Hi! First off, if you have been waiting on the next chapter of An Unexpectedly Perfect Christmas, let me say that I promise I have not forgotten about it. I am still working on it. I had it all figured out a long time ago, then kept tweaking and adding and it kind of became a lot different than I'd first intended. I have not given up at all and promise there is more coming! :)

It's been a rough few months for me. I've been having a really difficult time dealing with life in general and my ability to write seems to have completely evaporated. I feel terrible for leaving the Christmas story hanging for so long. This little one-shot has been the only good thing I've written in the past two months and I decided to post it just so you all wouldn't think I'd vanished into the Empty or something. :) I'm still here; still trying to put words together into sentences. Things are slowly getting better, so I'm hopeful I'm finally getting my focus back.

This story is set in s13 and there is brief mention of events from Advanced Thanatology and Breakdown. They never really dealt a lot with what Dean had done in Advanced Thanatology and I wanted to explore the fallout from his actions in light of the events in Breakdown. Story is set shortly after Breakdown and just before Various and Sundry Villains and takes place following a hunt gone wrong.

Hope you enjoy!

Sam caught him with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.

"What the hell are you doing?" Sam's voice broke the peaceful silence of the kitchen.

Dean sighed and said, "Just go back to bed."

Of course, one glance at his brother told Dean that Sam hadn't been in bed. Judging by the dark circles under his eyes, Sam probably hadn't even been near his bed since they'd gotten home.

No probably to it. Dean watched his brother cross the room, stumbling slightly as he moved. He hasn't slept at all.

They'd been home for three days now and neither of them were doing very well, truth be told.

"Are you drunk?" Dean asked even though Sam wasn't drunk.

"Are you kidding?"

Not drunk. Angry.

Sam fell more than sat down in the seat across from him and Dean said, "You should try to sleep. I've heard it does wonders for balance and concentration."

Jaw clenching, Sam narrowed his eyes. He was breathing hard like he'd run all the way to the kitchen from...wherever he'd been. Almost made Dean wish he'd left a note on his bed before he'd left his room. But how freakin' stupid was it to leave a note saying he'd walked to the kitchen? Wasn't like either of them thought he was up to walking anywhere else. Dean shook his head, imagining all the things Sam was thinking and not saying aloud.

The space between them sizzled with anticipation; with fear.

Either one of them could be the one to set off the charge. One wrong word and everything would go up in flames. Dean didn't want to be the one to cause the explosion. On the other hand, maybe he did because this long, drawn out tension was getting old fast.

He opened his mouth, to say what he wasn't sure, but Sam beat him to the punch.

"Why didn't you just ask?"

It wasn't the lit match Dean had been expecting and it took a moment for him to find an appropriate response. Clearing his throat, he said, "I can get a glass of water without a babysitter."

The lit match that was his comment landed harmlessly between them; it didn't ignite even the smallest flame. It was almost disappointing. Instead of an explosion, Sam nodded, his breath huffing out in a sigh. He shoved himself to his feet - still angry - and walked out of the room.

Dean watched him go, then finished off his glass of water. It had been cool and refreshing when he'd first sipped it, but now it just tasted like...

Muddy, brown fluid sluicing over his lips. Barbed wire pinning him down; binding him to the bottom of the river. A scrap of blue fabric torn from his shirt.

Coughing, he slammed the glass on the table. He pressed his fists to his eyes, trying to clear the image. Trying to forget. Three days and neither of them had forgotten.

He cursed softly, his voice hoarse, pained. It shouldn't still hurt to talk, but it did. None of it should still hurt, but it all did. He pressed his right hand to his chest. Even now, he could feel the stab of each barb of the wire that had held him down. Under his shirts, under the bandages, the jagged line of puncture marks itched and ached.

The wire had been tight, constricting his breathing, pinning him to the silty base of the river. Panic had flowed through his veins, but acceptance as well.

He coughed again.

Three days and he could still taste the muddy water. Could still taste the defeat. The remembered taste turned his stomach. Rinsing his mouth became a priority and he struggled to his feet, fatigue weighing him down. He kept a hand on the table until he was steadier, then took his glass across the room and turned on the sink.

And then he bent double over the sink throwing up the water he'd just finished drinking.

