|The Kindest Cut III: Double-Edged
Author: Guede Mazaka
The ax whistled past Sam’s head, so close its blade shaved the lint off his shirt as he frantically twisted away. He dropped and rolled, coming up by the doorway to the next room. In the background he heard the ghost-hunters shrieking and running around—the one with glasses almost stomped on Sam’s hand as he ran towards the back of the house—but he couldn’t hear Dean. Sam jerked back, then threw himself to the side as the ax splintered up the floor where he’d just been. “Dean? Any new ideas?”
“Working on it—Jesus!” The floorboards rattled and bounced as Dean dove away from Murdoch. He dropped like he was going to roll, then abruptly…he did something that put him behind Murdoch. The in-between stuff had been too fast for Sam to see.
Dean launched himself onto Murdoch’s back, but got shaken off almost immediately. Murdoch whipped around too fast for Dean to get back on and took a swing that came within a hair of cutting Dean on the diagonal. Maybe—Dean had that look on his face, the one that said “I’m totally in control of the situation, asshole.” He easily danced back from the blow, then ducked under—too fast again—and shot Murdoch at point-blank range.
“Those don’t work!” Sam yelled.
“I noticed! Burn the house!” The bullets had forced Murdoch to temporarily dissolve, and when he materialized again…okay, he always popped up in the same stance, which meant Dean could intercept his first swing, grab the ax-handle and use Murdoch’s momentum to sling him across the room. Not such a stupid tactic, even if it sucked as a strategy.
Well, except Murdoch had superhuman strength too and managed to stay on his feet. He spun to a stop, then abruptly reversed direction to come at Sam. His rush was so sudden that Sam couldn’t get out of the way in time and ended up being forced into a narrow back-passage.
“Never mind, I’ll do it! Keep him busy!” Dean called.
Keep him busy. Right. The thought clattered right out of Sam’s brain the moment Murdoch slammed him up against the wall and started trying to choke him with the ax-handle. He just tried to stay alive. But Murdoch was much, much stronger, and the handle was pressing harder against Sam’s throat. His arm muscles were getting wrung out from the effort of resisting, but every breath that managed to squeeze past the ax brought in less air than the one before it. His vision started to go black with pretty flickers at the edges.
Then Murdoch abruptly dropped back. Vanished, which left Sam falling to the floor in a coughing heap. He made himself keep moving and crawled, then stumbled his way into the front rooms, rubbing at his throat. The flickers actually were real, because Dean actually had set the place on fire. The house was all wood that’d been sitting out and getting beaten on for years, and it was going up like it was made of paper.
Sam bumped up against a wall, then pushed himself off. He put up his arm in front of his nose and mouth, trying not to inhale. Smoke had filled the room and he couldn’t…something silver flashed up in the air, and Dean shouted, “Sam!”
This time Sam didn’t even have time to build up enough rage. He just thought No and suddenly his head exploded.
So did the house. At least, that was what all the flying pieces of flaming wood made it seem like. Cursing and coughing, Sam ducked as close as he could to the floor and made for what he thought was the front door. Something grabbed him and he almost punched it before Dean’s face hazily emerged from the smoke.
Dean dragged them outside, where to Sam’s surprise, he found that the house was still standing. It wasn’t going to be for much longer, with the way the fire was going. “What about—” Sam started, and then had to stop to cough.
“Running for their car,” Dean hoarsely said. He dropped Sam’s arm and reached around to grab at his shoulder. His wince caught Sam’s attention and Sam started to turn, only to be startled back by a loud crash.
Murdoch had barged his way to the front door and now stood in it while flames licked up all around him. The ax was lying against his shoulder and on his face was a vicious snarl. But it wasn’t mindless; Sam could almost hear the son of a bitch mocking them in his head. “Burn the house?”
“Well, legend says he haunts the house, so if there’s no house, there’s no ghost?” Dean offered. He sounded faintly sheepish beneath his nervous jokiness. He was still clutching his shoulder.
