|The Kindest Cut IV: Worse than the Disease
Author: Guede Mazaka
Dean abruptly cut himself off. He stumbled slightly and Sam automatically reached out, but Dean twisted away. A second later, he looked fine again. “Think we just went over a really big sewer,” he mumbled, glancing over his shoulder.
Well, this was a pretty good-sized college campus, so that didn’t surprise Sam. It did make him kick himself for not thinking about that before. “Crap. There are sewer lines and plumbing all over the place—are you going to be okay?”
“I’m sure as hell not moving out to the backwoods and doing without the comforts of modern civilization. I’m already giving up enough.” A couple of girls passed them as they started up the library steps, staring and giggling at Dean. Before, he would’ve been all over that, but now he turned his shoulder to it. The muscle in his jaw flexed. “Anyway, I haven’t exactly been collapsing all over the place, have I? And I can still take showers, too. It probably depends on how much water we’re talking about, like how I can still hold a gun as long as I’m not doing it for a half-hour.”
“Yeah…are you sure you’re okay? You keep looking like you’ve got the stomach flu,” Sam asked.
Shrugging, Dean made a face and shouldered past Sam to open the door. Some of the tension went out of him once they were inside. “It’s too sunny out.”
“You weren’t even getting sunburned. Which is pretty surprising, considering how pale you are now.” The wall immediately to their left had a bunch of plastic boxes holding flyers, one of which seemed to be a list of call numbers. Sam turned to it and started pulling out papers; he didn’t really want to spend a lot of time trying to find one book. They still had a lot of shopping to do.
And Dean needed to eat soon. He’d claimed that the feed right after they’d dealt with Murdoch had gotten him set, but it was the third day since and he hadn’t had anything in between. Sometime yesterday night he’d lost his tan again and right now he was flicking sidelong glances at Sam’s neck when he thought Sam wasn’t looking. Well, when he wasn’t being elaborately careful about following the five-feet rule.
“No, I’m not, and thank God for that. But doesn’t mean I like it—it makes me feel like—” Dean yawned loudly “—somebody’s waiting around the next corner to jump me.”
Sam looked over and caught Dean in the middle of another yawn. He raised an eyebrow. “Like a pillow?”
“Shut up. You slept all the way here,” Dean muttered, turning away. Something on the wall got his attention and he walked around to get a better look. Then he spun around so violently that his shoes screeched on the linoleum and everyone in the lobby jumped about to stare at him. Either Dean didn’t notice or he didn’t care, because he just stalked off.
It was a flyer for a blood drive happening somewhere on campus. Wincing himself, Sam hurriedly found the sheet that had a map of the library on it and went after Dean.
He didn’t have to go too far; Dean had stopped in a window-filled passage that let light blaze across the ends of the bookshelves. He looked up when Sam got near, but didn’t stop kicking at the nearest bookshelf, which was starting to rattle.
“Come on. It’ll be on the second floor,” Sam said. When Dean didn’t immediately move, Sam made a grab for him.
That did the trick, even if it did nothing to improve Dean’s mood. His face was stormy and he gave Sam the silent treatment all the way up the stairs and well into the books. Thankfully, the section they were headed for didn’t seem that popular.
Sam found the right aisle and started down it, then stopped. He turned around to face Dean, who was hanging back and eying a nearby sofa. “All right, what happened? We go through all the trouble of finding a blood bank that isn’t in the middle of a hospital so nobody’ll be around at night, and then you—”
“Didn’t work,” Dean curtly replied. He leaned against the shelf and shoved his hands in his pockets. After a moment, he glanced irritably at Sam. “What?”
“Goddamn it, Dean.” He was not pulling this shit again. Not if Sam could help it. There was already so much going on that they just couldn’t talk about if they wanted to stay sane without Dean adding whatever he felt like to that list. “Why not?”
The side of Dean’s upper lip curled slightly. Then he pressed his lips together, pulling his shoulders into a tense crouch. A second later, Sam’s ears were ringing and he was staring at the bookshelf behind him, which was teetering an alarming amount from the kick Dean had given it.
“Well, first off, it took me forever to find a pack that had whole blood in it—” Dean started. He talked fast and with an edgy, false cheerfulness that grated on Sam’s nerves.
