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In Spite of the Teeth

Chapter Text

The sky is darker.

Day and night have never been something definitive in Purgatory. Sometimes the hunter can see well and sometimes it can't. Maybe that's the difference. All the hunter knows is when it can't see well, the sky is darker. There isn't some kind of timetable that will tell it when the darkness will fall, Purgatory is sporadic. A living breathing thing that changes as it pleases with no regard for the monsters that lurk within, the endless hunt they partake in.

The sky is darker. The hunter can't see well, but that hasn't been a problem for it in some time. Once, perhaps there had been a time when its feeble humanity had made it weak, vulnerable. But as Purgatory shifted and the sky changed shades, the creature changed—evolved. It is no longer weak, it had to survive.

The sky is darker and the forest of Purgatory is awash in a gradient of black hues, a suitable camouflage for the hunter as it stalks after its most recent prey. Purgatory is not a quiet place, it rustles with the heartbeats of monsters and the wind blows through the dead foliage. The hunter uses this to its advantage, stepping only when the prey steps, bare feet soft in the dirt. It lost its meager clothing somewhere along the endless hunt, shedding those tokens of humanity like a second skin, and underneath lie a predator.

Now only the rotting bones of a particularly brash wendigo adorn the hunter's bulky frame, strung together with dried vines and serving to mask its human scents from the prey. They line the hunter's shoulders, caress the vulnerable flesh of its chest, a second ribcage. It particularly liked the skull—sitting over its own head, bright green eyes peering through its black sockets. The armor protects it from the bite of a werewolf, the tearing claws of a rougarou, even the hellmouth of a Leviathan struggled with the mangled corpse.

The hunter slinks through the underbrush, head bowed low and halberd in clenched fist. The prey is still unawares, traipsing about Purgatory with all the subtlety of an infant and no visible weapon on its person. The hunter takes stock of the prey, shoring it up as it's done hundreds of creatures before it. The body is not dissimilar to the hunter and the glimpses it catches of the face show no signs of malformation. The prey is a vampire.

The smell of it reeks of blood like vampires always do, though the hunter knows that nothing eats in Purgatory. It hasn't tasted anything on its tongue but the viscera of monster flesh when it needed its blunt teeth to survive. The vampire does not coat itself in blood to consume it, but to reminisce in what it once fought for—lived for.

As the hunter plays along with the shadows cast by the darker sky to its advantage, skulking behind the vampire, it is reminded of what it once lived for. Not human blood, but a human being. A Sammy—

The hunter growls low in its throat, stopping that thought in its tracks, an attempt to ground itself in the present, in the hunt. The vampire stills and it knows. It has to strike now.

Raising its halberd, the hunter rushes the vampire, counting on its soft steps to mask the direction of its attack. But the vampire is fast to react, the sound of a swinging blade cutting air is enough to warn it, and a meaty hand raises just in time to catch the sharp, gory end. The halberd lodges in flesh and the hunter bares its teeth from underneath the wendigo skull, chest vibrating with a snarl.

The vampire's staring into the black eye sockets, seemingly unable to comprehend what it's seeing. Never one to miss an opening, the hunter jerks the weapon free from the flesh of the vampire's palm and spins back, putting necessary distance between them before the vampire can retaliate.

It feints backwards when the vampire makes a move forward, thrusting the halberd through the space between their bodies. The blade's point rests at the vulnerable throat of the vampire and it freezes, still eyeing the hunter with that frowning expression. There isn't the fear twisting into its features but a strange confusion.

The hunter growls, chest heaving under the rattling wendigo bones, and makes itself look taller, stronger, predatory. It wants the prey to know that it lost the hunt because it's beneath the hunter, the bottom of the food chain the hunter's been clawing its way up since the angel disappeared-

"Th'hell are you?" the vampire speaks, tearing the hunter away from a train of thought it hadn't meant to think. It flinches at the sound, a low and smooth voice with a drawl that is almost familiar. Reminds of a life the hunter had before. Before the hunt began. It doesn't really remember that life, or it might—somewhere—but the hunter tossed those sentiments away as quickly as it could. Wouldn't have survived otherwise.

The hunter doesn't answer because it doesn't speak. It can't quite understand either. The words are little more than the screeches of banshees or the groans of a wendigo. It speaks only in the universal language of monsters and the speech of vampires and werewolves and humans no longer registers the same. The hunter can only glean the questioning tone in the noises the vampire makes, the familiarity of the sounds, and it grunts, shoves the halberd deeper into the flesh of the vampire's throat. A warning.

The eyes of the vampire travel all over the hunter's form, assessing. It doesn't quite know why it hasn't ended this prey yet, finds itself hesitating at the question, perhaps curious in the hunter's own way. The vampire angles its head to the side, leaning just a breath away from the point of the blade.

