left of him because every time he so much as thinks about it, it feels like hands are reaching for him and if he looks, surely he’ll see the dead flesh, clawing at him…

He’s not thinking about it.

He just has to turn off the light and go to bed. Nothing will change with the lights off – but Sam knows that’s not true. He knows what’s out there.

Dean’s just down the hall…

But the thought will have to be enough because no way is Sam running into his older brother’s room like some scared five year old.

He briefly entertains the idea of going to get a weapon, a knife perhaps, from the weapons bag downstairs so at least he wouldn’t feel so defenseless, but the only thing scarier than staying is going so Sam stays put.

He glances at the clock – 11:24 – then grips the covers tightly.

“Stupid, stupid! Just get up!” he scolds himself quietly. Before he can rethink, Sam shoves himself off the bed, stumbles across the room and slams off the light switch. He all but flings himself back into the bed.

Breathing almost to the point of hyperventilation, Sam buries deep underneath the covers – the covers protect from evil monsters, even five year olds know that – and slams his eyes shut.

There’s a hand on his throat, pressing tight. The decaying flesh scratches against his throat and the nails begin to draw blood. Choking, choking, he’s choking and he can’t breathe. The hand gets tighter. Breathe! He needs to breathe. Just take a breath, shove them off, fight, BREATHE!

Sam’s eyes fly open and some strangled sound chokes off in his throat. His heart pounds in his chest, the feeling of rotting flesh so strong that Sam reaches up to probe his very much alive skin.

He glances at the clock. 11:26. He never went to sleep. Sam’s eyes go wide, staring harder just in case he’s seeing wrong…but no. He really truly never went to sleep. It was a day-mare? An almost asleep-mare?

Something warm slips down Sam’s cheek. For one horrifying moment he thinks oh my god my eyes are bleeding before he realizes, no, it’s a tear. When did he start crying? More come, rushing hot and comforting down his cheeks.

There won’t be any sleep tonight, he realizes with a sigh.

But he’s wrong. Barely an hour later, he goes from wide awake to deep asleep. Like some ethereal hand just reached out and brushed his eyes closed.

~~

Sam blinks awake in the morning sun. Sunlight floods his room from the wide open curtains, though Sam could have sworn he’d shut them last night.

He wrinkles up his face and rubs at his head. A headache is building. It’s a strange headache, more of a pressure than anything else, like some little person is in his head pushing hard on the walls to get out. And maybe if they push hard enough, Sam’s head will just explode. With the pressure comes a weird anger with a short fuse that Sam had never seen on himself before. It reminds him of his father, which makes him even angrier.

The air is chilly and his toes curl when he first steps onto the carpet. Rubbing his arms, Sam jogs to the closet where he’d shoved his suitcase and snatches out a jacket. With a yawn, he heads out the door. Dean’s door is shut, but Sam is almost always awake before his brother anyway.

John, an even earlier riser than Sam, is already up. He’s jotting something down in his journal while sipping from a mug. John’s eyes flick up, but he doesn’t say anything. Not feeling particularly conversational either, Sam remains silent and fixes himself some cereal.

“When are you leaving today?” Sam asks, finally breaking the silence almost halfway through his cereal.

“Later,” John grunts and Sam nods like that is a real answer.

“Morning,” a sleepy voice says. Sam glances up and is unable to stop the smirk that dances across his face at the sight of Dean, hair mussed and pajamas wrinkled. Dean rolls his eyes, yawns, and pours himself some coffee. He runs a hand through his hair, messing it up even further, as he sits down and blinks wearily at the others.

“Sleep well?” John asks, a tiny trace of a smile on his face.

“Can’t complain. What about you, Sammy?”

“It’s Sam,” he replies automatically, effectively dodging the question. Truthfully, he didn’t sleep all that bad. Not even a nightmare. And that creeps him out more than anything. Sam almost always remembers his dreams, at least for an hour or two, but last night was a blank. He has a strange feeling of missing out on something, like some horrible thing happened to him and then was just wiped from his memory.

“When you leaving?” Dean asks. John glances at the clock.

“An hour and a half or so.”

Sam scoffs quietly to his cereal.

~~

His closet door is open when he goes back upstairs.

Sam walks into the room, then just freezes, like someone flicked a Sam off switch. He most definitely didn’t leave them open…but maybe he did? Sam tries to recall exactly how he’d grabbed his jacket before breakfast, but he can’t remember anything.

Trying hard to pretend it’s just him being forgetful (even though he knows he didn’t leave them open) Sam gets dressed, humming loudly to cover the silence.

Just as Sam goes to leave (no, he did not speed-dress to get out of there quickly), he hears the faintest of noises. It’s like when someone seated a few seats away from you whispers something to someone. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but you can hear the whispery noise, the faint hiss.

That’s what it sounds like, whispering just below the level of detection. Sam stands straight, eyes staring holes through the door while his heart gallops. Whispering…you can’t have whispering without people. Which means there’s most definitely someone behind him. After a quick debate of whether he’d rather see the axe coming or just stare at the door until his head and body part ways, Sam finally swings the door open and jumps into the hallway, turning as he goes. Prepared to slam the door on the whispery axe-murderer and scream for Dean, Sam inhales sharply as he sees…nothing. Blinking a few times, his eyes sweep over the empty room. But no he definitely heard the whispering…it wasn’t just in his head. That one little noise – it was not in his head!

Or maybe it was. Sam can’t decide which was worse.

“Yo, Sammy!”

Sam spins around, his eyes wide and teeth bared, and raises his arm up threatening even though he doesn’t have a weapon. An animal deep inside of him hurtles ferociously to the surface, ready to fight and kill and survive.

“Holy shit!” Dean shouts, flailing backward into the wall. His hands jump up into a defensive position, while his eyes just about pop out of his head.

Inhaling very sharply, Sam forces his arm down and lets his face relax. The animal settles back within him. Dean still looks ready to whip out the holy water and silver, so Sam takes a deeper breath and drags a smile onto his face.

“Sorry, you…scared me.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Dean says weakly, finally stumbling forward off the wall into a normal stance. “Christ, Sammy, remind me never to prank you again. You were…really…fucking scary for a second there.”

Sam knows he should laugh, say something along the lines of ‘the great and almighty Dean Winchester afraid of little ole me?’ or that he was thinking about the case and the dead bodies and was just jumpy…but he can’t bring himself too. He just shrugs and offers another, “Sorry.”

Now Dean looks concerned.

“You alright, kiddo?”

“Um-hm, really, you just scared me.”

“Okay, if you’re sure…I actually came up here to show you something…guess what I found!”

~~

What Dean found was a library.

It isn’t huge, but the walls are covered in all sorts of books, mostly old leather bounds. It would put even Bobby Singer’s book collection to shame.

There’s a fireplace and a maroon couch with two matching arm chairs straight across from the doorway. The lights are dim and yellow. As soon as Sam crosses the threshold, he feels a comforting warmth wrap around him. This is a haven, a sanctuary from the rest of the chilling house.

“Whoa,” he breathes.

“Knew a nerd like you would like it,” Dean says casually with a smile as he comes up behind Sam. Sam can tell from Dean’s face that he thinks Sam likes the books. Which Sam does, but it’s the contrast to the rest of the house, the change in the feeling, that really draws him. Where the rest of the house is cold and dangerous, with doors that open themselves and whispery walls, this room feels safe and warm.

“I do.”

Sam walks up to the bookshelf, glad that John already left and can’t disturb him, and runs his fingers across the old spines. There’s a peaceful air in the room, like no monster would dare disturb books, the most innocent realm to a different reality.

Selecting a well-worn copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Sam curls up in one of the chairs and buries himself in the pages, Dean chuckling quietly behind him.

~~

To Sam’s immense relief there is no whispering when he returns to his room that night. There are no ghostly hands trying to strangle him.

Just as calm starts to settle over him, his ears detect the faintest of noises. It’s quick and quiet, so much so that Sam dismisses it at first. But, no…there it is again, overhead.

Scuffling…very light scuffling…more like scampering. Sam tilts his head back on his pillow, looking up into the bed canopy. The noise comes again from a different spot. Sam swallows tightly, his tongue shrink wrapped to the bottom of his mouth and tendons in his neck protruding.

Just rats. It’s an old house anyway.

He’d faced far worse than rats.

So it’s definitely not fear sliding around in the back of his mind as he slowly peaks his head out from under the canopy on his bead. The ceiling is as white and solid as ever. In perhaps what is not the most graceful position possible, Sam stands up on the bed, one arm linked around one of the four posts holding the canopy up. His other arm snakes out and reaches until Sam’s long fingers are just brushing the ceiling. For a brief moment, Sam sees the ceiling giving away at his prodding, raining down dozens of rats on him and oh god!

But when his fingers finally do make contact, the ceiling is rough like old paint but sturdy. He prods a little harder, because apparently he’s taken a sudden liking to tempting fate (though, really, he’d rather get covered in dozens of rats now while he’s half expecting it than when he’s innocently lying in bed and the ceiling just gives) but the surface is still strong and unyielding under his trouble-tempting fingers.

Sam forces out a choked sound that’s supposed to be a laugh but really just sounds like a cat hacking up a hair ball.

Rats raining from the ceiling. Honestly! What is he? A twelve year old girl?

Hell no. He’s Sam Winchester, Badass Hunter who’s faced down unspeakable evils and is definitely not scared of rats.

He snorts decisively through his nose before sliding back under the canopy and under the sheets.

The ceiling is secure. The scampering is rats – it’s an old house – and he’ll make a note to ask Dean about investing in some rat traps tomorrow.

Sam lies still all night, fingers twisted into the sheets, and bores holes through the canopy with his owl eyes that have apparently decided blinking isn’t really necessary.