As if reading Sam’s mind, Murdoch glanced towards Dean. The psycho farmer’s lip lifted—or maybe it was a trick of the light and shadows, but that didn’t occur to Sam till after Murdoch had gone falling back into the fire. Sam grimaced and pressed the heel of his hand to his temple. The headache was awful, but he still felt a grim satisfaction. “Bastard. I hope that keeps the legend from changing anymore.”
“What? What did you—did you just do something? Because that wasn’t the same as before,” Dean said. He turned on Sam with a wary, worried look and the light from the fire pointed up a wet patch on his shirt that was spreading from beneath the hand he had clapped on it.
Dean noticed Sam looking and started to step back. He stumbled on something and barely swayed his way back to upright. And when Sam grabbed his arm, he couldn’t even pull away. Dark as it was out here, his deep sickly pallor couldn’t be missed.
“All right, I let you pretend you were fine for two nights now, but not this time,” Sam snarled beneath his breath. He fought Dean’s attempts to pull free and dragged them towards the car. “You need to drink again.”
“Goddamn it, Sam, I did. I already had my daily moment of hell today, all right? You should know—you were there holding my head in it.” The next try Dean made nearly sent them headfirst into a bush. He couldn’t have righted himself if Sam hadn’t been holding onto him, but did he stop being an idiot? No, he just tried to drive his shoulder into Sam and ended up jarring whatever Murdoch had done to his other shoulder; Dean hissed and temporarily stopped fighting.
Sam concentrated on estimating how far to the car, and then how far to the motel. He wanted to look at Dean’s injury, but didn’t dare stop to waste the time. “You couldn’t raise a baby vampire bunny on how much you took. You can’t live on that, Dean.”
“I’m not living! I’m dead! I’m dead and I’m a goddamn monster and I shouldn’t be living, damn it!” Dean snapped. Then he suddenly stopped. Just planted his heels in the ground so Sam’s momentum jerked his hand off of Dean.
As soon as Sam felt his grip go, he was slewing himself around. He briefly thought about the ghost-hunters, then said to hell to them. And to the cops. If they were still in hearing distance, then they could just find out what it was really like. “I’m not going over this again.”
“Yeah?” Dean threw up his head, then stepped back. His eyes narrowed and his voice dropped, got a little steadier. The desperation and self-hatred and resentment were still lurking around his face, though. “What did you do back there, Sam? One moment Murdoch’s going to take my head and the next he’s not. He’s a—not even a ghost, he’s a thought, and you can’t toss those around like…I don’t know, me when I’m out of it. How do you know it’s not coming back?”
“I—this has nothing to do with—”
“Answer the goddamn question or I’m just going to toss myself into that damn ravine and see how good my chances are of falling on a sharp stick,” Dean hissed. His teeth snapped together on the last word so hard they clicked. He worked his jaw for a moment, staring hotly at Sam.
To be honest, Sam genuinely didn’t have a good answer. To be even more honest, he’d been basically ignoring all of weirdness with himself in favor of feverish research on Dean’s problem. He hadn’t mentioned it to Dean yet because he still needed to track down a couple references, but he thought he’d nearly gotten a ritual cobbled together.
A twig cracked as Dean shifted his weight and Sam almost panicked. He’d almost panicked so many damn times in the last few days that each time he managed to avert a disaster, his shock at himself got bigger. It had to be about the size of Los Angeles now.
Dean had frozen and his expression had changed—he’d looked scared and surprised for a moment. But then he’d jerked his head around, like he was working a cramp out of his neck, and leveled a steady gaze at Sam again. “Were you just going to do something?”
“I don’t—maybe. I don’t know, because I’ve had some other things to worry about lately,” Sam finally said. He sounded annoyed. Well, he was annoyed, and getting anxious about that dark stain on Dean’s shirt and the way Dean was squeezing the hand he had on his shoulder. “I don’t know how I knew about Murdoch. Why don’t you tell me what the hell’s up with your boner issue and I’ll—fuck. Fuck—Dean, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that—it just—”
The moment those goddamn stupid words had come out, Dean had gone white as the moon above them. He flinched back, then glanced from side-to-side like he was about to bolt. When Sam reached for him, he flinched again and actually made an aborted lunge to the left before he settled down. He stared at a point over Sam’s left shoulder and took a long, deep breath.