“Shit. Right, they usually store the cells and plasma separately. I forgot about that.” It was easier to handle that way, but obviously Dean couldn’t drink it in that form.
“And then—and then I don’t know. I really, really goddamn don’t know, like everything else that’s part of this mess. But I smelled it and it wasn’t going to do any good. It was--dead.” Dean let out a shrill, sarcastic chuckle. “But let me guess—that’s for the best anyway. I read one of their info posters while I was in there and you can’t let the temperature change much when you’re refrigerating blood. Can’t really do that with a portable cooler…not for that long, anyway, and if we got hung up on something way out in the hills for a couple days, then I’m still screwed.”
Another problem would have been getting the blood in the first place, considering the kind of trouble they already had with keeping their police records short. Not to mention that blood banks and hospitals were mainly in suburban and urban areas, which wasn’t where they spent a lot of their time. But Sam had been hoping they could have that option as a kind of stop-gap measure, at least. He still didn’t feel completely recovered from all the blood—and whatever else—Dean had taken last time.
“Maybe I should start hoping we run into more people like those hunter psychos,” Dean finished. He made a noise that sounded like somebody had flayed the skin off a laugh. His hands came up to press against his face. Then he dropped them, and gave the shelf a last kick as he spun to put his back to Sam. “Going to hit the couch now. Have fun with your books, Sammy.”
Sam opened his mouth, then closed it. When Dean was in that kind of mood, there wasn’t any point. Anyway, Sam wouldn’t have known what to say without sounding stupid, naïve or some deliberate combination of the two.
He did poke his head out about a minute later to make sure Dean had gone to sleep before he went off in search of the book. Once Dean was out, he was out cold for a few hours, minimum. The handcuffs really weren’t necessary at that point, and the major worry Sam had actually was that somebody would look too close, find out that Dean’s breathing became so shallow he basically wasn’t and draw the obvious, wrong conclusion.
The book had been listed as on the shelf when Sam had checked last night, and he’d made sure to double-check this morning because getting the next nearest copy would’ve required driving over a thousand miles. He even started reading the call numbers when he was still a good six or seven feet of shelf away, running his finger along the labels. So when his fingertip slid off one book and hit empty air instead of the expected leather spine, he knew he hadn’t screwed that part up. He was looking at a gap precisely where the book should have been.
Panicking was not the first thing Sam did. He took a deep breath and started looking around just in case someone had misplaced it, though this part of the library was so dusty he kept sneezing. After checking five feet in all directions, he walked out of the aisle and headed for the nearest computer catalog station.
Sam stared hard at the words. He’d looked up the book’s status after breakfast, and they’d gotten here about…an hour and forty minutes afterward. All right, an innocent explanation was possible. He still had a hard time not emulating Dean and kicking the hell out of the nearest piece of furniture. What were the chances—
Something thudded and Sam turned around, frowning, but nobody was there except him and Dean, who was completely comatose now and couldn’t possibly have made the noise. Anyway, it’d sounded a little muffled, like…like it’d come from outside, maybe.
He walked over to the nearest window, which was to the left of the couch, and checked out the surroundings. The usual flow of students was moving around beneath, with the occasional chatting cluster here and there. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. His eyes drifted on and landed on one girl carrying a large book. It was old-looking, sort of like what he’d been expecting to find. God. It’d been an hour and forty minutes, so who could’ve possibly…
A small, short stab of pain jabbed up from behind Sam’s ear into his eye and he winced, leaning forward to rest his forehead on the window. He stared harder at the girl. His head throbbed again and he irritably wondered what they’d have to put up with next. Vampirism, family problems, migraines…Jesus Christ, when did it end?
The girl turned around, and Sam knew who she was and suddenly he knew exactly who’d checked out his book.
Sam snarled and shoved himself back from the window. Just in time, because the glass abruptly rattled so loudly he jumped.
“Holy—what the hell was that?” Dean yelped. He rolled off the couch and scrambled to his feet, staring wildly around.