~~

Sam gets out of bed unsteadily. His eyes are bleary and sticky when he blinks and Sam is quite sure little imps invaded his head and are now pelting him inside-out with little pebbles, if the awful waves of pain pulsing through his head is any indication.

His feet are uncoordinated but it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t get far before freezing.

His closet doors are thrown open and his suitcase upended. What measly clothes he have are spread across the floor, his sweatshirt hanging over the bar intended to hang items on.

A cold wave sweeps over him. He closes the door and goes to join Dean for breakfast in his pajamas.

He kind of wants to stab Dean in the face with his fork as his brother chatters on about how much he’s loving having his own room.

~~

His headache doesn’t get better throughout the day. He can tell Dean’s worried. His eyebrows pinch together ever slightly in that way Sam has come to recognize as brotherly concern.

For the first time, it makes his skin crawl. The concern makes him itch and squirm.

He doesn’t tell Dean about rats or rattraps and he can hear Dean’s mocking laughter – yeah, Sammy, nice try, can’t pull one over on me – if he were to divulge anything else. Of course Sam’s closet isn’t opening or closing on it’s own. That’s weird, even for them. He had no proof of anything yet.

So Sam keeps quiet.

~~

Sam’s sensitive fingers drag across the grainy ceiling. He tempts fate, nudging the rough texture firmly.

The paint gives away under his fingers, falling to chips on the floor before the ceiling itself gives in, raining sheetrock and insulation and dust and-

Something crashes hard into him, sending him careening sideways. His weight smashes through the delicate frame of the canopy and the mess rains down onto his bed. The heavy something slams into him with a sickening smack and he shoves it away so he can look.

Sam screams and screams and screams, thrashing against the bulging, discolored skin of the body. Old, stale hair tangles in his fingers and the rotting smell destroys his nose. The skin is bloated and smooth under his fingertips and he struggles for purchase against the dead weight.

He’s still screaming and thrashing, sending any part of the canopy that was intact crashing down around them.

~~

He wakes sweaty and choking on his own desperate gasps while he struggles to untangle himself from the sheets.

~~

Must you have battle in your heart forever? The bloody toil of combat?
Old contender, will you not yield to the immortal gods?
That nightmare cannot die, being eternal evil itself – horror, and pain, and chaos;
There is no fighting her, no power can fight her, all that avails is flight.
~Homer’s Odyssey~

~~

Sam drops down into a chair, half leaning onto the kitchen table before him. He rubs his fingers deep into his eyes. They’re tired. He’s tired.

He can’t decide which is worse: tossing and turning through the night only to awake with the newest horror fresh in his mind, or to lie awake without any sleep and listen to the scampering above.

“Morning,” Dean says cheerily as he enters the kitchen.

Sam doesn’t reply because that’s what he feels like doing. Dean glances at him, one eyebrow quirked, but Sam just scowls at him. Rolling his eyes, Dean goes back to his food.

This whispering is constant. Only not. There’s always whispering, but Sam can’t hear it. The whispering is just below his level of hearing, but he knows it’s there. It’s always there. Sometimes words, mostly just faint, indistinguishable sounds. He can’t tell if it’s only in his head, or if it’s in the house and only he can hear it.

His head hurts too much to riddle it out.

“How’d you sleep?” Dean asks around a mouthful of something as he plops down. Sam scowls again because no one is allowed to be that fucking cheery in the morning.

“That well, huh?” Dean snorts, giving him a wide smile with teeth smeared with partially chewed food.

“That’s gross,” Sam snaps, wiping off Dean’s ridiculous grin.

Good. He thinks. He gets up, and heads to the library, his safe haven, to see if he can get his mind to grant him at least an undisturbed nap.

~~

It’s quiet in the library. He doesn’t get to fall asleep, but he does get pleasantly drowsy as he reads The Odyssey. The words blur in and out of focus, but Sam continues on, letting his mind rest any way it can.

Dean comes in slowly, after a very hesitant knock, to ask if Sam wants lunch. He’s not really hungry but Dean looks worried. Sam’s chest aches for his well-meaning brother and he feels a pang of guilt as his poor behavior of late.

“Sure,” he replies, hoping his small smile looks pleasant and not something vile. Dean’s responding grin was bright, albeit a bit shaky, so it couldn’t have been too bad.

The whispering doesn’t return as he crosses the threshold out of the library, but the pressure in his head returns and Sam knows it won’t be long.

It isn’t.

It’s a constant noise as Sam lies in bed, staring at the canopy overhead. Still too low to comprehend, the whispering is a stream of faint hisses and breathes. Sam wants to pull his hair out, gouge his ears out, anything to make the noise STOP.

Rolling onto his side, Sam draws his knees up and wraps his arms tightly around them.

He doesn’t even notice as his nails dig into his calves and create little crescents of blood.

~~

Sam’s ears prick up and his eyes slide open. As his heart thumps painfully in his chest, Sam struggles to find out what woke him. He blinks a couple times at the canopy over his bed in a relatively vain attempt to get his eyes to adjust.

As he counts two minutes off silently in his head, Sam slowly lets his eyes slide around the black room. The blurs begin to take shape and Sam takes a breath of relief to find nothing out of the ordinary. Shaking his head, he falls back onto the pillow and releases a deep breath.

A growl, low and feral.

Sam stills, eyes going wide and mind turning to white static panic.

Oh god, oh god…

Moving very slowly, Sam sits up…and just about passes out in fear. Wide and luminescent, two yellow eyes stare unmoving out of the closet. The doors, closed only seconds ago, are now a gaping mouth of darkness.

The panting is quiet, but Sam can still hear it, a low, rumbling breath that sends shockwaves of terror through Sam.

Imagining it, imagining it, it’s not real, not possible, dream, nightmare, NOT REAL!

The eyes blink, slow, almost deliberate, and disappear into the darkness for a second.

Real, very really, really and truly REAL!

Drawing his knees up for protection, Sam slides back against the headboard. His body curls inward. Even his toes curl up.

The eyes narrow and there’s another growl. A magnificently large, white paw, steps forward out of the shadow as the growling escalates.

The thing must be huge, Sam realizes. He stands no chance. If it gets to him…will there even be something recognizable left for Dean in the morning? Or, dear God!, would the monstrous creature…eat him? Leave nothing but gnawed bones behind? Scraps of skin and clothes strewn about with blood soaking the carpet?

Despite the chilly air, Sam is flooded with uncomfortable heat. Sweat trickles down his forehead and it makes him feel dizzy, almost nauseous.

Adrenaline and instinct flare up in him. He can’t fight.

All that avails is flight.

As his own breathing picks up, Sam tries to clear his mind and picture exactly what he will do. Gently, with clear and deliberate movements, Sam pushes the bedcover up over his knees and down to his ankles.

The beast lunges, a roar ripping the silence apart. Sam throws himself from the bed, arms flailing wide for the door, while his own scream assaults the silence. There’s a slam as the creature crashes onto the bed, knocking over one post and sending the canopy down. The very second Sam’s scrabbling fingers grab a hold of the door knob, he yanks it open with all his might and launches over the threshold.

Yowling and growling, Sam can hear the thing struggling behind him. In his mind, he can picture the foamy spit falling from its mouth as it flails, great paws destroying everything.

With his own battle cry, Sam pulls hard on the knob, nearly pulling the knob right off, and slams the door shut. Panting hard, he scurries backwards, crab-walking. The silence is oppressive.

He glances at Dean’s door because there’s no way a keen hunter like Dean would sleep through that…

Please, Dean, please have heard, come and save me, Dean, need you, Dean, wake up!

The door stays firmly shut.

Winded and shaken, Sam leans up against the wall next to Dean’s door and stares at his own door. While his unbearably hot body shivers with the chill underneath, his chest heaves. Sluggish tears leak down his cheeks.

Faintly, he can hear claws scraping against the wood.

~~

Sam sits, unmoving and staring, all night. Neither his nor Dean’s door opens. As the sun begins to peak through the window above the front door, the warm light shines onto the upper hallway, causing Sam to blink blearily.

Morning. It’s morning.

He’s still alive.

Breathing deeply, Sam shoves to his feet.

Barely a second later, Dean’s door opens.

“Sammy!” Dean says in surprise, stepping back. “What are you doing?”

“I was just coming to see if your lazy ass was up yet,” he manages to say in a somewhat normal voice, though it feels hollow to him.

“Oh yeah?” Dean asks skeptically. He nods at Sam’s wrinkled pajamas.

“I didn’t sleep well, okay?” he snaps, irritated. Dean frowns in concern. “Kept thinking I was hearing things…” Sam mentions, keenly watching Dean for any hint he’d heard anything (mainly the fight to the death going on in the next room).

“Really?” he looks genuinely surprised. “Odd. I didn’t hear anything. Slept like I’d just had the greatest sex of a lifetime.”

Rolling his eyes, Sam shoves Dean towards the staircase, mentioning something about breakfast, while his eyes, and his mind, stay on the door behind them.

After breakfast, armed with a hand gun and a ten inch knife, Sam finally opens his door.

It’s as impeccable as ever. Light shines through the wide open curtains, passed the closed closet doors, and falls onto the unmade bed.

~~

They try to research the case. Sam knows he doesn’t make it easy. He’s snappish and short tempered. It’s not his fault. His head aches and his body pleads its exhaustion. Every now and then, he’ll hear the faintest of whispers and will jerk his head up to look around, startling Dean every time, only to clear his throat and go back to work.

Dean attempts to bounce ideas around, but Sam’s one word, noncommittal feedback isn’t very bouncy.

The murders are too clean to be a werewolf, too many to be a wendigo, and too patterned to be a chupacabra. 