“We should go. The police’ll be back around soon,” Sam hesitantly said.
“Yeah.” Dean slowly rose up on his toes, then swung heavily into a step towards Sam. He still wasn’t looking at Sam, and he didn’t as he walked around Sam and off towards the car.
Well, they both felt like shit now. Sam glanced at the burning house one last time, then trailed after Dean.
* * *
Something fell on the floor again and Dean cursed for nearly a minute. After clatter number twenty-five, Sam had stopped counting. Once he’d actually gotten up from the bed and begun to go towards the bathroom door, but then he’d thought better of it. He’d just sat there and researched and cringed every time Dean had fumbled something.
The door hinges creaked and Sam looked up to see Dean make a valiant effort not to stagger out of the bathroom. He’d changed his jeans, but probably had run out of energy when it came to putting on his shirt. The bandage over his shoulder was puckered and awkwardly taped in place…Sam glanced at Dean’s face and found a defensive glare.
Dean sat down on the other bed, facing Sam, which was closer than he’d come of his own accord in a couple days. He drummed his fingers on his knees, then reached for the set of cuffs on the table.
Sam suddenly remembered and swiped them before Dean could get to them. “We can’t use those anymore. They’re steel—not as bad as wrought or cast iron, but it’s still bad enough to keep your wrists from healing.”
“I’m not risking you sleeping and me being up without those,” Dean replied. He was a little less forceful about it than usual, like his mind was on something. His hands absently twisted so they covered the dark purplish rings on his wrists, which had never really gone away.
“If you had a half-decent meal, you’d probably be okay. You’re less edgy after you’ve had some—you don’t seem to notice me as much.” When Sam pulled it out of his pocket, the bag of angelica smelled less pungent than usual. He’d have to make up a new one in about a week, he figured.
The bag caught Dean’s attention, too. He stared at it for nearly a minute. A warm, sluggish feeling started to spread through Sam’s hand, making its muscles lax and loose, and he hastily pulled it behind his hip. With a grimace, Dean shook himself out of it. “Sorry.”
“And when you’re really hungry, you do that more and you know, it’s not that easy to fight it off,” Sam said, edging his words with a little sharpness. “I get tired.”
“Yeah, well—” Dean cut himself off with a curt jerk of his head. He looked down at his hands, watched his fingers knot hard around each other. “You want me to have a good meal and you’d have to put up with more than biting. I think—if I try not to do anything else, it doesn’t taste as…filling as the first time. It doesn’t last as long, either.”
He glanced up then to see how Sam was taking it. Sam wasn’t really taking it. And then the meaning of Dean’s words really hit, and Sam was glad he had his notes to stare at instead of Dean. “Makes sense. Not all vampires live off of blood. Some seem to feed off just emotions—they end up causing depression and suicidal thoughts.”
“Makes sense,” Dean incredulously repeated. “I can’t believe you—do you understand at all what I’m saying?”
“I understand that you need to get off on sucking blood,” Sam snapped. He was bringing up his papers to slap himself in the face before he’d even finished. It just seemed like his mouth was going off on its own. “God. I didn’t mean that, Dean.”
“Well, that’s basically it,” was Dean’s surprising answer. His voice was shaking. When Sam looked up at him again, he was rubbing at his wrists harder and harder. He glanced at Sam, then away, then up again. “That’s what it would take.”
For a good few minutes they just stared at each other. Dean looked revolted and sorry and angry, and beneath all of that, he was pleading a little bit with his eyes. Or whatever was driving his abnormal appetites was pleading. Sam felt a headache coming on. Actually, that wasn’t accurate, but the headache was easier to accept than the nausea or the rationale that was already forming in his mind or any of the other things. “Okay.”
“What?” Dean hissed.
“I’m not letting you die. And it’s not really about me, is it? It’s just staying alive till I finish putting together this deal I was telling you about on the way back,” Sam said. He was speaking very fast and very low and he sounded nervous as hell. Which he was. He felt intermittently lightheaded, like his mind was trying to space out on him. “It’s the same as crawling around in disgusting sewers and digging up dead bodies. It’s just something we’ve got to do. Right?”