"You a human?" the vampire speaks again, and its eyes are widening. The expression registers in the hunter's hindbrain as some kind of surprise. It thinks the vampire may be answering its own question.

"You are."

The vampire seems satisfied and the hunter knows this exchange is not something good. It has to end this immediately, grimy fists clenching tightly to the wood grip of the halberd, and low growl in its throat.

"I can get us out of here," the vampire makes more noise, perhaps sensing the hunter's impatience with this exchange. It doesn't understand why the vampire thinks these words will stop it from reeling back and swinging its blade with a braced, familiar strength, heels digging into the soft earth. But it doesn't.

Vampires are fast creatures. It knows this, knew this—from before, from when Sammy—

The vampire ducks the swing of the blade, grabbing at its staff with strong hands. The hunter doesn't have time to react, doesn't quite see it happen through the sockets of the wendigo skull. The prey jerks the halberd towards it before the hunter can release its grip and the movement sends it careening forward. The hunter tries to regain its footing, knows this moment, right now, this error could be the line between life and death in the hunt.

The hunter doesn't regain fast enough, the vampire connecting its meaty fist with the side of its head. The sound of the wendigo skull crushing beneath the strength of the vampire's punch is loud in the hunter's ears and bright bursts of pain and light are erupting in its vision. The starbursts are gone as soon as they come, replaced by the inky black of a blanketing unconsciousness—it can already feel its body giving out and knows it'll soon be dead.

The hunter spares a thought again to that reason for life, that Sammy—

"Yer gonna get us outta here, human."

It has just enough time to question the determination in the vampire's voice before it fades, gone.



The road is long. It stretches into the dark of night, seemingly endless, illuminated only just enough by the headlights of the Impala to keep Sam from wrapping himself around a tree.

He's been driving nonstop for going on thirty hours now, left hand clenching around the steering wheel in time with the thudding of his heartbeat. The now-healed scar along his palm digs in with each squeeze and it only makes his pulse throb harder with an ache he hasn't been able to shake. Not since that day Dean blinked out of existence, taking every reason Sam had to keep going right with him.

The Impala purrs, engine revving noisily under the press of his foot to pedal. Her sound does little to soothe the gnawing in his gut, the buzzing in his ears, the tightness in his jaw that tells him he's truly alone. Like a ghost, he crawled into her drivers seat and dragged her injured body to a car shop, repairing the damage she'd endured in the last moments. It served as distraction—for a while. Distracting enough to prevent him from doing anything drastic anyways.

So he's driving. Has been for months now. He's lost and he knows what he needs to do, what he needs to find but he doesn't know how to do it and he's frustrated and his body is breaking down along with his thoughts—and he just needs Dean.

Sam's throat constricts and he almost can't take in the next lungful of air he needs to live. He doesn't really want to. He chokes. Takes a breath and eases off the pedal as the Impala's speedometer touches the hundred line.

He wishes he could say he's tried everything to get Dean back, wishes he could say he's pored over the literature, prayed to anything that will listen, met with any old curmudgeon hunter who could have any semblance of an idea. But he can't—he hasn't.

Sam's brother disappeared and Sam—

Sam drove.

He can't even bring himself to cry now. In the pit of his chest, that beating, thudding thing that insists on living—despite its reason, its only purpose has gone and left him—hurts in a way he didn't think he could still hurt. The emptiness of truly being alone surrounds him like a thick and heavy smog and he drives and drives. If he drives hard enough, long enough, far enough, maybe he can escape its suffocating presence.

Though it hasn't worked so far.

The stars shine brighter in the middle of an interstate along some backwoods American countryside. Sam hasn't read a sign in days, he has no idea where he is anymore. He can't see anything but the stars and he remembers picking out the constellations—with Dean, making ones up when they couldn't identify anything more than the big dipper.

That choking, breath stealing fist hits him again and he hiccoughs, easing up even lighter on the gas. The Impala glides along the asphalt at a healthy thirty miles per hour. It's the slowest Sam's driven since setting out, the dips in the road more apparent at this speed, easier to take in the trees that line the highway. The scar on his hand throbs in time with his clenching fist.

A movement catches his eyes, just in the periphery, black and quick like a hallucination and at first Sam thinks that's all it is before it's suddenly huge and careening right towards the car.

He has just enough reaction time to slam both feet on the brakes as a black mass the size of a huge deer reaches the headlights, but he isn't fast enough to swerve the wheel and the Impala clips whatever it is. The sound of an impact has him flinching his eyes shut, squeezing the steering wheel hard enough to break skin as the Impala slides off into the opposite ditch.