They need something more specific, a look at the sight. A look at the bodies. Something.

“Best to wait for Dad,” Dean decides, informing Sam with a decisive nod as though they’d been in the middle of a discussion on what to do and not just sitting in lost silence.

“Fine,” Sam says quietly, closing his book and retreating from the table.

~~

“Sammy?” For a brief moment, Sam sees the glowing eyes, the powerful paws thrusting towards him…

Sam glances up from his page. Dean’s standing just inside the library door, hand still poised on the knob.

 “What?” Sam tries not to snarl.

 “What, you on your period or something?”

“Dean, I’m reading, what do you want?” Dean’s good-natured, joking face slips into one that’s a little hurt and more than a little taken aback.

“Geez, you really did get up on the wrong side of the bed.”

“I just…have a headache,” he says, not wanting to get into it. Sympathy and maybe a bit of pity slide across Dean’s face and he nods knowingly.

“Need anything? Aspirin? Ice? Our good family friend Jack Daniels?” No, that’s not at all what he wants. For the first time, the idea of alcohol seems…dirty to Sam. It makes him squirm.

“I’m fine,” he whispers. Dean accepts the dismissal and leaves, but returns a few minutes later with a beer. He takes a seat in a large, leather armchair near Sam’s feet.

“Sure you don’t want a swig?” The frothy beer peeks over the edge of the mug as Dean jerks it out to him. The smell hits Sam’s nose strong and he feels a revulsion for the liquid he never knew he harbored. But his mind is filled with nausea and the stench of vomit and drunken madness and sloppy oafs. Sam struggles not to recoil because suddenly he thinks he might just die if the alcohol – the poison – touches his lips.

“No,” he says somewhat forcefully. Dean’s eyebrows draw down yet again. Dean’s eyebrows really are the key to unlocking the emotions he tries so hard to hide, Sam thinks offhandedly. 

“Watcha reading?” Dean asks after a long moment, swirling the beer around the bottle and peering through it at the firelight. Sam shifts, wondering if it’s too late to hide the book. Embarrassment and a slight pleasure knowing Dean will tease him in a brotherly way is the most familiar thing Sam has felt since coming to the house. It’s warm and comforting and Sam wraps them around himself like an old jacket.

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” Sam admits, pretending to be begrudging about it even though deep down his spirit yearns for the playful mocking. Sure enough, a devilish smirk tears open Dean’s mouth.

Dean shrugs. “I shouldn’t be surprised. Girls like you like that sort of thing. Princesses and fluffy romances and riding into the sunset.” There’s a cocksure grin on his handsome face that makes something ugly in Sam twist.

The old jacket is too restrictive and Sam can’t breathe. Irritations swarms up in him. Of course Dean would call him a girl. Sam forgot how much he resented Dean’s teasing. It grates his raw nerves worse than ever. He can’t recall having ever felt so mad at Dean.

Sam jerks to his feet, the book sliding off to land with a muffled thump on the carpet. Dean jerks back in surprise, eyes wide, and Sam can see his hands just itching to come up into some sort of placating gesture.

“Actually,” Sam all but sneers, “older editions of fairy tales were much darker. In one edition of Cinderella, crows pecked the eyes out of the stepsisters after they cut off parts of their feet to fit into the slippers. The prince didn’t marry Ariel in the original Little Mermaid, he married someone else and she killed herself. And Sleeping Beauty wasn’t awoken by a kiss, her ‘one true love’ – who was married to someone else - raped her while she was asleep and she awoke only after giving birth to two children. So take your princess shit and shove it.” Sam turned on his heel, pleased by Dean’s hanging jaw, and stalked from the room.

The second he crossed the threshold into the blue entryway, his fiery anger was replaced with a cold fear.

He doesn’t know where to go now.

He goes to his room and scrunches up against the headboard, glaring at the closet.

~~

He’s not as quick the next time.

The growl, so deep and dark it could be its own monster, wakes him. The moment his scattered mind pins down the noise as a growl, as impending trouble of the take evasive action kind, his fingers go for the knife.

But the dog is quick. Unbelievably so and, dear God had it let him get away last time? A mammoth paw slams down on his shoulder of the hand that was reaching for the knife under his pillow. He cries out as it’s wrenched so far the wrong way.

And then the dog sits. Sam freezes, focusing on keeping still and not panicking.

It’s a truly massive creature and the pressure weighs heavily on his chest. He can breathe, but not a full breath. It’s a small, tortured creature of a breath.

Just like Sam.

The head, with its puke-yellow eyes that glow and glare and don’t blink, dips below his view. Something warm unfurls against his neck and though he can’t smell it from here, he knows it must be a horrible stench. Goose bumps prick up on his skin as if he was freezing cold. The fur around the snout, matted with blood and Sam-doesn’t-want-to-know-what-else, scruffs against his chin. Saliva tendrils stretch against his neck as the opened jaws lower to his oh so precious arteries. This is the end.

The huge teeth, which he can feel just skirting on his skin underneath the unbearably hot breaths, will slam shut and tear through living skin and muscle, sever arteries, rip cell from cell, and spray the walls with his blood. Like vampires after the head is gone.

Expect he was alive before being so badly mauled.

But the teeth don’t close. Instead, the hot breath continues to pant, and the pressure on his chest doesn’t shift an inch. It’s maddening. Sam wants to scream, to attack, to do anything, but if he does he might die and okay, that’s not a good idea. But even as his heart pounds desperately, his body feels cold and sluggish.

He can’t sleep. There is literally a monster at his throat and that is never an acceptable time for a nap.

But the shaggy, dirty white fur along the creatures spine that takes up all of Sam’s view starts to fade and darken and NO!

It doesn’t make sense. Adrenaline is supposed to keep you superhumanly alert and awake for hours.

If you sleep, you die, Sam tries to remind his traitorous body.

But maybe, he think as the world fades out, that wouldn’t be so bad.

~~

“I know who I was when I got up this morning,
 but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass By Lewis Carroll

~~

Sam’s feet drag as he walks, lacking even the energy to raise his feet off the ground. His arms swing at his sides like he’s some ridiculously gangly ape. His mind hovers in a daze, unable to pin down one solid train of thought, and Sam enjoys the radio silence. No whispers, no growls.

As he passes Dean’s room on his way to the bathroom, a light catches the side of his eye. Turning to peer through the half-open door, Sam blinks in the bright light flooding the room from the sun. The beam of light reflecting off the mirror hits Sam right in the chest. He can’t see his reflection, the blinding light covering all.

Something transfixes his mind. The room is bathed in pure yellow light and a gentle breeze blows through the open window, bringing with it the faint scent of wild flowers.

With jerky movements, Sam jolts into the room. He comes to a stop before the mirror. His fingers once again have a mind of their own, reaching out as if they might be able to touch the sunbeam reflected before him. His reflection’s hand reaches out towards Sam, as if begging for release, but where Sam’s fingers stop as they hit the mirror, his reflection’s fingers…continue.

Sam lurches back as the reflection of his own hand shoots forward and clenches around his neck. Sam tries to scream but he’s pretty sure all he’s actually doing is making faint wheezy noises. His fingers fight against his own hand, trying to free himself and take in some desperately needed air. In front of him, his features twist into a venomous smile and Sam chokes worse, surprised at how very evil and completely not Sam he can look at the very moment.

Blearily, Sam notes the bruise on the arm choking him that matches his own, where he bumped into the door frame last night.

Grey encroaches on his vision as he loses the fight against himself. Fire rages through his chest and his lungs ache in a terrible way. His fingers grow weak.

No no no…

It’s not even possible to die like this, is it? Choking himself to death against his will? Definitely not possible the last time Sam checked the Rules of the Universe.

No nonononono…help…DEAN!! Please come, Dean…need help, need help, need-

“help,” Sam chokes out. His knees quiver beneath him and his – its – arm is the only thing holding him up. “Dean.” Only a ghost of a whisper now.

Just as Sam is sure his chest is going to explode and Dean’ll come up to find Sam-bits all over his walls, the arm lets go.

Hacking and gagging, he falls to a puddle of mush on the floor. He inhales sharply, weakly fisting the carpet under his fingertips. Once his breath is back to at least life-sustaining levels of oxygen, Sam pushes himself up.

No no! get back down! Still there!

Damn his curiosity.

But when he peers over the edge of the vanity, only his eyes blink back. No twisted Sam face, no hand with an iron grasp…he sticks his head up further and freezes.

There are angry red, finger-shaped marks along his neck, complete with little crescents of blood where the nails had dug in.

Sam lets his gaze fall down to his arms.

There’s skin under his nails and long white scratches along his forearms as though someone had fought against him for their very life.

As though he had just fought himself for his very life.

~~

Sam peers around the corner to where Dean’s chuckling appreciatively at something he’s looking at on their ancient laptop. His fingers brush the sore bruises on his neck. He has proof that there’s something wrong with the house. He can PROVE it. Dean can’t think him crazy because the proof’s right there on his neck. Sam’s not crazy. There’s proof.

He’ll spill everything. The nightmares, the voices, the godforsaken dog in his closet. Dean will believe him. No matter what Sam says, no matter how crazy, Dean would at least have to consider it. It’s not like they don’t see the unexplainable every day.

Dean chuckles again and irritation flares in Sam. No biggy, not like he was almost dying upstairs a moment ago. He stamps it down, it’s only a byproduct of the lack of sleep, of the mad house. He takes a calming breath then steps around the corner purposefully.

“Dean.” His brother doesn’t hear him. “Dean,” he says a little louder. “Dean!”

“Jesus!” Dean startles, hand flying out and slamming the laptop shut on what Sam now suspects was porn.