Sam looked at him, then remembered and lunged back to the window, frantically scanning the area below. He picked up the girl again, and he knew it was her because he recognized her bookbag, but it wasn’t Meg. She was blonde and pretty, but not Meg. The pavilion below was large and open, and he didn’t see any students looking startled or recoiling, as they would have if somebody had just up and bolted from in the middle of them.
“You’re…not holding anything, Sam. What happened?” Dean warily said.
“Nothing. The book’s not here and I got a little frustrated.” Which was true, even if it wasn’t the whole truth. But telling Dean now who’d been out there would just touch him off without anything being around to take the brunt of that. Besides, they were in a library. They were in a library, and Sam was clearly getting rundown if his imagination was getting the better of him. “Come on. It’s one of those ones where you can only have it out overnight, so we’ll get it tomorrow. I can still do the first part tonight without it.”
For a long moment, Dean just looked at Sam. Then he shook his head and got up.
Sam managed to hold back most of his annoyance. “What?”
“Nothing,” Dean drawled. He was parodying Sam’s answer, and making damn sure Sam knew it, too. “Just thought I was supposed to be the one with anger management issues. So where to next?”
“Nearest New Age store. We need some candles and incense,” Sam said.
Dean grimaced. “Please, God, not that patchouli crap. I think I’m allergic.”
“Well, you could just try to sleep through the whole thing. Still ten or so hours of daylight left.”
* * *
Sometimes Dean’s habit of extreme avoidance of the uncomfortable really got on Sam’s nerves, but he supposed that in this case, better that than working with Dean staring at him the whole time. He hadn’t exactly mentioned this to Dean, but because this case of vampirism didn’t precisely match any of the previous cases Sam had found, he’d had to cobble together a couple different rituals and he’d been revising right up till now.
A loud crack echoed through the room and Sam started, then looked towards the door. The sign out front had said the church was closed for repairs and it was a Saturday, so no construction workers should’ve been around, but he was still nervous.
The knob didn’t turn, but Sam got up anyway and walked over to the nearest window to make sure no new cars were parked out front. Nope. He went back to the circle he’d been chalking around Dean, making sure not to step on any of the loose boards. It was a twenty-foot drop from this attic room to the chapel below, and if Sam broke his neck, then they’d really be in trouble. Not that they weren’t already, but thinking too hard about that was unproductive.
He was just squatting down with the chalk when Dean abruptly snapped from dead limp to yawning. Sam paused, but Dean just rolled over and went comatose again. He didn’t snore anymore, but apparently the ‘restless dead’ wasn’t just an expression.
This half of the ritual wasn’t going to get rid of the vampirism itself, but it’d take care of some of the weird problems Dean had been having, like the problem with iron. The only rites Sam had found for reversing vampirism had had to be conducted before the person died and rose again, because then they still…registered as human on whatever cosmic meter was being used. Something like that—Sam had been getting too damn tired for theology at that point. So the first step was getting Dean back that far so the modified ritual would cover him, and then they could deal with the dependence on blood.
Dean woke up again right when Sam had been about to start. Literally: Sam was holding the book and on the verge of saying the first word when Dean suddenly pushed himself up, stretching out his arms. He yawned—his canines momentarily lengthened—then turned to look blearily at Sam. “You weren’t going to just start without telling me, were you?”
“Well, I was getting the impression that that was what you wanted,” Sam muttered. “Don’t interrupt or smudge any of the lines once I start the Latin.”
“No, I was planning on running around everywhere and taking us both out in a big fireball. Jesus, Sam. It’s not like this is the first spell we’ve ever done,” Dean snapped. He pulled himself into a sitting position, then glanced nervously around. His fingers drummed over one ankle, then started picking at his jeans cuff.
Technically no, but there was a hell of a difference between the sort of stuff they’d done before, where anyone with the right pronunciation and a level head could’ve done it, and what they were about to do now. This was on a completely different level.
Sam licked his lips and took a deep breath.
It was all he could do not to throw the book at Dean. Every false start was just feeding his jitters. “What?” Sam snarled.
Dean was watching him with wide, anxious eyes. He hadn’t looked that scared in a long time, and Sam suddenly wished he could repeat the last five seconds or so.
“You know what you’re doing, right?” Dean said.
