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A Fever Dream

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CHAPTER ONE

 

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Sam’s head was so heavy.

 

He’d felt like this many times before and it never got any easier. Hit on the head by a shifter, thrown into a tombstone by a ghost, knocked around by a macho guy at the bar.

 

His head hurt, pulsing like there was mercury sloshing between his ears, ringing slow and steady, making his teeth grind, tongue like lead.

 

He blinked owlishly. His head bobbed a few times like he was falling asleep. He finally gained enough control of his neck and eyes to get a discombobulated look at his surroundings.

 

He was in some sort of run down house. Could be anywhere. Anything could have happened. But where was--?

 

“Sammy,” a raspy voice gasped, and there we go.

 

Dean was up in his space a beat later, practically in Sam’s lap, holding Sam’s face up with his hands bracketing Sam’s jaw. He tilted Sam’s head right and left, squinting at the sluggish way Sam’s eyes tracked him. “Can you stand?”

 

“Mguh,” Sam said, when he was trying for “yeah.” Not a great start.

 

Dean got it, though, leaning forward, breath puffing warm against Sam’s throat. A moment later and Dean hauled him up, arms under Sam’s pits, swinging one of Sam’s arms around his back. They walked together, like they were in a potato sack race, like when Sam was in 5th grade.

 

He was put in the car. The vertigo once Dean merged onto the highway was intolerable and Sam faded.

 

The next thing he knew was warm water, the burn of soap and antiseptic, Dean picking splinters out of his knees and palms. His entire body was overheated, burning and achey, but he didn’t mind. He closed his eyes and let Dean’s firm hands massage the base of his skull while Dean washed his hair.

 

After that, it was off to bed, and Sam had enough sense by then to hook a pinkie in Dean’s shirt when Dean got up to go to the other bed. Dean stopped, looking down at him, but didn’t protest, sleeping back to back with Sam.

 

Sam slept hard and deep.

 

When he awoke, he felt alive. He hurt, but he wasn’t not lead, not brittle, not an ocean wave. Dean was gone from the bed, the other side of it cold. 

 

Sam sat up, stretching. He groaned involuntarily. Dean looked up from the kitchenette table, his jaw and hair struck gold by morning sun. He put down a bic pen. “Hey.”

 

“Hey,” Sam grunted. He mashed the base of his palm against his eye, knowing his hair was paying Einstein an homage right now. “What happened?”

 

Dean sipped coffee while Sam arthritically went through his morning routine. “What do you remember?”

 

“I… guh.” Every time Sam tried to remember, his headache spiked up again. He knew enough about testy lions and poking them with sticks to give that up for now. “Not much.”

 

Sam stepped out of his clothes and stumbled a little. Dean stood up. He snorted from somewhere behind Sam. “You got thrown around. More than usual, I mean,” he said. “It was a ghoul. And man, was she pissed. She took a liking to you.”

 

Sam moved into the bathroom to brush his teeth. It didn’t ring a bell, really, but he trusted Dean. He nodded, gargled, spit. “Did we get her?”

 

Dean was quiet for a moment. Sam looked up and caught Dean’s eyes in the mirror. Dean had an unreadable look on his face, frowning at a stitched up gash across Sam’s collarbone. It was going to leave a scar. “Yeah,” Dean said, quiet, and Sam recognized that tone of voice. He wouldn’t push it. It was a close one.

 

Dean was nice, further proof of Sam’s brush with death, and they took their time packing up. They stopped at a diner and didn’t hit the road until after lunch. Sam grabbed a newspaper along the way, he didn’t really remember where, but he was reading the obits as usual when something tingled at his spider senses.

 

“Hey, think I got something,” he muttered around the pencil he was chewing.

 

Dean looked over briefly, turning down the local classic rock station. “Yeah?”

 

“Heidi McLaughlin, 56,” Sam read out, adopting The Voice. “Found dead in her bathroom. Eyes removed. Cult symbol in the abdomen.”

 

“Huh,” Dean said. “Where abouts?”

 

“Dundee, Michigan,” Sam said. He had the maps out already, underneath the paper. He flipped to the one with the double doggy-eared top right corner. Found the town. “Three hours north.”

 

Dean moved to the lane heading north, and Sam leaned back in the seat, watching gas stations, rest stops, and McDonalds pass them by.

 

It felt normal.

 

Sam itched his neck idly. He could feel a prickling itch on one side that wouldn’t go away. The car swerved, almost changing lanes, and thank fuck it wasn’t rush hour. Sam gripped the door while Dean righted Baby’s path. “What the hell?”