Sam holds his head high, hoping Dean will notice the marks so Sam won’t have to start the conversation. Plus Dean would be more likely to listen to him when in Righteous Fury Big Brother Mode. But apparently his big brother tools are a little dull today (that’s okay because Sam’s been a dick and maybe doesn’t deserve them right now) so Sam clears his throat and tries to work words into sentences.

“So, uh…” he lets he chin drop back down, almost lower than normal. “I was…well, a few minutes ago, I…” he addresses the floor around Dean’s feet, unsure how to continue in a manner that will sound half sane. “I was in your room earlier and-”

You were where?” Dean’s eyes narrow, fury of an entirely not righteous kind flashing through them.

“It wasn’t…I just thought I saw something-”

“So you, what? Just invited yourself in? Shit, Sam, you’re so big on privacy since you hit the apparently Terrible Thirteens a few years back, you’d think you’d have a little more respect-”

“Christ, Dean! I wasn’t snooping! What do you have to hide anyway?” This is getting way off topic. The accusation burns at Sam, baiting his defenses, and he has a hard time mentally walking away from the argument.

“Nothing! It’s the principal of the thing! But since you’re all mister moody and broody as of late, I thought you’d at least mood and brood somewhere that’s not my personal space!”

“I wouldn’t be so moody and broody if you weren’t such an ass all the time!”

“What the hell are you talking about?  When am I ever an ass to you? Yeah, I tease sometimes but I’m never mean!

“That’s not how I see it!” Dean goes to reply, but Sam’s had enough.

“Okay, you know what, stop. This is not the point. I went into – I WENT INTO YOUR ROOM EARLIER-” he ploughs right over whatever Dean was about to interject with, “because I thought I saw something in your mirror and when I looked in it, something fucking grabbed me! It almost strangled me! It’s cursed or something! This whole damn house is!”

“My mirror strangled you?” Dean says, not sounding confused, but not quite believing or sarcastic either.

“Yes! There are even marks on my neck, look!” He exaggeratedly pulls his shirt collar down and tips his head back.

“You sure about that?”

“Dean, look!” he snaps. This is not the time for games. Not now when he’s finally gotten the nerves to admit there’s something very wrong going on and he’s falling prey to it.

“I am looking, Samuel. There’s nothing on your neck!”

“What?” Sam falters. He turns and sprints to the bathroom, ignoring Dean’s calls after him. The door slams against the wall, leaving a dent. Sam tilts his head back and peers at the reflection of his neck.

His unblemished, unmarked neck.

He wants to cry.

“Sam?” Dean asks anxiously from the door.

Sam opens his mouth. Tell all? But Dean won’t believe him. Not now. Now’s a bad time. Arguing ruined everything. Sam sounds crazy. He’ll only scare Dean. A freaked out Dean is a distant Dean and Sam can’t lose the tenuous hold he has on the only thing he has left.

“I…I was just messing with you,” he says quietly, still staring at his reflection. His fingers tighten on the edge of the sink and his eyes burn with tears. His throat is sore and his head pounding.

“What the hell, Sam?” Dean just sounds confused now.

“I’m sorry.” It’s all he has to give and for Dean he’ll give it earnestly.

“God, I need a beer.”

Then Sam’s alone and only his eyes see the tears his reflection cries.

~~

There’s a body in the bathtub.

Which sucks really because Sam just came to take a piss.

It’s a female, he thinks. There’s a few strands of willowy hair hanging from the grey, cracked skin covering the skull. It’s mostly skeleton, with bones clearly visible, but there’s still long dead skin on the abdomen, thighs, and head. Flakes of it crumble off and float in the yellowed water. There’s a clear stain around the edge of the tub, like the water’s been there just as long as the body. It’s propped up with one arm resting on the edge and the skull lolling against the shoulder bone, jaw hanging crooked. It looks like the unlucky woman just up and died in the middle of taking a bath and was left to rot.

Odd since the tub was empty that morning.

Sam doesn’t approach and he doesn’t poke it and the hand doesn’t leap to life or anything like that.

No, it’s much less dramatic than that.

The head, with its grey, peeling skin and empty eye sockets, rolls and hangs forward, as if in shame, before the neck straightens and turns slowly to stare at Sam.

He backs out and shuts the door quickly. He speed walks back to his room and holds the handle tight after the door closes. His heart is doing gymnastics, but Sam’s not really paying attention.

His closet is open.

The Body is hanging from a tight noose, but the head isn’t lolling, it’s straight, still watching Sam. The rope chafes off pieces of the dead skin.

Sam whimpers and side-walks towards the bed, never breaking the gaze of the empty sockets. The head moves with him, tracking his steps and holding his gaze.

He bunches up against the headboard, the knife from under his pillow clenched tight just out of sight, and stares into the empty gaze until he’s sure his heart will simply give out from fear.

Throughout the rest of the night, Sam drifts in and out so much that, by morning, he’s no longer sure whether it was a dream, a hallucination, or something much, much worse.

The knife is definitely in his hand, though, when he gets up the next morning.

~~

Fear is exhausting.

Sam feels drained.

And in the early morning, with warm sunlight drifting through the curtains that are always, always no matter what, open in the morning, Sam thinks maybe it’s better to just stay in bed.

He stays curled up, unmoving, uncaring.

Dean comes to check on him around noon.

Sam, with his back to the door, eyes fixed blandly on the wall, tells him he’s fine, just a headache.

But then it starts to get darker and everything starts to get worse.

The shadows creep in and the hands crawl slowly for him.

There’s something in the closet and maybe it’s a monstrous canine or maybe it’s a decaying corpse.

Eventually he can hear Dean shuffling around before bed. His door opens, but he could hear Dean approaching it, so there’s no jolt of fear. His brother doesn’t say anything and Sam pretends he’s asleep until Dean leaves.

He’s grateful, though. Because without the reminder of Dean, he’s pretty sure he’d use the knife clenched tightly under his pillow. And not on any enemy.

~~

The tension is thick.

Dean seems aware something is wrong but is either unsure or unwilling to approach the subject. As if Sam didn’t see Dean watching him from the corner of his eyes.

There are traces of guilt and gratefulness for the concern, but Sam’s mind seems so full on terror that it’s shutting down other emotions, with a clammy sense of numb taking their place.

After an obvious internal debate, involving opening and closing his mouth several times, Dean gets up from the table and the odd, lumpy omelets (Dean’s idea – possibly an attempt at cheering up Sam, who would typically be grateful for the fancy breakfast) and wanders into the other room.

Sam has no idea what Dean does all day (he’s barely aware of what he’s doing, only cataloguing bits of fear as they come in waves) but no progress seems to be made on the case their working. Sam’s certainly not contributing.

~~

NO!  But he’s too late, his fingers too slow. All he gets himself is a minor gash along the edge of his hand. The knife continues on as if he’d done nothing to try and stop it.

White hot pain explodes across his chest as it plunges through skin and muscle, just to the left of his sternum. The ropes binding his appendages to the posters of his bed pull taught as his muscles seize and his body arches of the bed. Blood explodes, released from its endless track. It speckles across Sam’s face, warm pinpricks of agony.

The knife goes out and back in again and again while Sam screams, voice quickly becoming raw and broken.

Tears slip down his cheeks, warm and itchy, and mix in with the red. It’s disgusting and sticky feeling as the crimson liquid literally pours down his sides – how can there even be that much blood in the body? How can he still be alive? How how how?

He jerks upwards, a renewed scream slicing his already ragged throat.

It only takes him a second to realize he’s in his bedroom and everything is fine so he can stop screaming now why is he still screaming, shut up, SHUT UP!

But, as the last tendrils of Sam’s cry die in his throat, cold fear grips him painfully.

Because someone else is still screaming.

Oh god, Dean!

The house must have finally gotten to his oblivious brother.

No, no, no!

It’s twenty times worse than the fear he felt just a moment ago at the thought of his own death. Not Dean. Anyone but Dean.

Sam stumbles out of bed, ignoring the spark of pain as he falls to his knees on the floor, shouting things randomly, and bolts for the door. After a brief fight with his uncooperative, traitorous fingers, Sam finally gets the door open.

“Dean! Dean! What’s happening?” His voice has edged from panicked to downright hysterical. “Dean!” His heart is thumping obnoxiously loud, sending a wave of pins and needles down through his fingers and toes with every beat.

He gets to Dean’s door (why did it take a million goddamned years, it’s just down the hall not a fricking football field away, what the hell, Sam? Wasting time while Dean could be dying?) and throws his body at it. (Doorknob, Sam, they’re there for a reason). DEAN!” The door won’t yield, even though it doesn’t lock and Dean would never lock it even if it did. He scrambles for the knob, but that too refuses to budge.

The screaming is impossibly loud now and Sam doesn’t even know, doesn’t want to think, what could possibly make someone scream that loud for that long.  He can’t even hear his own desperate shouting over the jagged, hide-your-head, rip-off-your-ears scream.

He begins to pound on the door, terrified of what he’ll find. A mutilated corpse? An unrecognizable pile of blood and guts? His own blood begins to drip down his forearms from smashing the side of his fists into the door.

The knob begins to shake and a new terror drenches him. It’s coming for him! He wants to turn tail and run, while a burning shame fills him. What if Dean’s still alive? Of course he’s still alive he’s still fucking screaming. But, Sam doesn’t want the same fate and it’s cowardly and weak, not to mention unbrotherly, but Sam wants to get the hell away as fast as possible.

Frantic, he grabs the knob with both hands and holds tight enough that even with the sweat and blood coating his palms, the brass knob won’t turn, no matter how hard whatever’s on the other side tries. Good, good, distraction, not getting him or Dean!