After a moment, Sam dragged his eyes back to his notes. He rolled his shoulders, then checked one last time to make sure the sheets were in the right order. He really hoped the ink he’d used wasn’t the kind that bled a lot, because his hands were getting pretty sweaty. “I told you we were going to fix this. I’m not going to break my word.”
“Right,” Dean muttered.
Sam gave him a few seconds to make sure he didn’t have anything else to say, then started. The flames of the candles instantly leaped up to three feet and he heard Dean make a startled noise, and paying attention to that almost made Sam jump a line. He hauled his concentration back in line and tried to shut out everything that was going on around him, focusing on just the weight of the words. How they rolled around on his tongue, how some radiated heat and others ice.
He’d done half the final editing in the car so his handwriting was cramped and uneven, but it seemed to get easier and easier as he read, till it was almost like he’d subconsciously memorized it. Each word popped into his head almost before his eyes landed on it, and he could dimly hear his voice getting stronger and more sure of itself.
It sounded really good, actually. The vowels ran together and blurred into one continuous thrum. It was like being eight again and being short enough to think the backseat was a comfortable-sized bed, curling down on the well-worn leather while from the front seat droned the familiar crackle of Dad’s old-school country-western tapes, or sometimes Dean’s classic rock. Everything was nearby and doing what it was supposed to, and Sam felt safe. Relaxed. Warm. His head was buzzing and when he looked down at his hands, saw the sheets of paper fluttering out of them, he just thought they were so bright.
Something rippled, some sound that didn’t quite match frequencies with the rest of the world and Sam frowned, looking up. The world bent and flexed, like he was looking through a lense of water. He lifted his hands and he saw that he could make the world turn and flow with how he turned and wiggled his fingers, and it felt so natural he didn’t question it at all. It was just a push, pull, push, pull--
--his hands got filled up suddenly and he curved his fingers, felt the muscle beneath them curve and something hot and wet press against his throat, moving in slow circles. His whole skin sizzled and Sam hissed, pushing down with his hands. His palms slid over the jut of a hipbone and hit scratchy, interfering fabric. Things angrily vibrated.
Not good. He turned his hands and pulled forwards till the vibrations smoothed out and everything was going at the same speed, same bend again. His fingers slid down, then up, and took a lot of the irritating fabric out of the way so when he passed his hands back down, he could feel skin. The heat at his throat moved up, glided along the side of his jaw, and a second heat pushed against the inner side of his thigh. He went with it, letting his leg be shoved aside till he had heat pressed against him from his groin to his neck. It had a surge and ebb to it as well, centered deep in his gut, and after a moment Sam figured out how to control that, too.
He felt some resistance—an urgent slide against him—but fought it down till it acquiesced. Going too fast would recoil badly, and it was better to just let things come naturally. Let it come to him, gather deep within a well he was vaguely surprised to find within himself, so when it inevitably exploded out of the too-small bounds, it wouldn’t hurt as much. It’d just…go.
And suddenly the world was a crazy, nauseating whirl, and it stopped so fast that Sam’s head snapped back. He stared blankly at the rafters for a second, then slowly let out a breath that tasted of sour bile. His hands were on Dean’s hips, and Dean had his head jammed into the crook of Sam’s neck, and Sam had a feeling he wasn’t the only one with come drying between his jeans and his leg.
Dean had had his hands on Sam’s back and arm, but now he pushed them to lie flat against Sam’s chest. He drew a deep, shaky breath, then sharply shoved them apart. “I think we need to talk,” he said, voice soaring high and thin.
Sam lifted one hand and rubbed hard at the side of his face, trying to get the tension there to ease faster. He nodded.
* * *
“It was like I was somewhere else completely. I’d say it was like I was high, but pot never put me that out of it,” Sam muttered.
They’d cleaned everything up, including themselves, and moved back to the car. He was slumped in shotgun and Dean was slumped in the driver’s seat, and neither of them were really looking at the other. At least, not at the same time. They both were shooting plenty of uneasy glances that awkwardly overlapped.
Dean momentarily roused from depressed and ill to incredulous. “You smoked weed?”