 

“S-sorry.” To Dean’s credit, he sounded genuinely scrambled. “It’s just--your neck.”

 

Sam blinked at that, and waited patiently while Dean navigated to a rest stop. They headed into a single stall bathroom, and Sam winced at his appearance. He’d picked at a stitch without realizing, and a red line of blood dripped down his throat. Dean had that shuttered look again, and Sam’s heart pulled.

 

“I’m fine,” he said, almost by reflex. Dean nodded, reflex. 

 

“Sit,” Dean said, and Sam sat on the toilet seat while Dean silently cleaned him up.

 

It was a lot of touching, really, and usually, it wouldn’t grab Sam’s attention at all. Wasn’t a deviation from the norm for them. But something about Dean’s calloused fingertips caused Sam’s brain to focus, to pull out of daydreams. 

 

He couldn’t really tell what it was, what his brain was trying to say. It was just that. Dean’s fingers lingered, and Sam’s skin was hyperaware of it, buzzing long after Dean’s fingers had moved. 

 

Dean pulled back, frown of concentration in place, bunching his brows in that way Sam secretly liked. “Think you’re good,” Dean said, and backed up and out of Sam’s orbit.

 

Sam stood, less to leave the bathroom and more to return to Dean’s space. There’d been a subtle change in the atmosphere, ever since Sam woke up from that ghoul hunt. 

 

They walked out together, hip to hip, drawing a damning stare from the trucker heading in after them. Sam gave the trucker an unapologetic look. Right after the door slammed behind the guy, Dean snort-laughed. Sam blushed. He hadn’t thought Dean was in on it.

 

“S’his fault,” Sam said, and Dean laughed again, so Sam smiled. 

 

He guessed it was kind of funny.

 

***

 

It only took Dean two and a half hours to get to Dundee, and when they arrived, it was pouring. That was Michigan in the spring for you--half utopically pleasant, half downpour. Sam didn’t mind. It reminded him of the three months he and Dean spent living in a rental outside of Detroit playing an N64 the landlady left for them all day. Sam started seeing ducks in his sleep after that.

 

They found a motel easily enough. Dundee was along the highway, and kinda small, so the place they got was cheap and shitty. There was a bucket collecting rain from the ceiling. But hey, it didn’t dent the pool money too badly, and they’d definitely had worse.

 

They unpacked with their hoods up in silence, and, by the time they were done, they were soaked to the bone. Dean let Sam take first shower--Sam wondered when the post-you-almost-died niceties would stop--and Sam soaked in it, using up all the hot water just to push Dean. 

 

When he got out, he went straight to work. He could hear Dean bitching through the door while Dean showered and he grinned. 

 

Sam flopped onto the bed closest to the window. He watched 4 P.M. highway traffic zoom by while his laptop booted up, whirring and heating up his lap.

 

The first parts of a hunt were always pure tedium. Sam made a file, which meant a lot of downloading things, copying and pasting things, and converting things. He had a trusty USB that he carted to and from the library, printing out things to spread around the room. 

 

By the time Dean exited the shower, Sam’ had the USB full up on the first round of printapalooza and was ready to dig in deep at the library. Sam was about to chirp that to Dean when he stopped short.

 

Dean ambled out of the bathroom fully naked, absentmindedly rubbing his body down with the stained motel towel.

 

And it was a sight. 

 

Sam looked away quickly, but not before he glimpsed muscled upper arms, a hairy V between Dean’s legs. His face heated up and he felt so stupid, so useless and stupid. This wasn’t something to feel weird about. It wasn’t a weird thing. But the image stuck in Sam’s head all the same.

 

“Sammy,” Dean grunted, guttural, and Sam looked up. Dean was still naked. There was a look on his face Sam couldn’t decipher. They stare at each other for about four seconds and Sam didn’t know what the hell was happening. Dean came out of it, blinking, and cleared his throat.

 

He walked to the bed and put a pair of boxer briefs on. They didn’t leave much to the imagination. “What have you got so far?”

 

The question didn’t process in Sam’s brain at first, just mindless noises, kind of like Simlish, until Sam realized he was staring. “Oh,” he said, like an idiot, and turned back to the laptop. “Um, Heidi isn’t the first. The cops are trying to keep people from freaking out, not publicizing much. But there’s a pattern.”

 

Dean continued dressing. Sam could only breathe again once Dean’s hoodie was on. “Patterns are good,” Dean said. “Library?”