Maybe water wasn't the best idea right now.

When he finally finished gagging and retching, he rested with his forearms on the edge of the sink until the room stopped spinning. Pressing his hand to his chest again, he went to the fridge. Nothing sounded good, but he grabbed the orange juice and poured some into the glass. Anything to help ease the sharp pain in his throat. Anything that wasn't water.

By the time he'd taken a few sips, he was utterly exhausted and wanted nothing more than to fall into bed and sleep until the pain went away.

Instead, he turned and headed in the direction his brother had gone.

He kept one hand on his chest and the other tracing the wall to keep him steady. As he walked, memories ran through his mind like flashes from a clip show. Image after image, some blurred, some standing out vividly, but all splattered with muddy water and blood.

The trap had been sprung before he'd had time to even realize he was in trouble.

One minute, they'd been working together in perfect synergy, the hunt going exactly according to plan and the next minute, they'd both been on the ground. From then, it had been nothing but chaos as they'd fought for their lives.

He was out of breath and coughing by the time he reached the library. He leaned against the door frame, struggling to get himself under control. While he coughed into his sleeve, he studied his brother.

Sam was standing in the middle of the room. Just standing there. He didn't turn around.

It irritated Dean.

There was tension in every muscle of Sam's body. Dean rubbed his chest to distract himself; to keep from starting an argument. The past three days had been difficult for both of them, if for different reasons.

"What?" Sam asked, still not turning around.

Dean flinched. Sam sounded as irritated as he felt although there was something underneath the irritation. His tone was a blend of anger and bitterness, but Dean couldn't pretend he didn't hear the pain, too.

He slowly walked to the nearest chair and sat down. How he handled this conversation would set the course for the rest of the day. They'd been skirting the issues for the past seventy-two hours. More pressing matters at hand. Things like bandage changes, antibiotics, fevers and sleeplessness.

Things like coming to terms with their latest brush with death.

"How's your hand?" he asked, quietly. He hoped his tone would tell his brother he hadn't come to fight.

Sam didn't answer. Didn't turn, but his left hand moved toward his right. His fingers only brushed over the bandage.

Warm, red blood sluicing over his hands. Barbed wire tearing through skin.

Dean took a shaky breath, squeezing his eyes closed and wishing it would block out the memories.

Imprisoned by barbed wire. Kicking and fighting and bleeding and drowning. Even now, the burn in his throat and lungs drew him back into the moment. Sam above him, struggling. Gone. Then back, his hands in the water, pulling Dean up. The movement made the wire cinch tighter around Dean's chest, cutting into him barbarically, and Dean had screamed out the last of his oxygen.

The water had gone red.


Shaking his head, Dean snapped his eyes open.

Sam was on his knees in front of him, his good hand on Dean's arm, his bandaged hand pressed to Dean's cheek. Grounding him. Focusing him.

In the dim light, Sam looked like a ghost. Skin gone completely white except for the awful shadows under his eyes. He was wavering where he knelt and Dean almost smiled picturing his brother falling asleep right there.

But Sam wasn't falling asleep, he was freaking out.

"Don't...freak...out," Dean said, coughing between every word.

"I'm not freaking out," Sam snapped, fire suddenly back in his weary gaze. "I'm angry."

"I hadn't noticed." Dean snorted, shoving his brother's hands away and feeling a sick sort of satisfaction when Sam's shitty balance tipped him sideways. Told himself he didn't feel bad when Sam's bandaged hand smacked the edge of the table. Ignoring the sharp intake of breath and flash of pain in his brother's eyes, Dean said, "You're angry. You've been angry for the past three days. What I don't get is why."

Sam glared at him, his jaw working as he struggled to his feet. He shook his head, holding his bandaged hand close to his chest and turned around. Walking a few paces away, he paused at the second table and leaned a hip against it.

Dean waited. This wasn't over. In three days, this was the closest they'd come to talking about it. Of course, the first day and a half, he'd been too sick and miserable to hold a conversation much less an argument. And Sam had been too worried to do anything but wait on him hand and foot. Change his bandages, feed him the painkillers and antibiotics. Try to make sure the infection ravaging his lungs didn't kill him.

