"Dean..." Sick-Sam croaked brokenly, leaning into Dean's touch.
"Yeah, buddy, I'm here," Dean murmured. "You're okay. You're safe. Fever's gone down some. Here, why don't you take a little water."
Dean slid his arm under sick-Sam's shoulders, shushing him as he moaned in pain. Sick-Sam's head lolled against Dean's chest as Dean elevated him enough to drink without choking. The kid's lips were cracked and dry, but he made an effort to sip from the cup Dean pressed against his bottom lip, swallowing painfully. It was almost time to give him more painkillers, so Dean forced a couple of pills down sick-Sam's throat with more water while he sputtered and choked.
"There you go," Dean soothed as he helped the big man lie back down and get comfortable again. "Now you can sleep some more. You'll be right as rain in no time, Sammy."
Dean checked the kid's wounded leg to reassure himself the infection was no worse, then slipped quietly out of the room, almost running into his brother, who had apparently been standing there watching for several minutes.
Dean wasn't sure he understood the expression on Sam's face; in a way, it looked like Sam was pissed, or maybe jealous. His brow was knit and his lips were pursed in that disapproving look Dean knew too well.
On the other hand, Sam seemed pensive, his gaze soft as he took in the sight of Dean nursing his doppelgänger.
"This must be weird for you," Dean suggested as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, watching the sick man on the bed.
"You could say that," Sam agreed, then glanced down at the phone in his hand. "I just got a text from Mom. She's caught a case. Pack of werewolves in Montana. Says she needs back-up."
"Caught a case," Dean repeated skeptically. "You mean the Brits are sending her to Montana to clean up another mess for them."
Sam wrinkled his nose. "Well, yeah, I guess," he admitted. "I'd kind of like to go, if it's all right with you."
"Now?" Dean raised an eyebrow, glancing between his brother and the figure on the bed. "Sam, we can't just leave him here."
"No, I know," Sam nodded. "I figured you'd probably want to stay with him. I'll go, meet up with Mom, be back in a couple of days. Piece o' cake."
Dean's hackles went up immediately. Sam hunting without him was never a welcome thought. On the other hand, Sam had just done it recently, taking out an entire nest of invading vampires, including the alpha vamp, with only Mary Winchester as his back-up. It wasn't like Sam couldn't handle himself without Dean. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now that Mary was back and seemed to hold so much of Sam's attention, Dean couldn't help feeling a little left out. Sam had always been the better hunter of the two brothers, and Mary Winchester was pretty formidable herself. Sam and Mary made an impressive team, and if Dean was honest with himself, it made him feel a little awkward.
Okay, a lot awkward.
If it came right down to it, it was probably the reason he'd been so understanding when Sam revealed that he'd started working with the British Men of Letters. When Dean walked into that compound and found Sam with Mary he'd been surprised, but not as shocked as he'd expected to feel. Sam had connected with their mother, the strange, stoic hunter who seemed to have ice-water running through her veins. The fact was, Sam seemed to understand Mary in a way Dean was pretty sure he never would.
He'd told Sam to pick a side, and that was exactly what Sam had done. Dean wasn't so sure he was happy about it, but Sam was his brother, the word that meant so much more than sibling, or partner, or best friend. He couldn't blame Sam for doing what Dean had told him to do.
The problem was, it felt to Dean like the side Sam had chosen wasn't Dean's, and that bothered him more than he was ready to admit. Sam had always had Dean wrapped around his little finger. There was no Dean without Sam. Dean had bent over backwards to cover for Sam when he'd rebelled against their dad, their way of life, even their mutual attraction for each other. Dean had accommodated every transgression, every perversion, because it was Sam. On his eighteenth birthday, when Sam had drunkenly broken down and confessed his long-repressed desire for Dean, Dean had been calm and reassuring, had allowed the distraught teenager to kiss him, to make love to him. Their union had been desperate, drunken, and tearful, as though Sam had already decided it was the last time, not just the first. For his part, Dean had acquiesced to all of Sam's demands with a kind of self-flagellating fatalism. The next morning, when Sam confessed to Dean that he'd been accepted into Stanford, all expenses paid, Dean had swallowed his pain and devastation because Sam deserved that shot at a normal life, especially after what they'd just done.
Of course, they'd never discussed that night again. It had been buried, alongside all the accumulated debris of their long, miserable lives. Just one more regret, one more reminder of what freaks they were, one more example of how cursed their lives were. Dean could see how Sam beat himself up about it, tortured himself over his youthful transgression until Dean wished he could take it back, wished he could convince Sam it had all been his idea in the first place. Sam wasn't the sick one in the brother-loving department, Dean was.
But that was years ago now. So much water had passed under the bridge since that night Dean rarely even thought about it anymore. He was pretty sure Sam had completely forgotten it, especially given all the knocks his impressive brain had endured since. Sam rarely looked at Dean with longing in his almond-shaped eyes anymore. Sam rarely touched him in that lingering way that made Dean's heart race and his hopes soar. Somehow, Sam had withstood the siren-song of his desire for Dean, and the least Dean could do was to keep a handle on his own raging libido.
After all, controlling his perpetual horniness was something Dean was pretty good at. His dad had drilled into him the need to harness his natural urges into useful energy, to let his lust fuel his passion for the hunt. Sex and violence were two sides of the same coin, as Dad had said, and Dean had long ago learned to channel his desire for one into his practice of the other. Hunting alongside Sam had always been stimulating, in more ways than one, and Dean had learned to use that constant low-level arousal to help him get the job done.
Nevertheless, Dean couldn’t help chipping away at Sam’s puritanical stoicism. Dean took for granted Sam’s decision not to let their relationship “go there” again, but that didn’t stop him from teasing the hell out of his sexually-repressed little brother whenever he got the chance. He knew he was being a jerk, but he didn’t let that stop him. Although he’d never admit it, Dean needed Sam’s reassurance that he’d never leave, no matter how many buttons Dean pushed.
Because, when he was being honest with himself, that was exactly what Dean feared most.
"Okay," he said now, unable to look Sam in the eyes. "You go and do what you gotta do. This sick puppy and me will be just fine here without you."
"Just for a couple of days, Dean," Sam repeated, like he was already regretting it. "I promise."
Dean cleared his throat, rolled his shoulders as he reached into his jeans pocket to pull out his car keys. "I said it's okay, Sam," he growled, still unable to look Sam in the face. "Here. You can take the car."
"That's okay," Sam shook his head. "Mom's picking me up."
"Of course she is." Dean rolled his eyes.
The brothers stood awkwardly for another moment, turned toward each other, almost breathing each other's air.
Here's where we kiss and I beg him to stay, Dean's brain provided unhelpfully.
"Dean..." Sick-Sam moaned, and the moment was gone. Dean turned automatically toward the sound, and Sam turned away, scrubbing a hand over his face as if he could almost feel the not-kiss. When Dean glanced back over his shoulder, Sam was walking away, hunched in that way of his that almost looked like rejection.
I'm in a love triangle with my own brother, Dean's brain smirked as he ran water on the washcloth, wringing it out before crossing to the bed. Sick-Sam's skin was flushed and his eyes were closed. As Dean lay the cool, damp cloth against his forehead, the sick man let out a sigh and he seemed to relax a little.
"There you go, Sammy," Dean crooned softly. "There you go."
He pulled up the desk chair next to the bed, then reached out and replaced the washcloth on sick-Sam's forehead with his hand. Still warm, but not dangerously so. He leaned closer so he could study the bruises on sick-Sam's neck, which was when he noticed it. A circle of small scars at the base of sick-Sam's throat where it met his left shoulder, unmistakably dentin in shape.
"Somebody take a bite out of you, Sammy? Huh?" Dean murmured with a frown.
The bite had to have broken the skin to leave scars like that. Unbidden, Dean experienced a flashback to the moment when his demon self had told Sam he was fighting the urge to rip Sam's throat out. With his teeth. Dean ran his fingers along the silvery scars, raised slightly from the surrounding skin. He could imagine the force of the bite, Sam writhing in pain as Dean held him down with his demonic strength. Dean could almost taste the warm, coppery blood flooding his mouth.
Maybe it was a residual sense memory from his time as a vampire, but Dean was just sure that Sam's blood would be better than anything he'd ever tasted.
Okay. Time to take a break. Where the hell had that thought come from anyway? Yech.
Dean jumped as the door to the bunker slammed shut. Sam leaving, his brain reminded him. Didn't even say goodbye.
Sick-Sam seemed to hear the sound in his sleep. He shifted and moaned on the bed, and Dean could see his eyelids fluttering, as if he was dreaming.
"Dean..." The word slipped out between sick-Sam's cracked and swollen lips, and Dean was right there with the little cup of water.
"Yeah, buddy," he murmured as slipped his arm under sick-Sam's shoulders again, propping him up so he could take a sip. "I'm right here. Not going anywhere. Here, have a little of this. It'll make you feel better, I promise."
Sick-Sam swallowed reflexively, eyes fluttering open as his good hand groped weakly for Dean's wrist, holding his hand still while sick-Sam sucked in another ounce of water. He lifted fever-bright eyes to Dean's face when he finished, and Dean could feel his fingers trembling where they clutched Dean's wrist.
"Dean," the sick man croaked, blinking up at Dean blearily, as if he couldn't believe his own eyes.
"Yeah, that's right, Sammy," Dean murmured reassuringly. "It's me. You're all right now. You're safe."
This time, when he tried to slide off the bed, sick-Sam held onto him.
"Stay," sick-Sam said, his voice a cracked whisper. "Please."
It wasn't the first time Sam had been sick and needed Dean to ground him. Dean was more familiar with Sam's hallucinations than he cared to admit; Sam's struggles with reality and visions had been a recurring theme throughout their long, dangerous lives. Even when he was a kid, Sam used to beg Dean to lie down with him when he was feverish, as if Dean's physical closeness was the only thing that kept him from flailing off the edge of his own over-active imagination into nightmares far worse than anything most kids could conjure.
Dean didn't hesitate. He'd seen Sam this desperate before, and it wasn't good to refuse him when every cell of his body screamed,Fix Sam! Help him! Make him better! Don't let him die!
"Okay, okay, just ‘til you fall asleep," Dean murmured as he sat with his back against the headboard. Sam tucked into his side, broken arm folded between them, big shaggy head resting on Dean's shoulder. It was awkward, couldn't be comfortable, but Sam relaxed against Dean with a sigh of pure contentment, his entire body almost immediately going limp with sleep. It was like flipping a switch.
Dean let himself inhale the overripe smell of baby brother with a guilty thrill that spiked low in his gut. He turned his face into sick-Sam's dirty hair and breathed sweat and blood and something putrid, aware that the kid had probably puked and rolled around in his own vomit and Dean didn't care. Plenty of time to clean up and take a shower later. For now, sick-Sam needed to sleep and heal, and if Dean's physical presence helped with that, then Dean would stay right here as long as he was needed, no questions asked.
Dean woke with a start. He was in his room, the lingering scent of sweat-soaked brother confusing him for a moment because he was alone, the bed-covers rumpled and loose next to him.
Then he remembered.
Dean sat up, expecting to find sick-Sam on the floor on the other side of the bed. The kid had been in no condition to so much as get up to use the bathroom, so if he'd tried to do that...
The room was empty.
Dean was off the bed and into the hall before he could form a coherent thought.
Sick-Sam wasn't in the bathroom. Dean checked the library, the kitchen, even Sam's room, before it occurred to him.
Sick-Sam was on his knees in front of the magic door, his back to Dean. He was drawing sigils in his own blood onto the ancient wood, chanting under his breath as he did it. There were fresh knife-wounds on his arms, and his good hand was shaking violently as he drew the symbols with the tip of one crimson-tinged finger.
"Jesus, Sammy," Dean breathed, shocked into complete paralysis as he surveyed the scene. "What the hell are you doing?"
Sick-Sam acted like he didn't even hear Dean as he went on chanting hoarsely and drawing with the blood he'd somehow managed to drip into a little silver bowl on the floor beside him. Horror and revulsion choked Dean's chest and bile rose in his throat at the obvious evidence of sick-Sam's self-mutilation. If Dean had had any doubts before about whether those old scars were self-inflicted, sick-Sam was making it obvious right now.
Dean took a step forward and sick-Sam's head snapped around, throwing a look of such feral rage over his shoulder that it made Dean shiver. He hesitated, and sick-Sam turned back to his chanting, ignoring Dean again as he made another long, shallow cut in his forearm.
"Fuck!" Dean lunged forward without conscious thought, grabbing onto sick-Sam's wrist with the intention of wrestling the knife away.
But sick-Sam was like a wild animal. He twisted and wrenched free, then turned toward Dean with a savage growl that was like nothing Dean had ever heard because it sounded like Sam but also utterly alien at the same time. Monstrous.
Dean had a split second to realize that sick-Sam's blade was pressed against Dean's gut, and that in all likelihood Dean was about to be fatally stabbed. Then the blade fell away as sick-Sam's teeth sank into the flesh at the base of Dean's throat.
Dean gasped in pain and shock, his senses consumed with brother-sweat and brother-blood and the feel of Sam all around him as sick-Sam's teeth broke skin. He was aware of struggling, trying to free himself, but sick-Sam held him fast, pressing him to the floor with the strength of a madman, his body still heavier than Dean's, even in its emaciated state. As he held Dean down, Sick-Sam took long pulls of Dean's blood, sucking and swallowing, and Dean began to lose consciousness. When sick-Sam's finally let go, he lapped at the wound and the pain subsided, replaced by a sense of floating. Dean felt as if he was outside his body while also inside Sam, both inside and surrounded by him at the same time.
Dean's last conscious thought before he passed out was, why? What had happened to Sam to turn him into this wild, barely-human creature? How had things gone so wrong?
When Dean woke up he was lying on his bed in his room, and for a moment he thought he was alone. His neck throbbed, and as he reached up to touch the wound he saw sick-Sam sitting on the chair by the bed, watching him. The kid looked better. The slash marks on his arms had healed over, his eyes weren't glittering with fever anymore, and the color of his skin had gone from pallid and unnatural to its normal faded-tan complexion. He'd washed his face, slicked his hair back, and it almost looked like he'd put on weight, his body filled out and healthier-looking.
Sick-Sam's lips turned up in a tentative smile, and Dean was struck, for only about the thirty-millionth time, by Sam's exotic beauty, along with the odd sense that there was something otherworldly about that beauty, something not quite human.
"What the fuck, Sam?"
Dean knew he should be terrified, mortified, shocked. The kid had bitten him, for God's sake! The hunter in Dean was screaming that he should've known better, he should have tested sick-Sam for every possible monster before this happened. He shouldn't have been so trusting because there was obviously something seriously wrong with this alternate version of his brother.
But somehow all he felt was an unnatural calm, and it occurred to him that sick-Sam might have infected him with something, that there might have been some kind of soothing agent in his saliva that was preventing Dean from freaking out. Which was just all kinds of crazy, and should have given him yet another reason to freak out.
Dean fingered the wound on his neck, only to find there was no wound, just a bruise that was slightly sensitive to touch.
"What, are you some kind of vampire or something?"
Sick-Sam shook his head, looking contrite as he hunched over on the chair, his big body somehow managing to seem small in his torn T-shirt and Dean's too-small sweatpants.
"Not a vampire," sick-Sam said hoarsely, then cleared his throat. "Just an addict."
Dean stared at him, uncomprehending. Addiction? It had been so long, Dean knew his Sam didn't have that problem anymore. He figured Sam had been healed of all his old afflictions when his body came back from Hell, same as Dean. Not that he'd ever asked. He'd never wanted to open those old wounds as long as he lived.
But apparently this alternate-universe version of Sam had done just that.
"Addiction," Dean nodded with what he hoped was a look of severe disapproval. "You fell off the wagon."
Sick-Sam looked away, flushing, and Dean knew he was right.
"You've been using again," Dean clarified. "Who's your source this time, Sam, huh? You find another Ruby?"
"No!" Sick-Sam looked horrified, then apologetic again. "No. It's not a demon. I mean, it was, at first. But then I figured out a way to alter the formula, and now it only takes a drop or two to keep me going. Just enough to do what I have to do."
"What do you have to do, Sam?" Dean struggled to control the sinking feeling in his gut, reminding himself that this wasn't his Sam, this poor sick kid. His Sam had kicked the habit long ago and had never looked back.
Or had he? Did Dean's Sam struggle against the pull of his old habit? Did he still have cravings?
Sick-Sam was shaking his head. "It doesn't matter," he said softly. "I'm stuck here, now. Nothing matters."
"Wait..." Dean suddenly remembered what sick-Sam had been doing when he found him in the hall. "You didn't open that door, did you?"
He got up too quickly and practically passed out as his head filled with fog and his vision went dark.
"Whoa, hey, hold on there." Sick-Sam was there immediately, supporting Dean as he stumbled sideways. "You've lost a lot of blood. Take a minute."
"You– You drank my blood," Dean gasped, clinging to sick-Sam just to stay upright as he tried to clear his head by sheer force of will. "Why did you do that?"
"It makes me better," sick-Sam muttered unhappily. "I need it."
"But you– You said your addiction was back," Dean said, confusion making his head pound.
Sick-Sam nodded. "It's you, Dean," he said softly, almost sadly. "I'm addicted to you. Well, obviously not exactly you. My version of you. But in a pinch, your blood works, too. I just need more of it."
Dean blinked furiously, trying to make sense of what sick-Sam was saying.
"So you're telling me that demon-me is your source," he suggested, trying to glare at sick-Sam but succeeding only in making a face that probably looked more drunken than angry, since he still couldn't get his eyes to focus. "Your only source. And he lets you feed off him."
"When I can," sick-Sam nodded. "Sometimes he takes off for weeks at a time, and he's not easy to summon. Even harder to trap. He's not fully demonic anymore, so there's spells using my blood that I have to use, and lately the spells have been harder to cast. They need more and more of my blood, and I get weaker and weaker while I'm working them. Sometimes they don't work at all. That's bad. Or sometimes they work, but there's a delay. I think that's what was happening when you found me."
As sick-Sam babbled, he gently helped Dean sit on the bad, then he knelt on the floor at Dean's feet, speaking slowly and sympathetically, as he would to a child.
"It's not a great way to live, but sometimes Dean gets better, and I find reason to hope again," he said. "Sometimes, he's almost human. We hunt, I help him find kills that appease the Mark. We do what we've always done, and it's good, you know? Almost normal."
"So let me get this straight..."
Dean wished his head would clear the fuck up so he could think straight, but he was damned if he was going to let sick-Sam see how dizzy and out of it he felt, especially since it was sick-Sam's fault and the kid drank his blood! for God's sake.
"So your brother stayed a demon," Dean said. "You did the sanctified blood ritual, but it didn't work?"
It made Dean wince to remember how painful that blood ritual had been, but it hurt more to remember the rage he had felt. Against Sam. How Dean had had murderous intent in his heart towards the one person he loved most. He could still feel that hammer in his hand, remembered swinging it with every intention of bashing Sam's head in. If Cas hadn't stepped up and grabbed him...
"Not that first time, no," sick-Sam shook his head. "But it didn't completely fail, either. He was partly-cured, enough to make him stop before he beat me to death with that hammer."
"Cas stopped me," Dean winced. "I would've killed you, Sammy."
"No, you didn't," sick-Sam shook his head again. "Cas is dead, Dean. That reaper he slept with killed him, when he was human. He's gone."
Dean stared, ice-water flooding his veins as he absorbed the idea of his friend's death, of how much more alone and friendless that loss had left sick-Sam in his world.
"Not here, Sam," Dean said, a sudden tightness in his throat making his voice come out choked-sounding. "Here he's still kicking. He helped you stop me, when I was a demon."
"I know," sick-Sam nodded, looking away uncomfortably. He stood up and retreated to the chair, sitting down across from Dean but no longer touching him.
"You know?" Dean frowned. "What do you mean, you know? How can you know how things are in this world? How do you know what's different?"
Sick-Sam took a deep breath, steepled his hands together as he leaned his elbows on his knees. Dean recognized the signs, knew he was about to hear something he wasn't going to like.
"I found the door a little over a year ago," sick-Sam explained. "I figured out what it did, how I could use it to find other worlds, other versions of you. That's how I get by when Dean's not around. The other Deans, they told me how things were in their worlds, what the differences are."
"Fuck," Dean sucked in a breath, pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead. He slid off the bed, too agitated to sit for another minute, grateful that the throbbing in his head had subsided so he could pace the room. "That is so fucked up. You do realize how fucked up that is, right? I mean, you're not so far gone on me-juice that you can't see that, are you, Sam?"
"No, I get it," sick-Sam sighed. "And I'm sorry. I am. But it's who I am now. I'm not your Sam. I haven't been that guy in a while."
"Well, that's an understatement," Dean glared. "You're nothing like him. My Sam would never do this. Damn it, Sammy, what the hell, man? I mean, drinking blood? My blood? Luring me and God knows how many other poor bastards into your universe so you can suck their blood? Doing whatever else you're doing to keep your supply-line open? Are you high? Don't answer that."
Sick-Sam lowered his head again and Dean watched the way his hair curtained half his face, sweeping along his chiseled jaw in a way that set off his soft mouth. Sick-Sam pulled his plump bottom lip into his mouth and Dean got a glimpse of the teeth that had sunk into his flesh so recently. He watched as sick-Sam's pink tongue licked over the lip he had just bitten.
"After the demon beat me to within an inch of my life, he came back," sick-Sam said quietly. "He didn't leave me for dead. That was the first time."
"The first time?" Dean echoed, sickened but unable to stop, unable not to hear more.
"The first time you gave me your blood, Dean," sick-Sam raised his eyes for a moment, and Dean saw a flash of anger bordering on something darker. "You force-fed me your blood, even though you knew how much I would hate it. Demon-you didn't care. You said you were trying to fix me. You were human enough at that point to want to save me, to keep me with you, even if it meant getting me hooked on demon-blood again."
"I would never..." Dean started to say, then remembered Gadreel. He felt his face flush hot and looked away into a corner of the room, unable to meet those accusing hazel eyes. "Never mind. Shit, this is so fucked up."
"It wasn't you," sick-Sam said sharply, shaking his head. "Demon-you isn't you. You two are fundamentally different."
Dean lifted his eyes to sick-Sam's again, realization dawning. "Because of the Mark," he said. "Your Dean still has the Mark of Cain."
Sick-Sam winced. "We're working on that," he said. "I've found a series of spells that may allow me to share the Mark with Dean. We already share a blood-bond, and since the spells require a soul-bond as well, I think we've got a pretty good shot at making them work."
Dean stared. "You really are crazy, you know that? The Mark doesn't like it when you try to control it. It's evil, Sam. The most ancient, sick kind of evil. It corrupts whoever bears it, and it'll corrupt you, too, even if you do figure out a way to transfer it from your demon brother. Whatever you're doing, it's gonna come right back and bite you in the ass."
Sick-Sam shook his head. "Not this time," he said with that clenched-jaw stubbornness Dean knew too well. "I've found a way, Dean. It will work. Once my brother and I share the Mark, its power will balance out and it won't be able to control either of us. It was never meant to be borne by just one soul. Cain and Abel were meant to share it."
"What?" Dean scrubbed a hand over his face, leaning his weight on one hip. "You do realize that the Mark originated with Lucifer. God gave it to Lucifer to keep the Darkness locked up, but he couldn't handle it. If fuckin' Lucifer couldn't handle the Mark, how do you think the two of us have any chance in hell of controlling that thing?"
"Lucifer doesn't have a soul," sick-Sam said, and Dean could hear his breath quickening a little at the mere thought of his former torturer. "Human souls are very powerful. When they're bonded, like ours are, and when that soul-bond is as old as ours is, we're pretty formidable, Dean. I know we can do this."
Dean shook his head. "I still think you're insane," he said. "We figured out a way to destroy the Mark, here. You know that, right?"
Sick-Sam nodded. "You unleashed the Darkness and the world ended. Universe number four-twenty-seven. Got it."
"Okay, well then, hotshot, you know we got rid of the Darkness in this universe," Dean snapped. "The world didn't end here because we saved it. Again."
Sick-Sam shook his head, huffing out a breath. "I'd forgotten how annoying you could be," he said. "Always the hero, always saving the world. My Dean doesn't have a hero complex; he doesn't try to be the Righteous Man anymore. He's free."
"Well, goody for him," Dean snapped. "I'll bet he likes killing puppies, too."
Sick-Sam huffed out another breath. "He only kills when he needs to," he scoffed. "And then it's only things that need killing, same as always."
"Huh." Dean nodded skeptically. "I'll bet Crowley's got a few choice words of wisdom to share on that topic."
"Crowley's dead," sick-Sam said. "Dean killed him. Pushed a little too hard over the whole Consort of Hell business. As if." He spat the final two words out with such disgust it almost made Dean smile, once he got over the shock of Crowley's demise. He'd stopped imagining that happening too long ago.
"Wow," Dean breathed. "Things really are different in your world. No Cas, no Crowley. I don't even want to ask about our human friends."
"Charlie's fine, Jody's fine, Garth turned into a werewolf but he's fine, too..." Sick-Sam rattled off a few more hunters' names, all still among the living in his universe, and Dean nodded at each name, more relieved than he let on. "Of course, Dean and I stay out of the way most of the time, not being exactly human ourselves anymore."
"Ah," Dean nodded.
"The blood-bond has changed us," sick-Sam explained. "It heals me, like it did when I took your blood just now. Not perfectly healed, in my case at least, but back to the point just before Dean and I first shared blood. I can heal you, like I did with that bite on your neck. I haven't tested it, but I think that, with the power of the Mark, we're both a little invincible now. Immortal, maybe."
Sick-Sam seemed adorably unsure and apologetic about this last suggestion, as if he knew Dean would be appalled.
And Dean was appalled, but maybe a little less than he should be. After everything they'd been through, all the times they'd died and resurrected, it didn't seem so reprehensible for them to attain some small degree of deathlessness. It almost seemed like a kind of justice. It was creepy and unnatural as all hell, maybe, but this wasn't about Dean and his brother. These two other Winchesters had figured out another way to survive, and Dean wasn't sure he should judge that.
Dean scrubbed his hand over his face again and stopped in front of sick-Sam's chair, close enough to touch him.
"So now what? You need my blood to help you get back to your demon brother?"
Sick-Sam blinked, and damn it if there wasn't a film of tears over the kid's lovely multi-colored eyes. He sat there looking up at Dean like Dean was his whole world, and how the hell was Dean supposed to resist that? How had he ever been able to resist that?
"Really?" sick-Sam said hopefully. "You'd really help me? Even after everything I just told you?"
"For God's sake, Sam. Stop making this into some kind of Godfather III moment," Dean griped. "Just one more question."
Sick-Sam nodded, still gazing up at Dean with that trusting, hopeful expression that made Dean want to ruffle his hair or kiss his forehead or something. "Shoot."
Dean reached out and touched the fading scar on sick-Sam's shoulder, the one that looked like a full set of teeth and was all but hidden by sick-Sam's T-shirt. He felt sick-Sam shiver subtly, felt a corresponding tingle in his fingertips.
"I'm probably going to be sorry I asked, but when did you get this?"
"Right after I first summoned you," sick-Sam said. "You hated that I could do that, just make you come to me like some punk-ass crossroads demon."
"So I bit you?"
Sick-Sam lowered his eyes. "You threatened to tear my throat out. With your teeth."
"Yeah, I remember that," Dean muttered, cringing. "So demon-me's got a little Sam-juice in his veins."
Sick-Sam nodded. "I did the purification ritual right before I summoned you, just in case."
Dean was impressed. "So your blood was pure," he noted. "Like when you were curing Crowley."
He'd never been able to admit how jealous it made him that Crowley had some of Sam in him. At the time, it had fucked him up a little, that Crowley had something of Sam that Dean didn't have. It made him a little crazy.
And then when Sam tried to cure Dean of being a demon – well, he succeeded at that in this universe, at least – Sam had used some stranger's blood, and even the demon had been a little offended. He could remember thinking, What? Your blood's good enough for Crowley but not good enough for me? What the fuck, Sam?
Sick-Sam nodded. "I didn't know about the blood-bonding then," he said. "I still thought I could cure you. For a while, it helped, but it didn't fully cure you, and in the end I just didn't have the stomach for it. I couldn't – I couldn't stand to hurt you so badly, to do something to you that you didn't want. I've had too many things done to me that I didn't want, and even though I know that demon-you isn't the real you, he's still you, you know? Once you were partially human again, you made it clear you wanted to stay demonic, and I just couldn't take that away from you."
Sick-Sam's jaw clenched and unclenched as he spoke, keeping his eyes lowered, and Dean listened. He was fascinated and horrified by how differently things had gone in that other world, mesmerized by sick-Sam's brutal honesty, by the way he confessed to Dean as if Dean was his priest or a goddamn therapist. It made Dean's head spin, trying to imagine the abusive relationship sick-Sam endured on a daily basis, the cycle of self-harm and substance-abuse and addiction.
Dean reached out almost unconsciously and touched the bruises that formed a ring around sick-Sam's neck.
"He's a monster, Sam," Dean murmured, shaking his head. "He can't care about you."
"You're wrong, Dean," sick-Sam's head snapped up, beautiful slanted eyes filled with tears again. "He loves me despite himself. Despite what he is. He doesn't let it define who he is."
"He's a demon," Dean shook his head. "He's a fuckin' Knight of Hell."
"Not anymore," sick-Sam insisted fiercely. "He's given that up. He doesn't want to rule Hell. He doesn't take orders from anyone. He's never been like that."
Well, that part was true, anyway. Dean had never met anyone he trusted well enough to take orders from. Not willingly. Not since their dad.
"Hey, you know what? I can understand you wanting to get back to your brother," Dean said, going for familiar territory. Empathy, like Sam would do. "No matter how weird things are for you two, that's your business. We'll help get you back there, Sam and me, since that's what you want."
"It is, Dean," sick-Sam nodded. "I can't stay here."
"Yeah, I get that." Dean swallowed past the lump in his throat and cleared it before speaking again, trying to put some authority into his voice. "So here's what we'll do. You go get showered and changed. There's duds in Sam's room that'll fit you, so you just take whatever you need. Then you come on down to the kitchen and we'll rustle up some grub, put a little meat on your bones before we get to work. Sound good?"
"Sounds good, Dean," sick-Sam nodded gratefully, making Dean's heart practically break in two. "Thank you."
"Well, don't thank me until we figure this thing out," Dean said gruffly. "Now get out of my room."
Dean tried not to watch as sick-Sam limped out of the room, his bum leg apparently still giving him trouble despite the fresh injection of Dean-juice sluicing through his veins.
Dean tried not to think about that too much. It really ought to make him sick, thinking about the whole blood-drinking thing. It raised memories of his time as a vampire, and none of those memories were good. Maybe killing the head vamp was a good memory, but not the burning in his throat, the thirst that no amount of water could quench. He'd lusted for Sam in a totally different way then, or maybe just in an extra-special way. Dean imagined how Sam's blood would taste, the feel of it in his mouth, running down his throat, and the thought was so intense it was turning him on even now, in the present.
Fuck. This whole thing was so, so sick.
In the kitchen, Dean sliced cheese and buttered bread, dumped a can of condensed tomato soup into a saucepan and added water. By the time sick-Sam shuffled into the room, Dean had four perfectly-toasted sandwiches filled with melted cheese and a hot bowl of soup waiting for him.
"And I made you a salad," Dean announced smugly, gesturing toward the table as he flipped the last of the sandwiches in the pan on the stove.
Sick-Sam moved up behind him, chest pressed against Dean's back as he looked over his shoulder, big hands splayed on Dean's hips. Dean barely had a moment to register what was happening before sick-Sam's lips pressed against his cheek and sick-Sam murmured, "Thank you."
The kid's hot breath made him shiver, and for a split-second Dean leaned back against the warm body pressed against his, savoring the physical closeness out of some deep-seated need he didn't fully understand because it wasn't just sexual.
Although it was plenty sexy.
"Whoa, hey, step back there, big guy." Dean jerked his shoulder up, dislodging sick-Sam's chin from its unexpected resting place. The kid had been hugging him, for God's sake, draped against his back like a walking bear-rug.
"Sorry," sick-Sam moved away at once, hands up apologetically. "I forget you're not him sometimes."
"Yeah, well, don't forget again," Dean grumbled, then frowned as he took in sick-Sam's words. "He lets you do that?"
Besides the low-level rage and need to kill, Dean's memories of his time as a demon consisted of a few brief sexual encounters, but not much in the way of physical affection. Palling around with Crowley in the beginning of that period did not count.
Sick-Sam's cheeks flushed a lovely shade of red before he ducked away to slide into his seat at the table.
"We're still lovers, Dean," he said softly. "No matter what else we are to each other, we've always had that."
Dean nearly dropped the pan, barely managing to keep it from crashing to the floor as his brain short-circuited.
"What?" He squeaked. "What the fuck are you talking about?" He turned and practically slammed the plate of sandwiches onto the table.
Sick-Sam jumped and looked up at him, wide-eyed. "What?"
"We're not– We're brothers, Sam," Dean growled, forcing his voice to lower into its normal command mode. "That's not what we do."
Sick-Sam blinked, frowned, then looked skeptical as Dean's words sunk in. "You're kidding, right?"
"Seriously?" Dean was shocked. Okay, it wasn't like he didn't think about it, sometimes constantly, but acting on those unbrotherly feelings? For years? That was so far out of Dean's toolshed of possibilities he'd stopped imagining it altogether.
No, that wasn't quite right. He imagined it all the time. But it was fantasy, not something he ever considered might happen for real. Just a sick, abnormal fantasy Dean used to jerk off from time to time. Just a low-level arousal that thrummed under every moment in his brother's presence, every thought of Sam when he wasn't around.
"What is it with you and demons, Sam?" Dean sniped because his insides were churning with self-loathing. "You just can't keep it in your pants when it comes to evil? Huh?"
It was a low blow and Dean knew it, but the mere thought that in another universe his alt-self couldn't keep fantasy and reality separated, hadn't been able to control the urge that Dean had struggled with for twenty years, was almost incomprehensible to Dean. What kind of monster couldn't stop himself from fucking his own brother?
"It started way before you turned into a demon, Dean," sick-Sam growled back, apparently not offended enough to shut his mouth. "Before Stanford. I left because I couldn't stand doing that to you. I knew you hated it. But after Jessica died, and you confessed that you'd always felt the same way, even when I was too young..."
"Shut up!" Dean yelled, clenching his fists threateningly. "Just shut up, Sam! That is not the way it happened. Not here." The temptation to slam his fist into something, preferably sick-Sam's perfect jaw, was almost overwhelming.
"I can see that," sick-Sam said, his voice low and tight. "My bad. I'm sorry I didn't figure it out earlier."
For another tense moment they stared at each other, sick-Sam deliberately keeping his hands where Dean could see them, deliberately sitting back in his chair, letting Dean see that he wasn't going to fight. He wouldn't try to resist if Dean punched him, and he wouldn't retaliate. He probably felt he deserved it, the masochistic fuck.
Sick, sick, sick, Dean chanted in his head.
In the end, it was that thought that caused Dean to back down. Getting hit by Dean was probably something sick-Sam was far too accustomed to these days. Dealing with Dean's demon-self and his constantly-simmering rage was a fact of life for sick-Sam, or so Dean imagined, given those bruises on sick-Sam's neck, the scars of old gashes on his perfect cheekbones. This kid lived with domestic violence on a daily basis. Dean couldn't stand the thought of adding another bruise to that chiseled jaw.
"Eat your food," he commanded finally, deflating in the face of sick-Sam's stoic acceptance of his messed-up life, complete with brother-fucking. Because really. Who was he to judge how sick-Sam chose to live his life? His choices were his own, and he'd clearly made his decision about his sex life of his own free will. He hadn't been raped by a demon or coerced into incest as a child. Sick-Sam had made a lifestyle choice that included loving his brother in every possible way, and who was Dean to say it was wrong?
"You, too," sick-Sam said gently, his voice cutting through Dean's thoughts like the sharpest blade. "You lost a lot of blood. You need to eat."
Dean complied because he was still a little woozy, and he wasn't sure his thoughts were as clear as they should be. He sat down and ate silently, throwing sidelong glances at sick-Sam every few bites and taking long swigs of his beer. He followed it with a second and then a third beer, ignoring sick-Sam's disapproving looks, secretly reveling as sick-Sam pursed his soft lips, making his dimples show.
Dean had been doing that all his life, he thought to himself as he swallowed. Finding ways to make Sam give him that look had become an art-form, something he took more pride in than he knew he should. He was aware that sick-Sam watched his throat when he swallowed, and it occurred to him that his Sam always did that, too. Sam and Dean had always watched each other, maybe had always gotten a little too much enjoyment from pushing each other's buttons.
For the first time, Dean considered the idea that Sam might have had feelings for him, all these years, just as sick-Sam had for his brother.
No, that was just impossible. Sam would have told him. He would've let Dean know. He couldn't have kept such a major secret, not from Dean.
Sick-Sam helped Dean wash the dishes, still silent, making an obvious effort not to let his hand brush Dean's when he handed Dean the dishes to dry, not to brush his shoulder against Dean's as they worked side-by-side. Dean couldn't help glancing sideways at sick-Sam's profile, startled again and again by the thought that sick-Sam welcomed his brother's touches, probably dimpled gloriously when Demon!Dean teased him, unable to contain his pleasure. Sick-Sam probably leaned into Demon!Dean when they stood together like this, probably let Demon!Dean's arm circle his narrow waist. Sick-Sam let Demon!Dean slide around in front of him and yank their hips together, then he tipped his face up so that sick-Sam could cup it in his large hands. Sick-Sam tilted Demon!Dean's face just right, so that he could lean down and slot their mouths together, so that Demon!Dean could feel those soft lips pressing against his, then that warm, wet tongue flicking against his mouth, encouraging him to open up, to let sick-Sam kiss him to within an inch of his life...
Sick-Sam was waving his hand in front of Dean's face, obviously disinclined to shake him, which is what Sam would have done in his place because Dean had seriously zoned out.
"You've had too much to drink without enough blood in your body," sick-Sam announced, scolding and concerned at the same time. "You should probably sit down, man."
"Yeah, sure, right," Dean muttered, startled out of his daydream by sick-Sam's officious manner. The kid was deliberately not looking at him, deliberately not touching him.
Dean's Sam would have grabbed him, shaken him, maybe even slapped his cheek. Dean's brother would have been touching and clinging and gazing into his eyes, maybe even running his big warm hand along Dean's cheek, turning his face to Sam to get his attention.
All of that innocent, normal touching and gazing was over, now that Dean knew the truth.
Wait. What was it, again?
"Come on, man," sick-Sam was saying. "Maybe you should lie down."
"I'm fine," Dean snapped, but it came out sounding more like, "Ahm mahm." The cheese sandwich and beer were churning in his stomach, and the room was starting to spin. He took two steps away from sick-Sam and immediately stumbled back to the sink, up-chucking hard and long as sick-Sam rubbed his back and murmured soothingly.
"Doan tush meh!"
Dean jerked away from the kid, who looked sad for a split second, then as resigned as someone who was used to dealing with a difficult domestic partner could possibly look.
Fuck. How could sick-Sam be so patient? Dean was such a dick. He could only imagine how much worse Demon!Dean behaved at his worst.
No, he really didn't want to.
"I need to lie down," Dean muttered, and this time he allowed sick-Sam to help him, partly to show him that he wasn't always a dick, partly because he really needed the help and maybe it was about time he stopped acting like he never did.