For a long moment he can't even breathe, clutching the wheel, feet still jammed down into the brake pedal, eyes shut tight enough to hurt and heart in his throat as the Impala comes to a complete stop. But he needs to make sure the thing's okay, make sure he didn't kill it just now.

He's already shaking his body free of the car, muscles rolling tight with coursing adrenaline as the door groans at his exit. It's dark and he doesn't immediately see anything, has no idea where the thing went after getting clipped. His only real course of action is to follow the dark tire tracks stretching across the interstate, eyes searching frantically in the night.

The moon in the sky isn't quite full but it's close and his vision gradually adjusts to the swath of blue light beaming down on the tar. He should've brought a flashlight, he has half a mind to berate himself, before spotting a mass of pale flesh in the grass a good ten feet from the road.

Somewhere in the back of Sam's head, as he's rushing towards the injured creature, there's a mounting dread—a ball of fear and guilt at what he might see. But the feelings are welcome, something new to nestle in beside the lonely smoke that's been creeping into his lungs. He sucks in a sharp, clearing breath as he comes upon the victim of his poor reaction time.

Whatever it is, it's huge and Sam immediately registers bloody bones and flesh—the pale flesh of skin rather than fur. He stops short, almost recoils, with a wary frown because that can't mean anything good, could mean the Impala tore its flesh up when it struck. Could have ripped the animal's fur from its body, open and exposing milky white bones, swooping waves of nausea roll in his gut.

As if aware of his presence, it groans and shifts, still alive. That frame of visible bones falls away with the movement and Sam's initial relief goes icy, body rigid.

It's a human.

There's a person, crumpled in a fetal position, wearing some kind of makeshift armor of animal bones. Their hollow rattling echoes in Sam's ears when he rushes forward. His eyes are jumping from place to place, taking in the legs, the arms, and torso underneath the blanket of a skeleton. This is a person, a man, and Sam doesn't know what the fuck is happening but a hunter's concern is beating his heart like a jackrabbit.

The person's naked but for the makeshift armor, strung together bones that Sam can't pinpoint the origin of. Light skin marred with months of dirt and blood and gore shines under the blue of the moonlight, and a shattered half of a strange inhuman skull rests on his head, hiding his face from Sam's view.

What the hell—Sam wants to stop and assess the situation because what the fuck is he looking at? But the softer part of his brain takes control before he can deduce if he should be wary. He needs to help. He's Sam Winchester (without his Dean yes) and he's just hit a man—a naked man wearing monster bones, but a man nonetheless. Sam crouches down beside him, can hear the faint rumble of a creature in pain, can see his arm is limp, bent at an uncomfortable angle.

"Hey, hey-hey-hey, are you okay? Lemme help you, can you move?" he stumbles out in a half-whisper, leaning close to try and pull the vines of bones off without jostling him too much. The man whines at the sound of Sam's voice, a keening sound that reminds Sam of a dog in pain, and he's trying to move away, stuttering drag of his limbs.

"No, no, no, hey I'm tryna help," Sam says desperately as the man manages to put a couple of inches of space between them, dragging his arm and whining all the while.

"Can you understand me? Hey, I'm gonna help you," Sam whispers mindlessly, frowning at the way the man's only aggravating his injuries in his attempts to get away. "Shh, it'll be okay," he continues, bending down and grabbing the ramshackle bone armor from around his shoulders.

Sam lifts it up, ignoring the way the keening sounds are stuttering in the man's throat, peppered with sad attempts at growls. Sam spares a delirious thought to wonder if the man crawled out of the woods after being raised by a pack of wolves or something. Ignoring the animal noises out of the man's mouth, Sam completely removes the bones in one gentle tug.

Under the dim lighting of the moon, Sam can't tell if the dark colors decorating the man's exposed torso are bruises or dirt or something else and he clenches his jaw, assumes the worst. He'll have to take him to the nearest medical facility, no way he hasn't shattered at least some vital piece from the impact with Sam's bumper, not to mention whatever the hell else the guy's been doing with himself lately.

A gentle whimper draws Sam's eyes to the limp, malformed remnants of some animal's skull that sits precariously around the man's head. By the sounds he's making, Sam thinks he's near to losing consciousness, growls quieted to a soft rumble and whines rapidly fading.

"Shh, buddy, it's okay. I'm gonna take that thing off and then we're gonna get you in the car," he narrates his actions, unsure if the man can even understand what he's saying as he digs two fingers under the lip of the skull.

The man recoils from the touch, jerking his head back with a groan, successfully dislodging the bone. Sam gets a grip on the skull and pulls it back, holding it up to the moonlight for just a moment. He wants to know what the thing is, too large to belong to a dog but too round to be a deer. For a second he almost thinks it looks a bit human, but on closer inspection his suddenly thudding heart wonders if it doesn't remind him a bit of a wendigo-

Another desperate growl from the man and Sam's gaze falls from the strange skull to his face, finally bare under the light of the stars overhead. The dull blue glow catches on a smattering of freckles across the familiar bridge of a nose. Bright eyes stare wide up at him, pupils dilating past irises into black pits, reflecting the stars through long lashes.

Sam drops the skull. The pit in his chest fills rapidly like dirt caving in on a gravesite, it flows in all at once, filling his ears and nose and mouth and he can't breathe but this time it's different—he's not suffocating. He's gasping, inhaling his first sharp, desperate breath into his dirt-filled lungs like a man clawing his way back to the surface.

He chokes the dirt from his lips, barely able to find his dry voice as he whispers, "Dean?"

There's something wet on his face. Sam's crying and Dean's lying there in front of him, looking just as he did the day he disappeared.

Those green-black-starlight eyes flash with something but Sam can't call it recognition. Dean flinches back from him, almost violently—frantically—a growl rumbling out. His sudden jerky movements only worsen the shaky, injured bits inside his pummelled flesh and then he's crying out, his whole body convulsing with rabid tremors trying to suffuse the abrupt pain.

"Dean!" Sam's shooting forward, just as Dean's eyes fall shut, his face going slack and he collapses under the stress of his injuries. "Dean? Dean! Are you okay, hey, I got you," Sam mutters more to himself than his brother, as he gently slides his hand under his shoulders, careful of the injuries. He's hefting Dean up into his arms, warm and shaking, and has to force himself to tear his eyes away so he can get him to the Impala across the road.

His mind works a mile a minute as he debates whether to put Dean into the backseat or not. He decides to slide him across the bench through the already ajar drivers' side door. Half because he doesn't have the strength to open another door—half because he wants his brother as close to him as physically possible, is already having trouble with the idea of letting him go.

He slides Dean as gently as he can, though Dean's completely out, and his bare feet brush up against the passenger side door. Sam joins him in the car, a bit of maneuvering necessary with two bodies over six foot.

Carefully, almost tender, Sam lowers Dean's head to rest against his thigh, mindful of his injured arm resting across the naked chest that flutters with pained, quick breaths. Dean doesn't wake up in all this, his long lashes brushing his blood and dirt encrusted cheeks, but his face is twisted, lips curled. Sam's brother is hurting.

The Impala seems to growl almost protectively when Sam shifts her into reverse and revs recklessly back onto the interstate without a backwards glance. She knows her boy is hurting. Sam throws her back into gear and slams the gas as hard as he can without jarring Dean unnecessarily. Her answering rumble eases the chaos in Sam's head and chest as his eyes search desperately for a sign indicating the nearest town.

Dean is back. Dean is with Sam.

Sam's right hand settles on Dean's bare chest just shy of his injured upper arm, and he can feel the hummingbird quickness of his brother's heart in there, drumming hard against Dean's sternum as if trying to reach the flesh of Sam's palm—to reassure him.

Sam swallows the spit that's suddenly flooding his dry mouth. He rubs soothing circles into Dean's skin, more for himself than his unconscious brother, catching a sign for a no name town only sixteen miles away. The needle in the speedometer is brushing ninety and the Impala is purring and Dean is back.

Where did he go? Sam chews his lower lip, risking glances down every half mile to drink in the rough features of his brother's face. How did he get back to Sam? Sam's still crying, his nose is stuffed with snot, and his throat is closing on silent sobs. He knows it's relief—relief has taken his voice, his heart, his ability to reason. Sam wants to know what happened to make Dean like this. How he appeared out here in the middle of goddamn nowhere with not a soul around for miles—not a soul except Sam.

The heartbeat under Sam's palm is slowing. Sam doesn't know if that's bad or not, but the road signs say he's only got ten more minutes and he gulps the lump in his throat down. A furtive glance at Dean's body, carefully curled along the Impala's bench has his thoughts racing again. His brother is completely naked save for the remnants of that bone armor he was wearing and there isn't a bit of skin that's clean. In the dark it could be dirt, blood, or bruises, but it coats every inch of Dean's body and it almost seems deliberate.

Sam feels like he has all the pieces of a puzzle but the edges don't match and he clenches his jaw trying to imagine where Dean's been all these months, what kind of fight, what sort of monsters could put him in this state.

The headlights of the Impala catch the green glow of an exit sign for Livermore and the memory of Dean's green eyes reflect in its shiny surface. That bright haze of unrecognition. Sam pulls off at the exit, just minutes from town, but he can't shake the way Dean recoiled after looking right at him. Had Dean… does Dean not remember him?

It's dark as Sam rolls into the tiny highway town. He breezes past a motel that looks practically empty, a gas station, and a diner. He tries to catch any semblance of a medical facility among the unlit buildings that line the main road, but he doesn't even catch a sign. Not a single car is out as Sam scans the buildings with increasingly desperate eyes, his right hand clenching and unclenching on Dean's slowly rising chest.

Finally, he sees a small office with its lights glowing brightly like a beacon. The sign on its front says Veterinarian 24 Hour Emergency Service and Sam makes a split decision, teeth worrying his lower lip bloody. He swings the Impala into the tiny parking lot beside the lone sedan.

It'll have to do for now.

Sam will hold the vet at gunpoint if he has to, all he needs is to see his brother in proper light, assess the damage himself. He knows Dean's got severe injuries, maybe something broken, maybe dislocated but he can do it himself with a vet's arsenal. Mostly, Sam just needs to get his brother wiped down so he can see what the fuck happened to him. What Dean needs to be okay again.

Dean's breathing steadily under Sam's hand and Sam smooths his palm over his brother's chest once more, savoring the skin on skin contact, the warmth. He inhales deep, steeling himself, as he slides out of from under Dean's head and grabs a handgun from the backseat. He tucks the weapon into the back of his pants and climbs out of the Impala. Dean doesn't wake up in the midst of all this movement and Sam worries his cheek.

Please let Dean be okay.

He hooks his hands under Dean's armpits and gently pulls him across the bench, taking on his weight as he tugs him from the car. The last string of bones Sam hadn't managed to tear away when he found him catch against the seat and Sam reaches forward to snap them free. They fall to the footwell of the Impala, Sam making mental note to examine them later when Dean's okay.

Dean does little more than groan softly, his brows furrowing deeply. Sam could almost pretend Dean was just sleeping really hard and he remembers when they were kids and he would pretend the same. Every time Dean came back from a bad hunt with their dad, bleeding and passed out from his wounds and the pain meds. Sam's chest knots up, straining beneath the gravedirt inside it.

Dean's uninjured arm is around Sam's shoulders, his other hand wrapping around his brothers' naked torso to fully take on his weight. Sam finds himself grateful yet again that he's so much bigger than Dean, carrying him easily, as Dean whimpers with all the jostling. Sam feels him bury his face against Sam's shoulder like he's trying to get away from the pain by burrowing inside his brother. Sam's whispering reassurances almost mindlessly. "I gotcha, Dean, you're gonna be okay."

If Dean hears him he doesn't react beyond soft pained sounds, not moving from where he's pressed his face, practically in Sam's armpit. Turning his attention to the glass door of the vet office, Sam rapidly tries to come up with a story for this that won't get the cops called on them immediately. He's already supporting Dean with one arm to pull the door open with no excuse forthcoming, the urgent need to fix his brother overwhelming the sane part of his brain.

Inside the office, the white lights are almost blinding and even Dean flinches further into Sam's side. He still isn't fully conscious but the movement forces Sam to turn slightly so he can wrap both of his arms under his brother's and hug him to his chest to keep them both upright. The position is actually sort of appropriate because the veterinarian is a startled woman about Sam's age and Dean's completely naked. At least this way she might be less inclined to dial 911 right off.

"It's my brother—he's, he got clipped by a car I think his arm's broken," Sam rattles off, not even having to fake the puppy-eyed desperation he knows is shining on his face as he struggles to keep Dean from crumpling in his hold.

The vet, a light skinned woman with curly black hair, stares at him with huge, doe eyes, mouth slightly agape. Sam licks his lips, tilts his head. "Please, I didn't know where else to go."

His words seem to shock her into action and she swings around the front desk, white coat fluttering behind her. "Sir, you need to take this man to a hospital," she says immediately, voice clipped and professional as she carefully raises her arms to support Dean from behind. Sam allows her to, suppressing the knee-jerk reaction to keep his brother safe from outsiders, to pull him close and away from her prying hands.

"The nearest's in Franklin, it's a 20 minute drive," she says, her eyes poring over Dean's body with a concerned frown. Her hand ghosts over the side that made impact with the Impala's front bumper and Dean grunts, retracting away from her touch and into Sam's chest. Her tongue pokes the wall of her cheek and she glances up to meet Sam's gaze. "You said he was clipped by a car?"

The look in her eyes asks all the other questions, like why is he naked and covered in dirt? and how did he get clipped by a car at 2am? and where were you during all this? Sam nods, adjusting his careful hold on Dean and buying time for a bullshit excuse.

"Yeah, he was—he's drunk. Completely wasted and fell into the road. The car was goin' less than thirty. I just wanna make sure he's okay, please—" he spots the tag on her coat, turning the pleading gaze up to a hundred. "Dr. Richardson, please."

She gives Dean another determining once over, big eyes looking his weak, dirt encrusted frame up and down. "Turn him around, I'll grab his legs. We can lay him down on the table in the back," she says in that same professional, no-nonsense tone. Sam heaves a sigh of relief, feeling lighter already. Dean's still heavy and out of it, as they both work to maneuver him into a more manageable position.

It's a slow and careful journey to the nearest examination table, Dr. Richardson demonstrating her big dog-wrangling strength as she takes at least a third of Dean's body weight. Together they lift him up to spread out on the metal of the table and at over six foot, Dean hangs off at the calves.

Under the harsh white lights of the room, Sam can finally see the real color of the gunk that coats Dean's body like a second skin. It's a deep brown swirling with bits of an almost burgundy red, crusted unevenly along every bit of light skin Dean could reach. Seemingly a mixture of dirt and gunk, it's caked up more in the creases of his joints as if recently spread there. Sam's reminded of hunters who stalk their prey in the forest, crawling along the foliage like the animals themselves. He can't even begin to imagine where the fuck Dean has been.

Dr. Richardson pulled on rubber gloves while Sam was staring at his brother, her face still a mask of professionalism. She goes first to Dean's right side and the now swelling and awkwardly bent angle of his upper arm.

"You both are lucky we get a lot of car accidents out here off the interstate. I've had my fair share of helping out with those," Dr. Richardson says almost conversationally as she ghosts her fingers over the injury. Sam rests his own hands on either side of Dean's head, close enough that the thumb of his hand brushes against Dean's hairline.

Her ministrations elicit a spasm from Dean's arm, his face screwing up tight. He jerks his head to the side, running into Sam's right arm with his forehead. Sam tries to radiate some kind of calm energy, lightly pressing skin to skin without getting in the doctor's way.

The reaction draws her eyes and she glances back and forth between Dean's face and his wrecked shoulder as she feels it. Dean presses his forehead back against Sam's wrist with a moan when Dr. Richardson moves his arm to see the underside. Sam can't help the muttered, "it's okay Dean, it'll be okay." He can't tell if the words reassure Dean, but he feels better having said them.

"I can't tell for sure if there's a fracture without an x-ray, and obviously that's not happening here," Dr. Richardson says finally, gently laying Dean's arm back down. "You need to get him to a hospital, but initial diagnosis from a non-specialist: it's just a bruised bone. Maybe a dislocated shoulder."

Sam breathes an exhale he hadn't realized he was saving, raising his right hand to smooth it over Dean's dirty hair, more to comfort himself than his brother. Dr. Richardson shifts away to pull two boxes out from a cabinet beneath the examination table. "Next step is to get him wiped down, at least enough so we can be sure he isn't bleeding in all this dirt."

She tosses a box to Sam with a quirk of the lips. "I'll take top half, you take bottom?"

They both get to work dragging the towels and disinfectant wipes across Dean's dirty skin, wiping away muck, grime, and gore, to reveal the pale, freckled skin beneath. Sam goes through the whole first box on Dean's feet and calves alone.

Scrapes, cuts, and bruises hide just beneath the mud and with each new minor injury Sam finds, the mounting concern about just where the hell his brother's been grows. The thick, roughened calluses on Dean's feet alone were enough to tell Sam wherever he was, he wasn't properly dressed for the occasion. Not for a long time.

A soft gasp from Dr. Richardson has Sam shooting up from where he's scraping off the crust at Dean's knee. She's at the sensitive spot on the left of Dean's ribcage just south of his armpit and maybe a few inches to the side of his nipple. Sam shuffles into her space, already dreading what kind of horrific, festering wound he might find there.

The skin is rubbed pink and raw from the wipes, but instead of a bloody gaping gash, there's what looks to be words—carved shallowly into Dean's skin. The lettering was done with a small knife of some sort, jagged and roughly scratched but clearly legible.

Clayton LA it reads, and beneath that is what appears to be a name: Lafitte.

Sam squints at the words. They aren't bleeding anymore but they definitely haven't had time to heal and scar, which means it's been somewhat freshly done to his brother. He fights the flare of protective anger, clenching his teeth against a hissing huff of breath. Just another mystery to add to the ever mounting pile. Sam leans back and catches Dr. Richardson's wide, horrified eyes.

"That's new," he says, deceptively casual.

Her lip curls, wipe dangling in her right hand. "What exactly does your brother do?"

Sam swipes gentle fingers over the letters, committing them to memory before picking up a clean wipe and returning to Dean's leg. "He hunts. They're kinda hardcore out there," he offers, hoping that'll be enough to keep the doctor from probing further. She hesitates for a couple long seconds.

"Uh huh." It's drawn out and slow but she returns to cleaning away the dirt without further comment. They work in silence and while Sam catalogues each and every minor scrape decorating his brother's body, he spares glances at the supplies in the office. He finds the locked cabinet immediately and wonders if it'll be worth it to try and steal some pain medication before he and Dean ditch.

"There's more," Dr. Richardson says, a bit resigned, cutting into Sam's contemplation. She's holding out Dean's freshly cleaned left forearm and sure enough the same ugly lettering is carved there too. But this one is in Latin and spells out an entire sentence from elbow crease to wrist: anima corpori fuerit corpus totem resurgent.

Sam wishes he could say that a phrase that can't be anything other than a spell of some sort is the weirdest thing about Dean's left forearm. But beneath the blood and dirt of the makeshift camouflage, beneath even the scratched in letters, Dean's skin begins to glow a dull orange. It's the same color meatsuits glow when you kill the demon inside them, the bright light of an angel's palm when they attack, it has Sam moving to push Dr. Richardson back immediately.

She lurches away of her own accord, a shocked noise escaping her throat as she stumbles into the cabinets behind her. The sudden clatter of tools to the tile must make a loud enough racket to rouse Dean from his pain-induced unconscious state, because his eyes shoot open, impossibly green in the bright overhead lights. Sam doesn't get a word of assurance out, Dean's face immediately shuttering as he jerks upright on the table. His naked body is shaking slightly and he sweeps his gaze across the room, takes one hard look at Sam with those flashing eyes before launching himself off the tabletop.

Sam hurriedly braces for some kind of impact, unsure of what to expect with Dean in the state he's in, and apparently he judges rightly because he's taking all 200 pounds of his naked brother to the ground. Dean—injuries seemingly forgotten with a rush of adrenaline—is on top of him, forearm pressing to Sam's throat, and spitting, growling like some kind of wild animal. His knees bracket Sam's waist and Sam takes a few seconds to gather himself after his collision with the ground, head spinning.

Internally, Sam debates with whether it's worth it to try and get Dean to understand that it's him—his Sammy—or if he should just fight him off first (without hurting him too much, of course). Above him, those green eyes glare into Sam's own and not an ounce of recognition shines in them. Sam coughs around the pressure on his throat, just enough give to manage a weak, "Dean? It's Sam." His voice sounds rough and almost a mimic of the noise rumbling Dean's own chest.

The sound of his voice has Dean's snarling face pausing, brows furrowing. Sam can see his eyes dart all over Sam's face, taking in everything from his hair to his cheeks to his slightly panting, agape mouth. Dean stares at his mouth angrily for a long second, pressure still not quite at breaking point on Sam's throat. Sam licks his lips under the scrutiny and Dean mirrors the movement, tongue darting out to wet his own. Something must be clicking in his brother's brain, some sort of familiarity. Sam finds himself smiling just a bit and he coughs another, "D-Dean."

Dean blinks, long eyelashes brushing his cheeks. He tilts his head just slightly to the side, like a curious dog, gaze still fixed on Sam's mouth. Sam recognizes the expression on his brother's face, the pinched brow and the pursed lips, just like the face he made when he was working so hard to solve that problem from tenth grade geometry. Like Sam's mouth just asked him to calculate the circumference of its gape. Dean's so distracted, growl fading to a soft rumble, he doesn't even notice Dr. Richardson. Sam catches her movement just behind Dean, an expert quickness that Sam doesn't feel qualified to try and prevent.

She jams a syringe into the side of Dean's neck, the sudden attack doing little to upset Dean's position on top of Sam as he jerks his gaze away from Sam's mouth to snarl at Dr. Richardson. The doctor recoils instantly, backing into the furthest corner of the room. Dean is back to full on growling and spitting, teeth bared like an attack dog that's just been kicked. Sam can feel him shift from where he straddles Sam's waist as if he's about to get up and change target, leg muscles flexing.

The hand that isn't currently working at closing Sam's windpipe is supporting Dean's torso, braced against the tile beside Sam's head. Grabbing it and throwing it out of its weight bearing position sends Dean careening downwards, the arm at Sam's neck flying out to try and catch himself.

Unfortunately for Dean, the tranquilizer Dr. Richardson stuck him with chooses that moment to hit home. His eyes flutter shut mid-collapse and then he's falling face flat against Sam's chest, his whole body going slack.

Heaving a breath, his chest rising comically under Dean, Sam raises his arms to cradle his brother as he makes to sit up straight. His back aches from the hard collision with the floor but it's not anything he isn't used to and honestly Sam's just glad everyone got out of that okay. Now that he's sitting upright—actually quite a feat considering he'd had to lift the combined weight of himself and his brother—he can see Dr. Richardson from where she's braced herself against the counter.

She looks a bit manic, twitching slightly and panting out quick breaths. Her eyes look even larger if that's possible, darting all over the two of them like they're a particularly nasty team of spiders. Dean has slumped into Sam's arms, his face resting in the crook between Sam's neck and shoulder, having slid into a somewhat embarrassing position now that Sam had brought them upright.

He's settled in Sam's lap like a toddler, thighs on either side of Sam's hips and arms limp. Sam can feel Dean's steady breath against his collarbone, damp heat coating his skin in an instant clamminess. He adjusts Dean's position from where his arms are wrapped around his back, allowing Dean's head to fall a little lower so he's not breathing directly on Sam anymore.

Dean snuffles but is otherwise motionless. And Sam manages to not bother thinking about how their hips are pressed together and Dean's still naked as ever. He'll definitely have to torch these clothes.

"What," Dr. Richardson's voice is so high it's almost a squeak, "the fuck."

Her eyebrows do this little dance like they can't decide if they should be raised in shock or frowning in accusation. She stares openly at Sam, the syringe still clutched tightly in her right hand. Sam wracks his brain for literally anything that would make sense in this situation and draws blanks.

But he has more to worry about than the doctor, like how Dean's apparently decked out with IKEA instructions and has something supernatural glowing in his skin that could very well be killing him. Not even to mention how he can't seem to remember Sam at all, or how to be human.

"Look," Sam says curtly, already trying to gently ease himself out from under Dean so he can get them both up. "Would you believe me if I said it's bath salts?"

He's not even looking at Dr. Richardson, too preoccupied with making sure his brother doesn't get any more unnecessary bumps and bruises. Dean's as floppy as a ragdoll, head lolling so far to the side Sam's almost worried he'll hear a crack from his neck. He manages to slide Dean's non-glowing arm around his shoulders and tuck Dean's head gently against his chest.

Dr. Richardson is standing up straighter, placing the syringe down finally. She eyeballs Dean up and down, pulling one of her lips between her teeth. "...You still need to clean and stitch all those injuries," she says slowly, the tracking path of her glances no doubt mapping out Dean's wounds like an autopsy sheet. Sam's hand rests against Dean's ribcage, supporting him and holding him close. He can feel the letters carved there under his fingers and he nods at Dr. Richardson.

"I know, but if it's nothing more serious than that, I can take care of him," he says, and hopes it really is the truth. Barring the mysterious orange glow, Sam can fix bruises and cuts. He'll worry about that after he fixes Dean to the best of his ability. He can't afford to work any differently, one foot after another—he has Dean back in his arms, nothing else matters but keeping him there.

Something must show on his face because Dr. Richardson is nodding slowly like she understands it. "I think that shoulder is dislocated too, the one that got hit by the car. You can fix that?" she says, but Sam can already sense she's conceding on letting him go. Hopefully, without a short call to the cops. Sam nods with a tiny quirk of a smile that he knows probably looks sadder than it does reassuring.

"Done it for him before," he offers with a huff and a one-armed shrug. Dr. Richardson doesn't look comforted by this tidbit of information but she turns to a cabinet and tugs out a plastic bag.

"I'm gonna give you some stuff. Make sure he gets hydrated when he wakes up, that sedative will dry him up. Bath salts—" she stops throwing things in the bag to laugh, eyes rolling to the ceiling. "I have no idea what that shit does. But don't let him eat your face and please google how to help him. I have numbers for rehab centers nearby too, actually." She's already producing a pen and scribbling them down and Sam is a little touched.

"You don't have to do all this," he says softly, "I admit I kinda freaked out when I brought him here."

Dr. Richardson shakes her head, throwing the last few bits of suturing thread into the bag and tying it off. "No, better safe than sorry. The man's high on some really bad shit and got himself hit by a car, I think you made the right call."

She's not quite smiling when she comes up to Sam, and she does keep a respectable distance between herself and them, but she sounds sincere. "You clearly love him a lot."

Sam thinks of the long stretch of interstate highway, the emptiness, breath caught in his chest cavity, slowly suffocating, and can only nod at the doctor. He doesn't really know if he's agreeing or shaking the thoughts away. Dean breathes steadily against his side and Sam's fingers press so tightly into his brother's skin he worries there might be marks.

Dr. Richardson offers him a soft, knowing smile that doesn't reach her eyes, almost sad. Sam thinks if he found her, before all of this, before Dean—in some other world, he might've fallen for that smile.

"I'll help you get him to the car," she says and Sam can only think of Dean.