 

“Library,” Sam agreed, nodding, and he’d never felt more relieved to hear that word.

 

***

 

The moment after the shower faded from Sam’s memory once they dove headfirst into the case.

 

The repetition was kind of comforting--Sam knew exactly what to say, knew what Dean would say. Sam comforted witnesses while Dean pried. They talked to the cops. They wore plumber’s uniforms and searched for hex bags. Sam checked out occult books from the library while the librarian flirted with him, flaunting her tits and tattoos. 

 

Dean practically dragged Sam away from her, driving them across town to a diner he claimed advertised the state’s best malt shakes. Sam only had a sip of Dean’s, leaning over the table, but he had to admit, it was pretty good.

 

***

 

It wasn’t long before the hunt fell into place. An old man, the son of a witch, out for revenge against the children of the man that killed his mother. Misusing old spells and setting all sorts of whack shit free. Spirits that tore through ribcages and caused jarring hallucinations.

 

Sam and Dean both loathed witches. For Dean, it was a sanitary thing, but for Sam, it was just this… wrong feeling. That any human could dip into a well of darkness and get poisoned by it. That anyone could get the dark look in their eyes like the man had right before he threw a knife at Sam.

 

That didn’t process at first. Sam saw the flash of light, felt the air go from his lungs, but that was about it. He stared at the man in confusion while Dean screamed something at him.

 

Sam got real lightheaded real fast and stumbled. He hit the ground and heard a shot go out, then another, then another. 

 

In the back of his head, he was worried. One shot meant Dean got the guy. But more than one meant trouble.

 

The wall behind him was cold against his shoulder blades. “Dean…” he mumbled. 

 

He looked up just as Dean ran toward him. Dean slid onto his knees beside him, like a catcher diving toward home plate. Dean’s eyes were huge, flicking rapidly between Sam’s eyes and his stomach. “Jesus fuck, Sammy,” Dean said, and it was then that Sam began to feel it.

 

Pain. A deep, bruising pain, but from somewhere within. His hands went to his stomach and he felt heat. Heat and liquid. He looked down and saw his shirt was red. 

 

He’d been stabbed.

 

Sam laughed, and that made it hurt even worse, sharper. He hissed. “Oh, fuck.”

 

“How you doing?” Dean asked. He ripped his jacket off his shoulders and pressed it into Sam’s stomach, drawing a deep groan out of him.

 

“Mmgh… okay,” Sam managed, once the pain had passed. He wiggled his toes. He could still feel them. The one time he’d been stabbed deep enough to leave a gnarly scar and land him in the hospital, his toes had gone fuzzy. It was so fascinating that he’d fixated on it the whole ride over while John broke every speed limit in the county.

 

Sam stared at the ceiling while Dean gave him a brief once over. Dean laughed, smiling wet-eyed at Sam, and squeezed his shoulder. “You hit a vein,” he says, “but it’s not deep. Might not even scar if we’re careful.”

 

“Great,” Sam rumbled. Careful was one thing they weren’t. And he’d still lost a lot of blood, okay, so not every cylinder was firing.

 

Sam tried to stand, and the feeling that shot through his entire body pulled a moan out of him and had his eyes rolling up. Dean was touching him all over, brushing his hair back, smoothing out his jacket over his shoulders. “Jesus, fuck, Sammy, hold on,” Dean laughed. “I said shallow, I didn’t say not fuckin’ serious. You’re losing a lot of blood.”

 

Sam watched passively as Dean pulled out his phone and dialed three short numbers. The world was rocking slightly, like he was on a boat on calm waters. Dean’s voice scratched intermittently in the back of his mind, but he couldn’t pin down a single word.

 

Sam tried again to wiggle his toes. It was a little harder this time. 

 

“Sam? Sammy? Sammy?” Dean’s voice broke through the fog. Dean’s face filled his entire field of vision, and Sam smiled instinctively. It only deepened Dean’s frown. “Sammy, can you hear me?”

 

Sam yawned. “Jus’ be quiet,” he mumbled, closing his eyes.

 

“No, nuh-uh,” Dean said, shaking Sam by the shoulders. Boy was that annoying. Sam’s brain was like a marble in the bed of a truck driving through rocky terrain.

 

Ha. That was an oddly specific image. 

 

“Sammy, open your eyes,” Dean said. “Come on, damn it!”

 

Sam didn’t understand what Dean was so up in arms about. He was just going to take a short nap.

 

It didn’t take long for Dean’s voice to fade out completely.