The screaming is getting louder and louder, more than one person, building…Sam’s sure his ears will explode, blood will leak from his eyes, it can’t get any louder it’s not possible! The voice, there are certainly more than one now, keep building, to some unimaginable crescendo. Sam drops to his knees, still clenching the knob above him with both hands in some sick mimic of a prayer. His body shakes with sobs, with grief, fear, guilt, loss, anger, desperation – so much roiling inside of him, while he continues to spout words, begs for Dean, for help, for mercy, for death mixed in a never ceasing litany of no’s.

The door begins to shake, Sam flopping back and forth like a wounded animal as he’s dragged by the jerking knob. Something is pounding on the door, shouting, barely noticeable over the screaming. God, what monster is this? What manic demonic monster could await him as soon as the door opens? He’s going to die. This is real, because he just woke up and there’s no hope of a nightmare, and this is the end of his life.

And suddenly the door is jerked viciously, almost out of his grasp, and promptly comes back, the brass knob slipping from his fingers as it crashes straight into his forehead.

He goes sprawling backwards, his own scream echoing back at him and then…Sam’s eyes are closed, but for a brief moment, he’s sure he’s dead. Either the monster got him so quickly, or he was killed by a door knob.

Either or.

But he’s definitely dead because there’s silence. No screams, no whispers, no fear. A moment of shock.

Relief floods him, outweighing any emotion he normally would have felt about dying and leaving his family behind (except Dean just died some unfeasible death, so never mind that) and Sam lets a small sob of happiness escape him because it’s quiet. His fingers curl in the soft…

…in the soft carpet?

Not a moment after he comes to this realization, a white spark of pain hits his face, beginning to fade almost instantly. He blinks open.

Dean blinks back.

“Are we dead?” Sam asks, which if anything, makes Dean look slightly even more disbelieving.

“What?” his older brother breathes, like he simply has no rational thought left.

“What?” Sam parrots, his own confusion rising. It was a pretty simple question, wasn’t it? Yes or no, dead or alive. Not too hard to follow.

“Are we dead? Are we dead?! What the ever living fuck, Sam?” He looks an odd combination of furious and fearful.

“What? I didn’t know if the monster-”

“What monster? Sam, what the hell are you talking about?” That’s what Sam wants to ask because how the fuck did Dean miss the monster? And if not Dean, who the hell was screaming? He wants to punch something and hey, Dean sorta looks like he wants to punch something too.

“I’m sleeping away, sound as baby, when suddenly you’re screaming and pounding on my door like the Monster of the frickin’ Black Lagoon is after you! And then when I tried to open the door, you wouldn’t let me? Meanwhile I’m trying to figure out what the hell is happening and you’re just screaming and screaming, hanging on the knob like a dead fish. I thought someone was after you! I thought someone was in the house! But, nope, it’s just you out here, screaming at the top of your lungs to pass some time.”

Something akin to weary disbelief shakes Sam. For the love of God, no. No, don’t let it be.

“You didn’t hear it?” It’s not a question so much a statement in need of confirmation. He feels like an animal about to be euthanized as he sits, still sprawled, on the floor while Dean hovers above.

“Hear what?”

“The screaming?”

“Of course I heard you screaming! Dad probably heard you screaming a few states over!”

“Not me, the other person, I thought…I thought it was you screaming.”

Dean’s face goes pale and he looks nervous as he quietly says, “No one else was screaming, Sam.” Gentle, like he’s talking to a berserk animal in a trap.

“They damn well were! And there was someone, or something – someone was pounding on the door, trying to get to me!” He’s still riding the high waves of pure terror. Or maybe it’s turned to desperation now.

“Me, Sam, me! Because, for some odd reason, when my brother comes screaming my name, pounding on my door, I tend to get a bit freaked. And when the door wouldn’t open, I didn’t know what to think.”

Sam hates himself just a bit as tears well up in his eyes and drip over.

“I don’t…I didn’t…I heard…I’m sorry! I don’t know what happened! I’M SORRY!” he wails. He drags his knees up and buries his head in them, unwilling to take anymore. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he whispers to his pajama pants over and over again.

He flinches just a bit as hands brush against him, but, while he had to have noticed, Dean ignores it. The familiar hands pull him against a familiar chest that smells of leather and beer and aftershave and home.

Apparently having regressed a few years in the last few seconds, and unashamed of it, Sam latches on to Dean’s nightshirt and buries his face in it. The arms wrap around him, despite having never given Sam so much a pat on the back in months.

Sam just holds on.

~~

 

Sam’s hands fly up as his eyes open, searching his chest for the fatal wound. His fingers are coated and sticky and the pain is unbearable, but maybe if he can just stop the bleeding…

Right, he thinks shakily as he realizes the truth. How crazy he must look, scratching and plucking at his chest when there’s no injury to find.

I‘m alive. He takes a moment to let that, and all it implies soak in. He’s here, in the house, Dean is down the hall, he’s not dead or dying or anything of the sort. He’s fine.

Well, sort of.

He drags a hand through his sweat soaked hair and swings his feet over the edge of the bed. He doesn’t remember going back to bed, so Dean must have put him here. He must have fallen asleep in the hall last night after the…incident.

Yeah, he probably owes Dean a few million more apologies.

A few deep breaths, and he pushes off of the bed, letting the momentum take him out the door. One step in front of the other until he’s in the kitchen.

Dean waves and mumbles some sort of greeting around the toast in his mouth as he reads the paper at the table.

Sam nods clumsily and drops into a seat across from Dean.

“So,” he starts gracelessly. Dean’s eyes glance up at his and Sam swallows. “Sorry about last night,” Sam blurts out, trying to sound casual in a I-didn’t-freak-the-fuck-out-and-go-batshit-insane-last-night kind of way.

Dean frowns.

“For what?”

“For wha- what do you think, Dean?” Sam asks, a tinge of annoyance in his voice. Because seriously. He’s trying to be nice and Dean’s just being a dick.

“I mean you’ve been a bit of prick lately, but there’s nothing in particular to apologize for. Especially last night. I slept like a baby all night long.”

Sam abruptly stands, clearly startling Dean, whose seriously being the world’s biggest ass.

“What the hell, Dean? I know you like the ‘ignore shit ‘till it goes away’ approach, but this is a bit much even for you.”

“Sam, what are you talking about?”

Sam just wants to drop to the floor and sob.

“Dean you had better not be fucking with me,” he chokes out.

“If anyone is being fucked with right now, it’s me.”

“I, I guess it was just a dream,” Sam offers with a small smile for Dean. Except, yeah, no. Hell no. Definitely not a dream. He turns to go, unable to exist in front of anyone at the moment, but Dean stops him.

“Hey, are you okay?”

It really should be a simple question, even if the explanation is long and complicated. An honest no would suffice.

But Sam thinks of how Dean reacted before, when Sam told him about the mirror incident. There’s a wave of irritation, followed quickly by guilt and a rush of determination.

He is Sam fucking Winchester for god’s sake. If anyone can handle this, he can. And he can damn well suck it up until he figures out what’s going on. It’s not fair to Dean to have to always save his sissy little brother.

“Yeah,” and because he’s an awesome little brother who can shove shit down like the best of them, he adds, “wanna watch some TV?”

A grin positively splits Dean’s face in half.

Forgetting his toast, Dean gets to his feet, grabs Sam with a noogie, and drags them both towards the only room with a TV.

~

Sam blinks awake to an infomercial for a seamless wonder bra and snores somewhere above him. He takes a moment to orient himself – lying on the couch, head on Dean’s thigh – before sitting up with a yawn. Dean’s head is tilted back on the top of the couch, making his Adam’s apple protrude. Sam intends to go get something to eat without waking Dean, but as soon as he takes one step away from the couch, Dean speaks.

“I had a weird dream.”

And yeah, Sam knows Dean probably has nightmares quite a bit himself, but he never admits to it, at least not to Sam.

“You did?” He asks, because if Dean needs to talk, Sam will still listen, even if his own marbles have definitely vacated the area.

“Yeah. I dreamed about you dying.” Sam’s a bit taken aback by the uncaringness of the admission, but tries to shrug it off. And no, it’s not actually that weird because Sam dying? That’s probably high up on Dean’s list of fears and at least Sam isn’t the only one being plagued mercilessly by death.

“I dreamed about killing you,” Dean says, like hey, there are clouds in the sky and the grass is green and I dream about killing you. Facts of life.

Sam can’t help the expression of hurt that weaves across his face because seriously? Sam has never ever dreamed of killing Dean and if he did it would be his worst nightmare ever. Ever. And Dean’s just all, yeah that kid I claim to love more than life? Yeah, that one, I totally dream about killing him all the time.

What the fuck.

But before he can say a word, someone pulls into the driveway.

~

When you are mad, mad like this, you don’t know it. Reality is what you see. When what you see shifts, departing from anyone else’s reality, it’s still reality to you.
 Marya Hornbacher - Madness: A Bipolar Life

~

John doesn’t say much when he walks through the door. He waves vaguely at them in what could be a hello, how are you gesture or a fuck off talk later need sleep gesture.

The next morning is awkward.

John is tired as he reads the paper and drinks coffee while Sam and Dean eat cereal. Sam shoots his brother death glares whenever he gets a chance because he’s still stuck on the whole ‘I dream about killing you’ thing while Dean just looks at him like Sam’s the weird one here.

“Dude, seriously, are you on your period or did your face just get stuck like that?” Dean asks.

“De-” John starts, but nope, Sam just steamrolls right over him.

“Me? Me? What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Well at least I don’t dream about killing you at night.”

Dean and John’s mouths both drop open and stare at him.

“What the hell does that mean?” Dean demands.

“Did I miss something?” John questions.