“Well, it was college and it was only a few—but that’s not really relevant to the situation. What the hell happened?” Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. Some of the lightheadedness from before was still lingering, though overall he actually felt a little less anemic than before. Of course, that might just be the shock and adrenaline talking.
“If anyone should be asking that question, it’s me. One moment you’re Sam and the next moment you’re—I don’t know who was looking at me, but it wasn’t you. And you were…” Dean made some non-illustrative motions with his hands “…you were glowing, sort of. And you were so doing the pulling this time.”
If they were so doing anything right now, it wasn’t the blame-shifting crap. “Huh?”
“You were giving off this…and I was so hungry, and—and now I’m not,” Dean said, finishing with a surprised inflection. He put up his arm on the window and propped his head against it, staring at the wheel. “I didn’t even bite you. God, Sam. Did you turn me into an incubus now?”
Sam shot him an irritated look and started to reply, then thought better of it. He opened up the glove compartment and dug around till he came up with an iron cross necklace, which he tossed to Dean. “Still feeling any tingles off that?”
Dean caught it and jiggled it. They both obsessively checked their watches till five minutes had passed. “Nope. But what about—” Dean started.
After making sure he had the bag of angelica he’d made up this morning, Sam turned his left hand palm-up and slashed one fingertip with his pocketknife. He heard Dean suck in a breath and turned in time to see Dean try to plaster his face against the window. The grip Dean had on the steering wheel was white-knuckled, and his whole body was shaking.
Sam shoved his finger in his mouth, sucked off the blood, and wrapped it up in a tissue while he rolled down his window. After a few minutes, Dean slowly relaxed back to his former position.
“You could’ve warned me you were going to do that,” he muttered. “Okay. Still a sick-puppy bloodsucking creature of the night, only now with slightly less hang-ups. Sun’s still bugging me, though. I guess we’ll find out about the running water the next time we chase somebody down to a creek and I end up having convulsions on the bank while you get drowned.”
“And I think you don’t have to do both—you know—when you feed now. You could just go with one way or the other.” A quick peek at his finger told Sam it’d scabbed over enough, so he unwrapped the tissue from around it, then pitched it into a trashcan on the sidewalk beside him. He pretended not to notice how Dean’s eyes followed the tissue.
Dean scowled and started to jab at the wheel with one finger. “Yeah, that’s great. Drain you or screw you, that’s how I survive now.”
“If it makes you feel better, you weren’t the only one screwing back there,” Sam said under his breath. Then he winced. “I can’t believe we’re talking about it like this.”
“Way to keep up with the program, Sammy. I’ve been saying that from the beginning, but you just ignored me. Not to mention what you did back there—” That was one jab too many from Dean. The horn went off and they both jumped; some people walking down the other side of the street stopped to stare at them.
Dean slouched lower and tried to hide, which left Sam to do the fake smile and wave routine. Then Sam leaned his head back and stared at the lint on the ceiling.
“What you did back there,” Dean repeated more softly. The frustration had disappeared from his voice, leaving behind a strange concern—almost fear, actually. He flicked an even odder look at Sam, then went back to gazing at the wheel. “You really weren’t there. I don’t think you were following your script near the end, either.”
“I just…” Sam exhaled sharply, but that didn’t do anything for the tightness in his chest. He rubbed at his temples again. “I was just trying to—”
“Yeah, I know.” For once, Dean didn’t sound accusing when he said that.
Actually, that made Sam feel worse. He winced as the beginnings of a headache welled up behind his eyes, painfully squeezing them. “Everything’s just—I don’t know what to think or do now. I’m even seeing things…I thought I saw Meg earlier.”
“Meg?” The bite in Dean’s voice got Sam’s attention; he squinted across as Dean jerked himself upright. “As in the witch that got tossed through a five-story window? What, did she bounce or something?”
“I said I thought I saw her. Turned out it was a different girl,” Sam said. He glanced out the windshield, then back at Dean, who was making the and-what-else? face. “When we were in the library. I was coming back after I found out that someone had checked out the book I needed, and I looked out the window and thought I saw her.”
Dean’s eyebrows went up. Then he turned around and jerked the key around in the ignition. He peeled the car away from the curb like he was auditioning for Nascar. “And you lost your temper. Right. Why didn’t you mention this earlier?”