Dean didn’t immediately respond. He looked away again. “Damned if I’m going to maul somebody else for a comparison,” he finally replied. “I can’t believe you’re agreeing. I can’t believe you’d go that far.”
“I’m not going to watch you die. I’ll do whatever it takes.” Sam was getting tired of having to say that, but every time he actually did say it, it felt like the first time with all the dizzy black fear crowding up around him.
Some of that must’ve gotten through to Dean this time, because he looked at Sam like he was feeling the same thing. “That’s what’s starting to scare me.” Odd comment, but he went on before Sam could call him on it. “All right. If we’re…if we’re going to do this, it’ll be a lot more blood. I don’t want to take it from anywhere that’ll leave you too handicapped—and you were with the shoulder. You were incredibly bad with Murdoch.”
“Well, that rules out most of my body, doesn’t it? Where were you thinking of?” Sam irritably asked. “My ear? Not enough blood vessels. My—”
“The other thing—I’m not doing it again till I know I won’t turn you into a vampire, too. That thing bit me on the tongue…but that can’t be all it takes,” Dean said. He stared at his hands again.
Sam needed more than a moment to take that in. He swallowed hard and didn’t object when his mind snatched on a random detail. “It’s usually not just a bite that’ll do it. Anything else happen right afterward?”
“Well, I slashed his face with my hunting knife and he bled all over—got a lot of that in my mouth. Disgusting. Then he shoved me face-first into his grave-dirt and tried to take me down with him, which was how I knew where the bastard was hiding.” Dean made it sound like the whole thing had been a particularly nasty schoolyard fight. And he’d been calling Sam on being too nonchalant.
“Classic old-school. It was the bite, the grave-dirt and the vampire blood. You didn’t get buried, so you actually might not be able to turn somebody else into a vampire at all. Ever,” Sam noted.
Strangely enough, Dean didn’t seem the least bit relieved by that. Instead he was looking at Sam as if they were meeting for the first time and he was getting creeped out by what he saw. “Do you want to do this?”
Sam couldn’t answer for a moment. He looked down at his notes and saw that they were a mess, with corners sticking out in all directions. He started shuffling them together, but the sheets stuck to each other and wouldn’t slide, which was frustrating as hell. “No, I don’t, and you know that. But what I don’t want even more is—”
“No.” Dean rocked back to shoot Sam one of his don’t-argue-I’m-older looks, then leaned forward to slap his hands on his knees. He didn’t quite hide his flinch, and he definitely didn’t hide the way he went grey in the face. “No. We’re not doing this. I’m not going to do this to you. I’ve spent my whole life trying to keep this kind of thing from happening, and I’m not—”
He stood up and Sam stood up. “Well, I’m really sorry, Dean, but this isn’t completely your decision—”
“It’s my life!” Dean suddenly shouted, spinning around. He threw up his hands and nearly hit Sam in the face. “And I don’t want—”
“It was my life with Jessica in Stanford!” Sam snapped back. He twisted out of the way of Dean’s arm, then stepped forward and started to grab for Dean’s arm. “You think you’re the only one in this family that’s ever had to adjust to a bad situation?”
“A—a ‘bad’ situation? Oh, my God…you could’ve went! I said you could go! You chose to stay! But this—this is so much worse and you’re just—just saying I have to go along with it. I don’t see—” Dean cut himself off and turned sharply on his heel. Too sharply. He overbalanced, then swung too far the other way in trying to correct for it so Sam’s outstretched hand smacked his bandaged shoulder.
There wasn’t even a hiss or a wince; Dean just crumpled. He belatedly attempted to catch himself and his arm flailed up. Sam grabbed his elbow, but instead of pulling back, Dean threw his weight down so he ended up spinning half-around towards Sam. His knee whacked into the side of Sam’s leg and knocked it out from under Sam. And then it all was a rush of limbs and snarling and desperate fighting. The bag of angelica vanished and Sam didn’t have the time to find it; he just grabbed and shoved and jerked up his knees at whatever came near him.