Sam is taken aback by Dean’s surprise.

“Dean, not me! Dean said he dreamed about killing me!” And now he’s definitely whining but at least John’s disbelieving look swings over to his eldest.

“Dean!”

“I did not say that! And I don’t dream about that! What the fuck, Sam?”

“Langua-”

“You lying, son of a bitch!” Sam all but screams as he jerks to his feet, chair flying over backwards. Because either Sam is hallucinating or Dean is a serious asshole. And the latter is so much easier to accept. “You told me last night when we woke up after watching TV!”

“We didn’t talk after we woke up, we only woke when Dad got home!”

“THAT’S NOT TRUE!” And if Sam fisting his fingers in his hair makes him look like a nutjob, then too bad. “You're lying!”

He storms from the room and when he trips on the stairs as some shapeless, black terror grasps his ankle with decaying fingers, he just screams at it and yanks free.

He’s not crazy.

~

When John asks them why they haven’t made any progress on the hunt, they both shrug.

Sam has no idea what day it is or how much time has passed  – was it a week since the mirror choked him or more? Less? – let alone how much progress should have been made.

Dean’s brow furrows and he frowns like he can’t account for anything that has happened in the two? three? weeks John has been gone.

John rolls his eyes and gets a beer.

~

There are voices at night. Dozens of indiscernible whispers.

But tonight there is one clear voice.

Soft and feminine. Calling his name and coaxing him firmly back into the world of the living.

She’s beautiful. Too pretty and pure, Sam wants to scoop her up and get her as far away from this evil as possible.

His hand drifts up to stroke her velvet cheek, which seemed to shimmer with grace and beauty. She smiles, without showing any teeth, and trails her hand gently up his arm. Her eyes are deep and hypnotic, surrounded by hair that flows like water. Her gentle fingers close around his bicep, pressure so light, it almost wasn’t there at all.

She presses forward, causing Sam to stumble back, the bed catching his knees and bending him backward.

It isn’t enough. He wants more. He wants to drink in her beauty and bathe in her glory. She is a goddess from above, a hypnotic creature of purity. Her lips are as soft as a flower and her touch that of silk.

More. He needs more, craves it. Lurching forward, he greedily presses against her lips. She, who is divine and holy.

But suddenly, she presses him back, her gaze sad and disappointed as Sam struggles to pull her close again. She seems to shimmer again, only this time her pale skin becomes translucent until Sam is staring at nothing but the ceiling.

He feels wretched and used.

~~

Despite, well, everything, Sam actually does try to make some headway on the case the next day. Just not the case John wants him to work on.

There is simply no way he’s going this crazy this fast without intervention.

There is something wrong with the house, not just him. He validates himself by thinking back to when they first arrived and the wrongness that had twisted his gut. Even then, he thinks. Even then he knew.

It takes a while, but in the library – the one and only place he can think in anything even sort of resembling straight – he finds three books on the history of the town.

Knowing the house is old, Sam rifles through the maps of the various families that first settled on this land, tracing the names and plots of lands through the years until the very house he stands in suddenly appears on one map, dated about fifty years after the first settler. Morrows, it says in painstakingly neat, curling letters underneath the house. The rest of the book focuses on establishing government and whatnot.

But it’s a start.

He checks Morrows in the index of the next book, which appears to be a compilation of news-type history rather than technical formation of the town-type history.

He finds only a short, objective article mentioning a triple homicide-suicide from the early seventeen hundreds. Youngest son kills older sister and parents then self.

Barely even a paragraph on the page and that’s what’s left to remember of four fine people who went down in a violent outburst of tragedy. 

Could be a ghost then, though barely any of Sam’s symptoms line up with ghost possession and as far as he can tell nothing else has ever happened in the house to suggest a lingering malevolent spirit.

But nonetheless, it’s something and Sam’s a dying man who finally has a straw to grasp.

He hesitates as he treads down the stairs. Hopefully John and Dean will be out of sight and no conversation will be necessary.

No dice though.

John’s on the laptop, the very item Sam had hoped to procure. The laptop can only be used in the living room and the library because it needs to be hooked up to access the internet. No wireless here, but at least some technologies had been kept up with.

“Um, can I use the laptop? When, uh, when you’re done?”

“Why?” John asks without looking up.

“I wanted to…l-look up something about the case.” Sort of.

John snorts. “About damn time. I don’t know what you two did while you were dilly-dallying about, waiting for me to come back and hold your damn hands.” Finally, he looks up at Sam, who stands just inside the entryway, fiddling with the hem of his shirt.

“Something wrong?” he asks, clearly meaning whatever’s wrong, get over it.

“No, sir.”

John makes some sort of hmph-type noise and closes the laptop, offering it out.  Sam nods and flees as fast as socially acceptable.

The man who owns the house currently, the New York business man, is clean. The small article on the grandfather’s death is seemingly average, a regular heart attack, but Sam picks up on the small mysteries – the early onset of what appeared to be dementia, increasingly erratic behavior in public, and eventually seclusion. The symptoms are only briefly mentioned in a that-poor-nice-man sort of way, but Sam sees the real picture.

The house drove him crazy.

The house killed him.

And to Sam’s horror, the owner before that and before that suffered a similar fate. One heart attack and one poor guy, who in a fit of delusion, ran screaming into the lake and drowned.

It’s killing them.

~~

Left with more questions (and horrors) than answers, Sam retreats to the kitchen for a pathetic peanut butter and no jelly sandwich. It tastes like glue. His mouth feels ashy afterwards.

At some point, Dean appears to hover at the doorway. Sam stares at him a moment, still angry about this morning, but well aware it’s not Dean’s fault. It’s the house. He’s about to apologize when Dean says, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” followed by a scowl.

Everything. Nothing. It’s not my fault. Leave me alone makeitstopit’snotmyfaultallthehouseHELPME.

It’s enough to rip him apart, make him crazy, and something dark yanks on his heart.

He just sneers nastily until Dean leaves with a ‘fuck you’.

~~

Staring up at the roof of his bed canopy, Sam’s mind works furiously to figure it out. It’s nothing typical of a malevolent spirit or ghost possession and even then it’d have to be an undead being of monstrous power to affect the mind so much. There’s something more.

With no conscious thought, he finds himself on his knees on the side of the bed. He hasn’t prayed since he got here, he realizes. When he could have used the help most, when darkness played upon his very mind – he had abandoned the light he so obstinately believed in.

But instead of folding his hands, an inexplicable force guides his hand under the bed.

This is it. His mind seizes as his hand continues to move. Whatever god-forsaken thing is under there…he’ll be pulled under and ripped to shreds. Unrecognizable remains for Dean to stumble upon in the morning.

But before he’s mauled or disfigured, before his mind has stopped thinking of all the horrendous things about to happen, his hand brushes against some paper.

Sam’s just past being flayed alive and beginning to contemplate dismemberment when the pile of papers drop suddenly into his lap, retrieved by his obedient hand without his knowledge.

“Thanks,” he replies, then frowns, because yes, he did just thank his hand.

Somehow, he ends up back in bed, with the papers – journals, he realizes – spread before him. He thumbs through, mind swirling. They explain everything and yet nothing. It solves so much, but not the biggest question.

“What? What does it mean?” he begs of the papers. It’s there, between the lines and on the edge of his mind, but he can’t quite…

Inspired from his earlier display, Sam presses his hands together and rests them against his forehead.

“Please,” he whispers, “please, help me. Help me save my family. Help me save myself. Show me the way. Please, help me.”

“Well, since you asked nicely.” Sam almost needs a new pair of pants when the voice speaks behind him. He falls off the bed with a shout that sounds something like Jesustalkingtome before he sees.

It’s her.

It’s her.

“It’s you,” he offers.

The girl, the girl who drove him mad with lust and passion in a matter of seconds, the beautiful and sad and beautifully sad girl. The ghost girl.

“And it’s you,” she replies, her eyes sparkling.

“What are – how? Who? Why are you-?” Words are hard.

“I thought you were smarter than that, Sam. You know who I am. And I’m here, of course, because you asked for help.”

“I don’t know who-“ but he does. “Annis? Annis Morrow?”

She nods. “I saw you researching my brother earlier. No one has ever looked that far into. No one has ever figured it out.”

“I haven’t figured it out,” he tells the ghost.

She moves like water, the effect aided by the way her semi-transparent body shimmers with each step. Her nightgown is old, both in fashion and state of being. Sam jolts as he realizes this is probably the very dress the seventeen year old died in almost three centuries ago.

Her smile turns sad for a moment as if she can read his mind. Settling on the end of the bed – Sam notices that as she squirms to find a comfortable spot, the bed doesn’t move underneath her – she watches him for a moment.

“Tell me what you know, and I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

He clears his throat as he thumbs back through the papers, trying to organize his thoughts. It’s pressuring. This is not a school report. This is life and death and insanity and murder and important things and he cannot be wrong about a single thing.

“Here.” And then there’s a feather, and oh, that’s a quill. With a quick thanks, he gets started.

“The murders. Someone is murdering people. It’s ritualistic but messy. Everyone is stumped. But, here, in these journals – they belong to your brother-”

“Hayden. Yes, they’re his.” He blinks up at her, searching the open face. There is no hate for the brother that took her life. There’s a deep sorrow. Sam’s heart tightens because she misses him and what if he and Dean both died and one had to remain alone here for all eternity, forced to remember and to walk the halls they once walked together.

“Yes, Hayden,” he says softly, because her brother deserves to be more than a nameless thing of the past, “In the journals, he speaks of a pair of people, committing the exact same kind of murders. He refers to it as ‘the sacrifices’ and he never attests to who does it, only says ‘them’ or ‘the murderers’. He knew of the killings but didn’t want to or couldn’t stop them.” As he speaks, he jots down a few notes on the paper and it looks like weird alien markings but who decided feathers were for writing anyway.