“Because I’m exhausted and a little low on blood and I also thought I heard Dad calling for us this morning, only then it turned out I was still asleep and dreaming? Dean, where are we going?” They went around a corner so fast that Sam had to slam his hand against the door to keep from going through the window. Then he grabbed the handle above the door and hung on. “Dean. Dean.”
“Library. It’s only been—” watch-check, which almost saw them plow into a stop sign “—two and a half hours. I might still be able to pick up something. Jesus Christ, Sam. Some vampire gets me fucked up and you suddenly get these weird powers, and you’re just going to ignore something like that?”
Sam stared at Dean. His brother had his jaw set and his eyes were blazing, and there was no way that this was only about Meg or Sam being a little careless. “It wasn’t her. I looked again and it was somebody else.”
“Yeah, well, she’s a witch. Maybe she was pulling one over you,” Dean snapped.
“Except that she’s dead! I mean, we saw her! She fell and she looked pretty damn dead to me!”
Dean gunned the engine just then so it drowned out most of Sam’s words. He still didn’t make it to the stoplight in time and had to slam on the brakes, which got them a flurry of honkings and obscenities yelled at them. Not that any of it seemed to get through to Dean, who just slammed himself back in his seat and glowered out, smacking his hands impatiently against the wheel. “I died and that didn’t exactly end up permanent,” he acidly said.
He…he had a point. He had a very good point there, and God, did Sam hate the fact that the circumstances of his life made that a good point.
“So what do we do if it turns out I wasn’t just hallucinating?” he finally asked.
“What do you think? Figure out how to kill her and then kill her. And make sure it sticks.” The library raced into view, then swung wildly around as Dean whipped the car against the curb. He yanked out the keys and was out of the car before the engine’s roaring had fully died away.
Goddamn it, he still needed to watch it, evil witch or no evil witch. He was getting really close to having other people notice he really, truly wasn’t normal. “Slow down, Dean.”
That earned Sam a glare, but Dean wasn’t stupid. He slowed down and waited for Sam, a provoking look on his face. “You aren’t going to argue about keeping her alive because she’s a person, are you?”
“If she survived a five-story fall, then I don’t think she qualifies as that anymore,” Sam said.
“Neither do I, and don’t talk to me about the ritual and how it’s fixing me and whatever. It didn’t go like it was supposed to, obviously.” Dean started off at a fast clip as soon as Sam drew level with him. His expression made people way ahead of them hastily scatter out of their path. “Don’t say you can fix that, too. Frankly, just the fact that you have to fix me at all--”
“You’re my brother and she tried to kill us—she tried to kill us and Dad. And if I can’t say any of that, then you can’t start on how you’ve been trying to kill me because it’s not the same thing,” Sam hissed. He glanced aside, then grabbed Dean’s arm and dragged him to the left. “There. See where that guy with the purple umbrella’s standing? She—if it was her, she was there.”
It was obvious Dean wanted to keep arguing, but that was because he was angry and when he was angry, he always wanted to beat the shit out of something. He stood in place for a few seconds while the conflicting urges fought it out on his face, then swiveled to head for the spot Sam had pointed out.
Once he was there, he scuffed his foot against the ground a few times and sniffed at the air like a hound. He frowned and turned around, then bent to poke in a nearby raised garden bed. When he pulled out his hand, he was holding an empty potato-chip bag. “I don’t think you were seeing things,” he finally said.
“What makes you say that? You don’t know what she smelled like before because then you weren’t—yeah.” Sam glanced around, then hunched over against the stares they were getting.
“Because it pings a lot like you. Unless you sneaked down here to have a snack while I was napping?” Dean lifted a questioning eyebrow. When Sam nodded, Dean tossed the bag into a nearby trashcan and slowly turned around, then abruptly took off to the left.
He went so fast that Sam had no choice but to scramble after, even though the sick feeling in his stomach was urging him to stay put and try to think things through. “Why would Meg ping like me?”
Dean briefly slowed, then started up even faster. “I’m kind of hoping I’m wrong about that.”
He didn’t say anything else, and he didn’t give a chance for Sam to ask about it. He just went, and Sam followed.