Sam had the impression that something damp and sharp just grazed his neck a second before they managed to get hold of themselves. He was still reacting and slammed at whatever body part he was holding onto, which turned out to be Dean’s shoulders. They both winced, and Dean promptly went limp beneath Sam. His whole face was a sick grey and it took him several moments to stop gasping enough to be capable of talking.
“Oh, Christ,” he muttered. His head lolled to the side and his eyes closed; his right hand came up to brush against Sam’s side before he abruptly slapped it back against the floor. “Sam, get off. Now.”
“Dean, you’re right. This is worse. But you know something?” Sam said. His voice was jittering all over the place, and apparently he’d decided to do all the shaking since Dean was obviously too weak for it. “It’s worse. If you die—if you die, then what the hell am I supposed to do? I didn’t stay because I think it’s my duty to get killed chasing down every damn monster in the world. I stayed because I thought what we were doing wasn’t over yet. And you dead sure as hell isn’t going to end it, only what do I do then? Call Dad? Don’t even go there.”
Something about that got through to Dean, because he went very still. Then he suddenly jerked his head around and stared up at Sam so hard that his gaze damn near stabbed out through the back of Sam’s skull. “What would you do? Sue-Ellen bound a Reaper to save Roy—would you go that far?”
“You know what?” Sam could see the strength of his grip was hurting Dean, but he couldn’t make himself loosen up. And his voice was winding tighter and tighter as well so its shakiness was now tremors. He wasn’t sure if that was still due to fear, or if rage was getting in there as well. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m feeling a lot more sympathy for her right now. You know something else? Maybe it wasn’t fair, but I don’t regret at all that you got to get saved that time and Layla didn’t.”
“Jesus,” Dean repeated. Very softly, while he stared up at Sam with wide-eyed shock.
If there was something else to say, Sam didn’t know what it was and Dean apparently wasn’t going to say it. There probably was—there had to be, considering the level of tension, whining and high, that was still in the air.
The change came on so gradually that Sam couldn’t pinpoint where it began. Their bout of wrestling had left both of them with a sheen of sweat, but that had been all due to motion and not to the actual temperature of the room; now the place seemed to be warming up to match. Dean’s breathing slowed down and the way he was looking at Sam…it twisted, distorted. He tilted his head a little and that exactly fit the off-kilter feel of his gaze. It wasn’t so much that he stopped caring when this came on, Sam realized. It was that that got warped, and not enough so that Sam—or Dean, probably—could pretend it was something completely different.
“Sam,” Dean said in a thick voice. “I—”
“It’s temporary. And I can deal.” Sam shifted so he could get his knees off Dean and onto the floor. His shirt slid up as Dean lifted one knee past his side, then worked back down. He finally got his hands off Dean’s shoulders, pushing one between Dean’s ribs and arm and using the other to hold Dean’s good arm down. “You need it.”
Dean closed his eyes like he was wincing. He opened them again and his lips parted slightly so Sam got a glimpse of long canines. His hips rocked up and Sam froze, which in turn made Dean go stiff. Cursing to himself, Sam set his teeth and slowly leaned over. No good, because Dean just tried to grind his head into the floor.
He’d told Dean he’d do this, and he wasn’t going to prove himself a liar and a coward, especially now. Sam sucked in his breath, rolled his shoulders, and pulled the hand he’d had on the floor back onto Dean. He had a temporary attack of nerves and had to stop, then forced himself to drag his hand over Dean’s stomach.
The pupils of Dean’s eyes widened till only the barest sliver of color ringed them. He hissed out a breath. His hand bumped Sam’s side again, then lifted to brush over the back of Sam’s head. Then his fingers curled and his nails sank in, dragging Sam down so fast that his surprised gasp ended up in Dean’s mouth.
That made it easy for Dean to latch onto Sam’s tongue, and shock basically kept Sam from flinching away because damned if it still didn’t hurt like hell. A little less than the other times—a very little less, barely enough for him to concentrate on pushing his hand lower. His fingertips ran up against the side of the low ridge that was stretching up Dean’s jeans, and—and Sam was trying to pretend it was just him being a horny, lonely teenager again, but Dean was rubbing up against him and sucking on his tongue so the pain got pulled into a thin, singing thread that kept cutting up Sam’s thoughts. Dean was starting to moan, pulling at the arm Sam still was pinning down.
He was drawing blood more slowly, too. This was going to take much longer, Sam realized, and right then he nearly jumped off and ran for the car. But it’d have to if Dean was going to survive. It’d—Sam would have gritted his teeth if Dean hadn’t been pushing his tongue up against them. He had to do without as he pushed his hand completely between Dean’s legs, fumbling around for the fly-button and then for the zipper.
Air, or lack thereof, was just starting to become a problem when Dean unexpectedly moved back, shifting his mouth from Sam’s throbbing tongue to Sam’s lower lip. His hips were jerking up and down, and sometimes sideways so Sam’s fingers slid beneath all the clothes and hit really warm flesh. Hot flesh—he really hadn’t been ready for that, or for how Dean suddenly shoved upward so he jarred open Sam’s mouth. Fresh pain sliced over Sam’s tongue and he let out a muffled cry. He felt Dean flinch, but Dean didn’t stop drinking, or moving so his…Sam curled his fingers around it more to keep the dampness at the tip from hitting his palm again than because he was…but he should be doing that anyway. That’d finish things faster.
Dean scraped his nails over Sam’s scalp and down to gouge at the back of Sam’s neck. He was twisting around harder, pushing himself up so hard that he almost knocked Sam off a few times. Sam was vaguely thankful for the cloudiness of deep shock and tried to keep up, then overtake the loose rhythm Dean was setting up. Then Dean would catch up, and then Sam would have to speed up, and they traded first place a couple times before Dean suddenly stiffened; Sam was blackly impressed at how he swung himself sideways so the only stickiness that caught him was on the hand. At least he wouldn’t have to spend the night scrubbing at his jeans.
A deep wrench caught Sam in the gut, then ripped up and out of him. He fell forward and barely caught himself on his elbow, and for several seconds he was too dizzy to see properly.
With a long sigh, Dean slumped back to the floor. His lips slowly pulled off Sam’s tongue, dragged over Sam’s bottom lip, and then he was down and Sam was rolling himself to the side.
The nightstand between the beds had a box of tissues on it, so Sam hauled himself over and did a shitty job of wiping off his hand. He went for a second tissue and ended up with five, which was actually fine. He probably was going to need those, anyway.
Dean had turned on his side in the direction that Sam had moved, curling up so Sam couldn’t see his face or anything between his knees and belly. There was the sound of a zipper, and then Dean awkwardly pushed himself up against one of the beds. He almost looked like he had a tan again, and all the visible injuries he’d had before were gone. After a long, ragged, breath, he reached up and pulled the bandage off his shoulder: that was healed, too. He used it to mope up the splatters that hadn’t hit Sam’s hand.
“You look a lot better,” Sam said. Tried to say, anyway. His tongue had gotten partially healed so it wasn’t bleeding now, but it was still pretty sore. It also was a bad idea to move too fast, he found out. He probably wasn’t going to pass out, but he did feel pretty anemic.
“Funny. I feel a lot worse,” Dean replied. He shot a resentful, remorseful look at Sam before abruptly getting to his feet and walking over to their bags. “So how far are you with this cure?”
Sam swallowed till he couldn’t taste copper anymore. “Pretty far. I think I’ve got all the leads I need, so it’s just getting the time to put together every—”
“We can make the time. We don’t have anything outstanding right now, and anyway, this is more important. Fill me in.” Dean turned around with a gunkit in one hand and their rifles tucked under his other arm. He carried those over to his bed and started breaking them down.
“Yeah, sure. I’ve—I’m just going to wash my hand first,” Sam awkwardly finished. He never should have started that sentence.
But it was out there. Dean went still, then jerked himself over into a tight hunch. He nodded without a word.
They weren’t going to talk about it. Well, for once Sam was fine with that. He started towards the bathroom, then turned back to pick the tissues he’d used out of the trashcan. If Dean could smell what people had eaten, he’d be able to smell that. And anyway, Sam would know those were still in the room. He’d flush them down the toilet.