“He loathed them. He detested them.”

“The killings or the murderers?”

“Both. And they weren’t just murderers. They were our parents.” Sam starts to write the letter p before he realizes what she said and the p turns into a horrible scratch across the paper. Looking up in shock, he finds Annis looking down into her translucent hands.

“Your p-parents?”

“I don’t know how it all started. My mother…she was very sick in the head. She thought we were at war. Not the country, but us, this family. As if everyone was out to get us. My father practically went mad himself, searching for a cure. Somehow, they were both so disillusioned with reality at that point, it came to sacrifices.”

“Sacrifices to who?”

“Phobos and Demies. The gods of fear and terror. They’re the sons of Ares and a sacrifice to them would strike paralyzing fear deep into the hearts of your enemies, helping you to win the war. My parents, they thought they could make the rest of the world leave them alone and that it would cure them, but they just got worse and worse.”

“Phobos? As in phobia?” She nods, giving him the look Dean normally gives him when he’s geeking out and missing the big picture.

“Where do you and your- and Hayden fit into all this?”

“We didn’t know at first. But as my parents got worse – they didn’t even know what they were doing anymore. They just kept sacrificing people – killing them. But we couldn’t…they were our parents. It’s a poor excuse, I know. But every time we brought it up to each other…the idea of giving up your own mother and father…they would have been hanged. They didn’t know what they were doing.” As her voice cracks, she sniffles and wipes at her eyes, tearless in death. “We thought we could help them ourselves, if we showed them what they were doing was wrong, if we got them real help from professionals…it would stop and no one would ever have to know they did it.” She speaks softer and softer, as though the very walls are listening for her darkest secrets. “Hayden couldn’t…he was always a good boy, who just wanted his mother better. He was only twelve when they first started to talk of sacrifice. I don’t know when they truly started, but I figured it out about a year and a half later. And we let it go for…until Hayden was almost fifteen. We…it got so bad. They didn’t care they were killing living people, they didn’t know they were living people. They were obsessed with the “cure” for my mother, but they both were too far gone. Hayden, he grew to resent them, not so much for what they were doing, but for failing us as parents. For forcing this onto us. Me, really. We were very close and I…I was weak. I cried all the time. It made him so mad. And he blamed them. It tore him up. He wanted them better, yet resented them and felt guilty for doing so. And one day…” Face contorting in misery, she reaches up to fist her hair and pull tightly.

Sam goes to extend a hand before realizing, as a ghost, he’d probably go right through her.

“I’m sorry,” he offers instead. It’s pathetic.

After a moment or two, she chokes on a gasp and finally looks back up.

“He got into an argument with Father. He called them monsters. He was so furious, he didn’t care about them anymore. Everything…he just blew up. He wanted them gone, one way or another. He used to speak a lot of running away, him, but I…I always said no. A good son and daughter would never abandon their sick parents to their own doom. I even scolded him. We should have though, run away. Everything would have been better. It wouldn’t have ended like it did. It’s my fault, really.” Before Sam gets a chance to contradict her, she goes on. “It was late in the evening when they started fighting. Here, in this room. I heard them, my room is just down the hall, and my mother eventually came into the room too. She was weeping. When Hayden and Father started really yelling, she just started to scream. It was horrible to listen to, it was like death. All of a sudden, Father stopped yelling, and just smacked her across the face. And then again.”

Stop, Daddy, stop!

“I thought Father was going to hit me for a second, he spun around with the devil in his eyes. I guess Hayden thought so too because he grabbed a knife – our granddaddy had given Hayden his favorite hunting knife as a present and he kept it mounted on the wall – and whipped around then he-he stabbed Father right in the neck.”

Sam can hear them both. The mother shrieking senselessly and Annis screaming in shock, trying to save them.

Hayden! DADDY!

“I was screaming and sobbing. A useless lump on the floor. Mother lunged at him, she was scratching at his arms and kicking and screaming, endlessly screaming. And he stabbed her in the throat. I came up behind him and tried to grab him. He didn’t – I don’t think he knew it was me. He was gone at that moment. He realized, but it was too late, he couldn’t pull back. He missed my neck, hit me here,” she gestures to the soft spot just above her collar bone on her shoulder, “and I went down. Everything was very fuzzy, (Annis? ANNIS! I didn’t mean to! Annis, get up! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. Annis, get up.) but I remember the sound. Hayden thought I was dead, but I wasn’t yet. I died last.” It had almost slipped Sam’s mind until then, he is talking to a ghost. To someone who has died before, who knows that fear and final aloneness. “Hayden was sobbing my name and ‘what have I done’. I kept trying to say something, but I couldn’t. He thought I was already dead. And then there was this noise, this horrible, horrible noise. A squelch. And Hayden choked for a second, then hit the ground. He slit his throat. And then I didn’t care to try and get up and get help. I just gave up. I think that’s why I became a spirit. Such an unfortunate end and I was last to go…And I think, somehow, what my parents did and what happened that night…it left a stain of darkness on this house, in this room. I don’t know if it’s a curse of the gods or just plain evil, but this is a place of darkness. That’s why everyone goes mad here. All that evil manifested in this place, a place that has seen the darkest humanity has to offer.”

“And now the killings are starting again.”

“It’s making the darkness so much worse, manipulating your mind, creating illusions of your worst fears.”

“But who is doing it now?”

“The day after the last man to own this house died, a woman broke in. Her soul reeked of desperation. I think she was, at first, just trying to steal some things for money. She checked under the bed, probably for some sort of hidden treasure, and she found the journals instead. She didn’t read them all, just about the sacrifices. I tried to warn her, but I think the appearance of a true apparition only convinced her sacrifices as a solution was even more possible.”

“But you don’t know who, specifically, she is?”

“I’m sorry, no.”

“Don’t be sorry. Thank you. For helping me, for sharing everything. And I’m sorry. For what happened to you.”

“It seemed like it was time I told someone. And who better than a warrior against the supernatural.”

“A warrior? No, I wish. So does my dad,” Sam jokes, wishing for the hundredth time he could live up to the standards his family set for him.

“Don’t dismiss yourself so quickly, Sam, you are something special. There is something within you, both a darkness and an overwhelming purity. I think that’s why this darkness is affecting you so strongly. But you are stronger.”

With one last, gentle smile, she stands and begins to fade away.

“Wait!” Sam says quickly, only just realizing he has one last thing he has to say. “I’m sorry! About that night, the first time I saw you, I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me-”

“It’s alright. It wasn’t your fault. You’re meant for greatness, Sam Winchester.”

And he is alone.

Sam curls up tightly and, for all the darkness the world has seen, he weeps.

~~

When Sam wakes, it takes him a moment to remember.

But it’s a glorious moment when he does remember.

There’s someone out there killing people and he knows why and he knows how and the house is a manifestation of evil itself, but most glorious of all, Sam is not crazy.

“Dean! Dean!” he stumbles to the door and rips it open, smacking flat into none other than Dean himself. “Dean.”

Dean won’t look at him.

His eyes shift all over, looking Sam over but flitting away before they reach his face, then rolling back down to the carpet.

“Dean, what are you doing?”

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Sam gets the feeling that Dean was standing outside his door trying to get up the courage to knock. His mind starts to fritz out, fraying away, because what is Dean nervous about? Why can’t they communicate lately? Why won’t Dean look at him? And the rage starts to swell, but Sam stamps it down because-

“Dean, I have to tell you something.” Sam resists the urge to grab Dean’s shirt and shake him. Because, finally, finally an answer. “I solved the-”

“I lost the amulet.” Sam’s words turn to ash in his mouth and he swallows a few times to let his mind catch up to the implausible words that just breached his ears.

“You lost the what?”

Not the amulet, right? Right, Dean? You wouldn’t lose that. You wouldn’t do that to me.

“The amulet you gave me.”

Every emotion from before, the ones he thought he’d so nicely stamped down, roar back to life tenfold. Dean just stares and how can he not see the pure rage resonating from every single pore, the hate spilling from his eyes?

How could Dean be so CARELESS?

The amulet is everything. It is a symbol of a brother’s hope, faith, concern, love, everything. And Dean had lost it as if it was nothing but a common piece of jewelry?

He had lost their very brotherhood.

There’s white noise and red blurs and Sam wants to attack, to pounce and dig his fingernails into Dean’s uncaring flesh and to pull until Dean feels this hurt, until he knows this betrayal, until it aches so bad he can’t breathe.

“How could you? HOW COULD YOU?” Sam doesn’t know if it’s a roar or a whisper but he hopes it’s agony either way. He hopes Dean sees what he’s done. He hopes Dean hurts.

“It was an accident,” he says, almost casually.

It’s too much. Dean doesn’t care and everything they had is gone. And, after that, they can sink no lower. This is the bottom, this is hell, and there is nothing left. Sam had an answer to the problem, a solution to the case, but it doesn’t matter it’s all over it’s too late nothing is left it’s all dead.

Fat, angry tears well over and Sam’s hands jerk forward to hurt but he pulls back at the very last second, smashing one then both fists into the wall before balling them in his hair.

Dean watches uninterestedly.

It’s too much.

I HATE YOU!”

And then it’s just the slam of a door and the darkness of his room.

~~

He doesn’t sleep.

He’s shaking, mouth hanging slightly open, sluggish tears falling unnoticed from cloudy eyes that locked on the door.

He could be dead.

Maybe he died, waiting for Dean to come.

I HATE YOU!

Surely Dean would come after Sam dealt such a fatal blow. Surely Dean would follow, guilt and concern in his eyes and love in his hands.