Through the crimson blossoming around him, Dean tried to reach out for his brother. Wished he could tell him he was sorry for leaving him. Wished he was sorrier for leaving. But just as he'd inhaled the muddy water and darkness had claimed him, he'd decided it didn't really matter. Maybe it never had.

"You know why I'm angry," Sam said quietly.


"You quit."

Dean sighed, staring at his brother's tense shoulders. Here we go. Clearing his throat, he said, "I was drowning, Sam."

"You didn't care." Sam was barely talking loud enough for Dean to hear him. He sounded puzzled. Hurt. "You really didn't even care, did you? Even after everything. And you want to lecture me about being in a bad place."

Hate it when he does that. Use my words against me. Damn it, Sammy, I was trying to help you!

The silence expanded between them like an inflating balloon; pushing them further apart. Dean didn't know how to reach his brother. Didn't know how to close the distance. How to make this right. When anything he said could and would be used against him, Dean was at a complete loss.

Everything had gone completely black and numb and then he was being pulled upward and hit the mucky bank of the river hard enough to jar him back to awareness. He'd coughed brown water and blood into the reeds, his chest on fire. Dazed, half-dead, he hadn't been able to move for a long time. As it was, he'd almost been too late.

"You almost bled out on me," Dean said softly.

He looked down at his hands, remembering the terror of turning his head in the mud and finding his brother lying next to him in a pool of his own blood, lethargically attempting to stem the flow.

In his desperation to get Dean free, Sam had sliced his arm clear up to his elbow.

"I didn't think you…" Dean's voice trailed off. He couldn't say it aloud.

I didn't think you were going to make it.

Sam had killed the harpy that had trapped Dean under the water, then torn his own hand and arm apart to free Dean from the barbed wire holding him down.

"I didn't think you were going to make it, either," Sam said, finally turning around. He was avoiding Dean's gaze.

The space between them still seemed enormous, but at least they were reaching now.

Dean rested his elbow on the table, rubbing his forehead and coughing weakly. This was about so much more than the disastrous hunt.

It was about he way everything kept piling up on them without time for either of them to catch their breath. It was about the people they'd lost; the people they still could lose. It was about Colorado and a house full of ghosts and him literally killing himself to solve the case. It was about Sam staying in bed for hours and saying things like this ends one way for us, Dean. It ends bloody. It was about the way Dean wasn't quite sure anymore if either of them wanted to keep trying.

To keep living.

It was about a lot of things neither one of them knew how to talk about.

But he was too tired and too sick and they were both in too much pain to deal with any of it tonight. So he pushed himself to his feet. Sam's gaze was instantly on him; alert, ready to help despite how angry he was.

Dean shot him a half-smile and said, "How about some narcotics and we call it a night?"

Sam studied him for a long moment, then the tension melted away and he didn't look angry anymore. He just looked exhausted. He started to cross the room as he said, "I'll go grab them."

"Just-" Dean broke off. Shaking his head, he said, "I'll come with you."

There wasn't any suspicion in Sam's expression which told Dean exactly how tired he was. He knew for a fact that Sam hadn't been taking anything for the pain. Maybe he was just trying to stay clear headed to help. Or maybe he was punishing himself. Dean didn't know, but what he did know was that Sam would be taking the meds tonight. He didn't have the words or the strength to fight any other battles, but this one he was fully prepared to fight to win.

As it turned out, there was no battle. No argument. Nothing but a soft thanks when he pressed two pills into Sam's good hand.

They walked toward their bedrooms without a word.

Stopping at his door, Sam glanced at him and Dean could see a maelstrom of emotion right there beneath the surface. But, just like when he'd been under the river water, he couldn't see any of it clearly.

"If you need something just holler," Sam said, cradling his arm closer to his chest. His smile was weary, but it was there when he added, "Or cough; if that's easier."

Dean smiled and squeezed his brother's shoulder.

Rather than popping, the balloon of tension between them slowly deflated.

They hadn't solved anything. Maybe they never would.

But they'd saved each other just like they always did and that would have to be enough.

the end

Thank you for reading! Hope you enjoyed the story. :)

Again, my sincerest apologies for the long wait on the next chapter of An Unexpectedly Perfect Christmas. I promise there is another chapter coming! :)

have a good week!