Surely.

But he hadn’t.

And Sam laid still, mind blank.

He could be dead.

Maybe he had and he was a ghost, trapped like Annis. Maybe he had just yet to get up, so it felt as though he was still a heavy weight on the bed, when, in fact, he was weightless.

It would not be so bad.

In fact, Sam would just as rather never get up again. He’d rather stay here, curled on the bed, a forgotten soul.

But he’s not dead.

He can feel the lethargic pump of blood through the wrist under his head and he can feel the faint intake of musty air.

He’s not dead yet.

~~

Sam doesn’t know how long he lays there, lost to the world, but when he does finally pull his limp bag of bones to an upright position, he nearly blacks out at the height change. Vision half-clouded over, he blunders to the door, falling to his knees just as his hand grabs the knob.

The dusky light leaking through the windows and filling the room is the grey of decay. Dangling from the knob, it takes a moment for Sam to have the presence of mind to turn the knob.

It’s locked.

Which is ridiculous of course because no bedroom locks from the outside.

But it is locked. And no matter how many times Sam yanks, it appears it’s going to stay that way.

“No, no,” he moans. This isn’t…this can’t be.

No.

He yanks harder, slamming his shoulder and head against the door over and over again.

The air is thin, it’s running out. He’ll choke, he’ll die. And it’s so familiar that it’s less terrifying and more welcoming because please, please just make it all stop.

He’s possibly screaming, but he can’t hear it. His fingernails rip up under his forceful scratches and all he sees are the red streaks his tearing fingers leave behind as they claw at the door like a desperate creature.

They’re artistic. They’re bloody and beautiful and horrible.

He’s transfixed by the gory smears, tracing his fingers over the drying ones and making new ones in the process. His chest is constricted, caught between breaths and his fingers shake, protesting the lake of oxygen.

“Die, die,” he mouths, practically kissing the wood.

The wood disappears and is replaced by legs.

“Sam? Why are you on the floor?”

Suddenly there’s air again as Sam glances up at Dean. Who just opened the door because it wasn’t locked.

Of course it wasn’t. He’s not even surprised anymore.

“Dropped something,” Sam offers. He shuffles back with an awkward crab walk, glancing at the clean, blood-smear free wood behind Dean.

Dean gives him a look that clearly reads you-talking-some-crazy-ass-shit-right-now.

Of course he is, because this house is haunted and cursed and he was not just locked in this room.

And Dean is wearing his amulet.

Because last night didn’t happen.

Naturally.

But, oh, but, he knows now! He knows! He hadn’t said last night because they had fought but he knows, he has to tell!

“Dean!” He lurches to his feet, startling Dean, who steps back in surprise then forward to catch Sam as he sways. “Dean, I have to tell you! Dean!”

“What? What?” He demands urgently.

Sam forgets himself for a moment, aware of Dean’s arms around him like they haven’t been for months, warm and brotherly.

Because they’re still brothers.

And all along while he suffered, Dean had been here too, doing who even knows, but always, always there.

“I solved it,” he whispers, watching how his little breath makes a few of Dean’s hairs move because they’re that close and Dean hasn’t let go yet.

“Solved what? The case?”

Was it the case? Had he solved that? He focused only on how the little hairs moved. What had he done again?

His thoughts strayed to the seconds before, when he had been on his knees begging for death. He scowls and just stops himself from digging his nails in in frustration because that’s Dean’s skin and Dean’s blood and Dean’s pain and Sam doesn’t ever want to cause that.

But still his self-disgust rages at him. What kind of useless trash did that? What kind of Winchester did that? He was weak and his blood boiled with self-hatred for it.

“Sam,” Dean pulls him back to arms-length, unaware of how Sam’s newfound shame cries out at the vulnerability of being exposed, “Sam, what did you solve?” He gives Sam a little shake.

“I…I don’t…I knew…” He steps back, Dean’s arms slipping from his shoulders and brings his hands up to hide his face and his shame. He hates himself. So unbelievably much. He wants to dig his fingernails in and rip his eyes off, tear his skin free, anything to end this horrible loathing.

He keeps his fingers as tense as possible to prevent them from digging in because that would freak Dean out, but oh, look, Dean’s freaking out anyway.

“Sam. Sammy. You’re scaring me, man.”

“No, no, no,” Sam moans, shaking with hate and twisting from Dean’s outstretched hand because Sam will taint him. His shaking becomes less barely controlled rage and more disappointment. His shoulders tremor as water pools in his eyes, still hidden behind his hands. “No, no, no,” he weakly bleats.

“Sammy, please, Sam, tell me what’s wrong? Please, just tell me what to do, how to fix this. Sammy.” Sam doesn’t have to look to know Dean is crying now too.

“Sammy,” he chokes and it breaks Sam.

He can’t. He just can’t.

He slips through the doorway on his right, all but falling into the bathroom, and slams the door. He wants to open the door and slam it again and again, but Dean is out there and Sam doesn’t know if that’s good or bad. So instead, he pounds his fists against the door, sobbing loudly with each thump until blood oozes down the sides of his hands.

He can’t breathe for his sobs and his hands shake too much to keep hitting. His knees are buckling under him. He drops into the tub, suddenly aware of the sickening silence. Only hyperventilating gasps break the stillness and Sam wishes he knew if Dean was still there or not.

His vision begins to grey on the edges and Sam wants to laugh.

He’s going to die of a panic attack.

Of all the things…

His shaky inhalations shorten further as some horrible facsimile of laughter falls from his mouth.

He can’t stop, mind turning over and over, heart racing, lungs heaving.

He can’t stop.

He slams his hand flat down on the tub, the sharp shock of pain grounding him. With jerky movements, Sam drags it back until he can grasp the handle. Without thought, Sam rams it on.

The frigid water that pours down on him shocks his system into breathing. Still in his pajamas, Sam curls up, tub faucet poking into his practically protruding spine, and thinks only of breathing in and out.

That’s all that matters right now, surviving from one second to the next. He’ll figure out the rest later.

~~

Sam’s not sure how long he sits in the tub. Once he’s finally calm, he flicks open his eyes and promptly freaks out.

Blood, thick and oozing, is running down his clothes, running down his face, and pooling in the bottom of the tub when it can’t be drained fast enough. Sam jerks around, crouched in warm blood, to stare at it as it falls from both faucets. He stares down, jaw hanging open. The blood is nearly midway up his forearm, hands unseen below. It isn’t until it hits his elbow that Sam can move.

He scrambles, slips, and slams his chin into the tub hard enough to see stars. He reaches up to check the injury out of habit, but he ends up only smearing the blood from his hands across his chin.

Gasping once again, Sam throws himself out. He lands on his side on the hard tile, blood splashing out behind him. He watches as the level rises high enough that thin little beads begin to pour over.

This isn’t possible. It just isn’t possible.

But it’s happening, hallucination or real, and Sam’s pretty sure dying in either case is bad.

There’s a thin layer of blood across the tile now and Sam leads bloody imprints all over the place as he stumbles to the door, pulling at the handle to no avail.

He yanks harder, but he only succeeds in jerking himself forward to smash into the door. His vision hazes over for a moment and all he sees is grey…grey and red. Blood is slowly running down the walls, sluggish but constant. The floor is filling higher with it and it’s sticky as it runs over Sam’s hands, down his arms, mats in his hair as it drips from above.

There’s something dark filling the room and Sam scrambles forward. He claws desperately at the old door, but his fingers slide in the blood. His own blood adds to the mix as his fingernails rip up under his forceful scratches.

He glances behind him but there’s nothing just darkness, pitch blackness filling the room, crawling closer, shrinking tighter in to Sam.

He launches backwards, slamming into the door, blood splattering out behind him. It streams from the ceiling, over the door, onto his head, and down onto his face. Sam struggles to wipe it off but there’s so much and it’s just smearing red all over. Everything is red and black, it’s closing in, someone’s screaming, and Sam is thrashing like a wild thing, bashing his head over and over again. It’s not sanitary all this blood mingling, it’s going to be hard to clean up, it’ll never come out, he’ll be forever stained.

He’s screaming but it’s pointless, no one is coming, he’s alone. Blood fills his mouth and his screeches turn to gags. His fingers claw in his mouth, trying to scoop it out.

He drops to his knees, spattering blood every which way, and retches, blood mixing into blood. His body aches with the spasms and how can there be so much he only got a mouthful.

Exhaustion sets deep in his bones as he retches and goes and begins to lilt sideways, ready to give up and drown.

He hits something solid, something moving.

Sam doesn’t care.

Sam closes his eyes and shuts down.

A voice talks and something warm runs through his hair. There’s tiny drops of water falling onto his shoulder as he’s cocooned into warmth. Another voice joins in and Sam fades out.

~~~

When Sam awakes, he’s staring upwards out of a window. He’s lying on something soft and warm.

He recognizes the interior of the Impala, and the feel of Dean’s jeans beneath his head. The sky is blue, with mountains in the distance. A calloused thumb draws circles on the back of his hand.

They’re going away.

Sam doesn’t know where they’re going, but it’s away.

He shifts his gaze to stare up Dean’s nose. There’s a good stubble going on Dean’s chin and even from this angle, Sam can see the bags under Dean’s eyes.

As if sensing his gaze, Dean glances down and gives him a tired smile.

There’s a weary feeling burning in his chest. There’s no relief or joy, just tiredness. His shoulders feel heavy and his head feels thick. His eyelids drop while Dean’s thumb carefully reminds him he’s not alone and he’s safe and there is something more, a future to be had.

“Sleep.”

So Sam sleeps.

~~

The Road goes ever on and on.
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then?
I cannot say.
~The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien