So here it is, the concluding chapter. Thanks to everyone who reviewed, favourited and alerted part 1. Hope you enjoy! :)
A massive thank you also goes to Sharlot for her wonderful words of encouragement and for her awesome beta work. As before, I tweaked parts of this chapter after her read-through, so any mistakes are all mine.
Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural, nor any canon characters therein, and I am making no profit from this piece of fiction.
Chapter 2 – I Need You
Sam bounced a knee restlessly as the bus finally pulled into the station. He'd already had to suffer through an hour's delay even without the gnawing worry at the back of his mind. He was wired, jittery; tension coiled tightly within him like a spring.
"You know you shoulda just stolen that car," Lucifer chided cheerfully as he reclined in the seat next to Sam's, stretching his arms up and behind his head, enjoying the young hunter's discomfort.
He should have, Sam admitted, but he wasn't about to take his friggin' hallucination's word for it. Even if Lucifer did have a point. Sam bit his lip and tried to ignore the presence beside him, and the concern that was eating away at the lining of his stomach.
"He's finally gone and done it, you know," Lucifer offered companionably, unperturbed by the younger Winchester's effort to avoid him. "Wonder if he'll leave a note this time," he mused, pushing out his lips pensively. "Or if he'll just..." He mimed putting a gun to his temple and pulling the trigger. "Or..." He continued, putting an imaginary bottle to his lips and taking a large swig.
Sam gritted his teeth and shook his head, jamming his thumb harshly down onto the scar that crossed his palm, breathing a small sigh of relief when his unwelcome stowaway flickered out like an extinguished flame. It was always like this when he was stressed, always when he couldn't keep up his mental barriers. Like now, like when Dean wasn't answering his phone, and hadn't for several hours now.
Lucifer had only been telling Sam what he'd already feared, that Dean had just decided to end it, to take his own life. The younger Winchester had been worried about his big brother for a while now, ever since they'd watched Cas wade out into a lake and never return. Dean had been walking and talking and acting on autopilot, but he wasn't the big brother Sam knew. Something had broken within him, and Sam didn't quite know what to do about it. He'd told Dean that he didn't need his big brother looking after him anymore, that it was time for Dean to take care of himself for a change, in the hope of lifting some of the weight from his brother's shoulders. But it didn't seem to have worked, and the younger Winchester couldn't understand why.
Sam had tried giving his brother space too, had tried to go off and take care of his demons somewhere Dean couldn't watch and worry over him. Sure, the peace and quiet had helped him to build the strength he needed to ward off the hallucinations, and the fresh air and solitude had helped to ground him, but giving Dean a break had been an important part of it. Hell, he'd even tried to give Dean free reign in Vegas without having his normally disapproving little brother tagging along. None of it had worked. Okay, yeah, part of that had been Becky Rosen's fault, but even without that, Sam didn't think his brother would have enjoyed himself.
As the bus drew into its stop, Sam was out of his seat before it had even fully come to a halt, striding down the aisle and down the steps to quickly claim his bag before his fellow passengers could block his way. He was in a hurry. Somehow he just knew his brother had gotten himself into trouble, one psychic sense he'd always had and never questioned. Sometimes Dean didn't answer his phone because he'd gotten lucky, or because he'd drunk himself into unconsciousness – not that that was in any way a good thing – but Sam could just feel that this was different. Worse.
What the hell did you do, man? He fretted silently as he checked the GPS on his phone for the location of the motel Dean had said he was staying in. The imaginatively named Sleep EZ Motel wasn't too far, not more than a few blocks, and easily reachable on foot. He was walking before he'd even put the phone back into his pocket, adrenaline and fear suddenly fuelling limbs that had been sluggish and slow from sitting too long on a cramped bus.
He could hear Lucifer's footsteps echoing his own, skipping every so often, keeping him on edge. Then the humming started, and Sam screwed his eyes shut, waiting for the lyrics to kick in. "All the lonely people, where do they come from?" His uninvited sidekick began to sing Eleanor Rigby in jaunty time to their footsteps. It took all of Sam's self-control not to turn around. "Father Mckenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved." Lucifer continued, seemingly oblivious to Sam's growing attempts to tune him out.
"Oooohhhh, look at all the lonely people," Lucifer wailed in the background and the younger Winchester felt his muscles tense, his jaw clenching. He didn't want to think about lonely people; about his lonely brother. About how lonely he would be if anything happened to Dean. He needed to get to his brother. Right now.
Lucifer gradually faded into the background as Sam focussed on getting to Dean, but his agitation only grew.
The street was largely empty at this time of night, most people indoors having TV dinners and catching up with their families. Sam spied a couple of stragglers coming in late from work, rumpled suits and battered briefcases telling of long days at the office. Being surrounded by normality was always strange now, and even without his unwanted passenger, Sam had never felt so separate from it. The only people who kept him from losing it completely were his family: Dean and Bobby. He didn't know what he would do if...
He tried Dean's phone again, not even surprised anymore when it bounced straight to voicemail. He didn't bother leaving a message, he'd already left several, and Dean clearly hadn't received any of them.
Passing by a convenience store, Sam's attention was suddenly snagged by the headline on a discarded local newspaper: Third Mysterious Death at Rottenrow House: The Gillingham Curse Returns? He stopped dead, swallowing heavily as the pieces started falling into place. Dean's evasiveness the last time they'd spoken, the uncharacteristic lack of contact. You sonofabitch, Dean! The younger Winchester fumed as he started forward again, but this time at a jog. I swear to god, if you've done something stupid, I'm gonna kill you!
Sam glanced at the GPS on his phone once more, noting that he was now just a block away. He increased his pace even more, ignoring the strange looks he was getting from passers-by. His heart was hammering urgently now, the evidence seemingly clearer than ever that Dean was in trouble. He needed to find him, had stayed away for too long. What had he been thinking, leaving Dean alone like that? His big brother didn't even know how to take care of himself. Taking care of others was all Dean knew. Why hadn't Sam seen that?
Rounding a corner, Sam felt some of the tension leave him as he spotted Dean's motel across the street, the Buick parked tellingly on the potholed lot. He slowed to a walk, wondering if he had completely overreacted. Dean was going to have a field day when he found out.
And then Sam saw the skewed angle of the car as it sat in its parking space. He frowned, Dean was the best driver Sam knew; but more than that, his brother had his pride. He would never have consciously left his car so badly parked. Sam quickened his steps again, looking for the room number Dean had given him earlier. Room 7, Dean had said. Except...the door to room 7 was ajar.
Dammit! Sam was running full pelt now, crossing the parking lot in a few swift strides. He shot a quick glance through the driver's side window of the Buick as he passed, feeling his heart stutter as he picked up the unmistakable blood stains on the seat. And god, it seemed like a lot, too much. Fear froze his heart, his limbs. What was he going to find in there?
"No, no, no, no!" He chanted under his breath as he leapt at the door, flinging it aside in his haste to get to his brother.
The sight that greeted him stopped him in his tracks and he felt his blood drain straight to his toes. Dean was slumped, half-dressed on the nearest bed, pale and still, and hurt. The bedcovers beneath him had turned a deep crimson, a growing pool too on the ground underneath his thigh, the blood streaming from a ugly gash there that looked half-stitched. Sam could see other wounds too, cuts and slashes that seemed to cover every available inch of skin, that had torn Dean's jacket and shirt. But that wasn't even the most frightening part; Sam couldn't see any movement, no steady rise and fall of his brother's chest.
"Dean!" He called out frantically as he skidded to his knees at his brother's side. "Dean!" Close up, Dean looked even worse; the pallor of his cheeks waxy and milky, his eyes sunken and ringed with shadows. Sam's hands hovered impotently in the air for several seconds as he tried to work out where he could touch his brother without hurting him further. In the end though, Sam decided he was long past the point of delicacy, and he grasped the older man's shoulders and shook. Hard. "Dean! C'mon man, can you hear me?"
But he got no response, Dean's head merely rolling limply from side to side.
"I don't think he can hear you," Lucifer pointed out matter-of-factly from where he was lounging on the other bed, cocking his head with interest. But Sam barely heard him, hadn't even really noticed his return.
"Oh god," The younger Winchester panicked as he leaned over his brother's parted lips, desperately looking for a sign that the older man was breathing. "No, Dean, c'mon. Don't do this!" Sam put his ear to his brother's lips and turned his head to stare at Dean's chest, holding his own breath as he watched. When he saw a shallow movement, when he felt a light tickling against his cheek, he closed his eyes in relief. Dean was alive, he was still alive. Sam hadn't been too late. But he'd been too close, too damn close.
"I wouldn't count your chickens yet, Sammy," Lucifer warned with a leering smile as he continued to watch.
Dean's pulse was uneven and thready as Sam pressed his fingers to his brother's neck, and the younger man frowned, half concerned and half relieved. Weaker than he'd been hoping for but stronger than he'd feared. He could fix this. Feeling the heat radiating from Dean's skin, Sam moved his hand to his brother's forehead, hissing out a dismayed breath as he noted the temperature there. There was blood on the bed beneath Dean's head too now, Sam could see, and he slipped his fingers round to the back of his brother's skull, lifting it up and off the quilt to examine the extent of the damage. Swollen, but dry at least.
Sam puffed out a harsh breath. Bleeding out, feverish and probably concussed. This was not good. This was so not good. His brother needed a hospital, Sam knew that, but he also knew that he couldn't take Dean to one, not after the unfortunate celebrity status their doppelgangers had given them. The younger Winchester wasn't about to take his brother to a hospital so the FBI could get their hands on him. No, Sam was going to have to take care of this himself.
"Aw, Sammy to the rescue!" Lucifer taunted in a sing-song voice before finally vanishing under the weight of Sam's thumb as he pressed down on his scar.
Heart stuttering, Sam glanced at the bottle of Johnnie Walker on the bed beside Dean, at the way the contents of the ransacked first aid kit had scattered across the bedcovers. His brother had clearly tried to patch himself up but had passed out midway. Looking at the horrible wound on Dean's thigh, and more than capable of putting two and two together, or of putting the whisky and the suturing kit together, Sam blanched. He couldn't imagine how painful that had to have been.
Jesus Dean, he thought, running a hand through his hair as he tried to work out where to start. He had to get the wound closed up first, he decided, reaching for the needle that had fallen from his brother's fingers. Then he'd deal with the fever.
It looked like Dean had already cleaned out the laceration, but blood was still leaking from it at a worrying rate. Sam quickly pulled off his button down shirt and pressed it firmly against the gash. His lips tightened as he realised how close the wound was to the femoral artery, but though it had clearly bled profusely, Sam knew he'd have arrived to find a dead body if the artery had truly been compromised.
Still applying pressure, Sam reached over to grab the pillows from the other bed and used them to raise Dean's injured leg from the bed. "Dean!" He called softly, trying again to rouse his brother. "Wake up man, c'mon." But still there was nothing.
Barely managing to keep his fears in check, Sam held his shirt against the wound until he finally felt the bleeding begin to ease. Eyes scanning his brother's body, he catalogued each sign of abuse, each cut and scrape and bruise. It almost looked like he'd fallen through glass, no other explanation seemed logical. Sam bit his lip; that meant he would have to check each cut in case any shards remained.
What the hell had happened?
Briskly, the younger Winchester began stitching the thigh wound, noting with heavy regret the sloppiness of his brother's earlier efforts. He didn't want to imagine Dean doing this on his own, but had to acknowledge that it probably hadn't been the first time. Dean had spent many months hunting alone in years past, and Sam had never really thought about what the older man might have had to do to take care of himself. The past half hour hadn't given him much reassurance about Dean's ability to patch himself up.
Then Sam found himself thinking about their falling out, about the weeks he'd spent apart from Dean. What if something like this had happened? How would he ever have known? He didn't want to think about the argument, what Dean had done, what both of them had said. None of that really mattered anymore, but he was sorry now that he'd let his anger get in the way of looking out for his brother. It was going to be different now.
Tying off the last stitch, Sam carefully taped a dressing over the wound. Hearing a soft groan, his gaze snapped instantly to his brother's face. "Dean?" He called again, swallowing heavily as Dean's features began to contort in pain. "Dean, you with me?"
Another groan, slightly louder this time and Dean's head was moving, jerking fretfully from side to side.
"Hey, hey!" Sam moved to the top of the bed and laid his palm across Dean's forehead once more. "It's okay, it's okay, take it easy." His frown eased slightly as Dean's head stilled under his touch. The elder Winchester was still giving off enough heat to warm up a two-storey split-level, but his temperature didn't appear to have gone up. Yet.
"S'mmy..." Dean mumbled, lips barely moving as he jerked his head again. His eyes remained welded shut, lashes lying damply against the bruised skin beneath.
"I'm here, jerk," Sam assured him with a smile he didn't feel. "I'm here. You're gonna be okay. I'm gonna get you cooled down."
"Cas..." Dean's features writhed at that, and he nearly came off the bed.
"Dammit!" Sam blurted in surprise as he scrambled to push Dean back down. He held his brother against the bed with unnerving ease. He hadn't been expecting the outburst, didn't quite know what to do with it, nor the pain he'd heard in his brother's voice. He'd known Dean had been grieving for Cas for months, but the elder hunter always kept these things deep beneath the surface. That is, when he had any control over it.
"You're gonna be okay," Sam repeated as soothingly as he could, and stood stiffly from the bed to scan the room. He couldn't see any of their chemical ice-packs lying amongst the detritus from the spilled first-aid kit, so they had to still be in the car. Glancing worriedly at Dean, he murmured a soft "I'll be back..." and then raced outside to the car.
Dean didn't seem to have moved at all when Sam returned to the room, his brief foray into wakefulness apparently long past. Fighting down the bile that rose to his throat at the sight of the blood still coating the room, Sam went quickly to Dean's side. The elder Winchester still had his shirt and jacket on, apparently only getting as far as removing his jeans before he'd fallen unconscious. Sam assessed the task before him; he didn't want to have to manhandle Dean out of his clothes, the potential for hurting him further being too high. So cutting them off it would have to be, even though Dean had precious few shirts left these days. Then again, his brother's clothes were as good as ruined anyway; shredded by glass and covered in blood.
Setting his jaw, Sam grabbed the scissors. He'd buy his brother a whole new friggin' wardrobe if Dean just stayed with him.
Cutting into the material and pulling it gently from Dean's skin, Sam couldn't suppress a gasp. His brother's torso was mapped with slices and bruises, and from the dull glints he could pick up in the room's dim lighting, there were several shards of glass still embedded there. Sam closed his eyes in silent agony, swallowing heavily as his stomach rebelled. How on earth had Dean managed to get himself back to the motel? The pain had to have been unbearable.
Gulping back his distress, Sam swiftly began placing ice-packs at his brother's armpits and groin. His mouth tightened at the older man's flinch. He hated to cause Dean even more discomfort, but he had no choice. He just prayed it wouldn't be a wasted effort. Dean had to pull through. He just had to.
Scrubbing a hand through his hair and rubbing at his eyes, Sam felt like he'd just aged ten years. He'd done this countless times – too many times – but now more than ever, it just seemed too much. Sighing deeply, he reached for the first-aid kit again, knowing he couldn't afford to be introspective. He needed to see to Dean's other wounds.
With a heavy heart he set to work extracting the jagged pieces of glass, cleaning and tending to the gouges they had left behind. The pile of red tipped shards on the bed beside Dean seemed to grow impossibly large, and Sam felt sick as he realised how grimy they were. No wonder his brother had a fever. Thankfully only a few of the cuts were deep enough to need stitches, but it still took over an hour to treat them all, and that didn't even include the ones he'd discovered on Dean's back. The elder Winchester had some nasty bruises across the backs of his shoulders too, and Sam's eyes narrowed as he recognised the classic signs of a Winchester-meets-wall special.
Why couldn't Dean have just waited for him? Why hadn't he said something?
"What were you doing, man?" Sam muttered as he worked. "Why the hell didn't you just pick up the phone?"
The elder Winchester had been silent throughout Sam's ministrations, something the younger man didn't know whether to be relieved or worried about. Well, okay, worried. Definitely worried. But relieved too, because at least his brother hadn't been awake to feel the full force of the pain.
Sam wasn't sure how late it was when he'd finally finished, time having a stand-still quality to it that seemed somehow even more exhausting. He checked Dean's forehead, a genuine half-smile gracing his lips as he registered that his brother's temperature had cooled ever so slightly. He allowed his shoulders to drop a little in acknowledgement of his relief before he was moving again, heading to the room's kitchenette to get Dean some water.
Running the tap until it was as cold as it was going to get, he filled a glass and returned to sit at the head of Dean's bed. He could tell that his brother's eyes were squirming and jumping beneath their lids; the only outward sign of whatever feature presentation was playing in the older man's mind. "Dean?" he laid a hand on his brother's shoulder, frowning at the clamminess there. "Dean? C'mon dude, need to keep your fluids up."
The elder Winchester twitched, looking as if he'd at least processed the words when he stilled and allowed Sam to raise his head up. Dean opened his mouth automatically when the younger man touched the glass to his lips and he swallowed a few mouthfuls before dropping back down, breathing heavily from the exertion. His hair was sweat-dampened and flattened against his forehead, making him look ridiculously young.
Sam pursed his lips in disapproval. His brother had hardly taken in any liquid at all, but he supposed something had to be better than nothing. All thought of Dean actually managing to take some pills had vanished, the elder Winchester was clearly out for the count once more.
Setting the glass down on the nightstand in defeat, Sam sighed heavily, feeling exhaustion settle like a cloak around his shoulders. It felt like days since he'd gotten off the bus, several long days. He got up from the bed, feeling impotent and useless. There wasn't anything more he could do for Dean right then except watch and wait. He'd try him with the water again in a little while, but until then his brother needed to rest.
The younger Winchester glanced around the room; he'd noted vaguely when he'd checked in the Buick's trunk that his brother's duffel bag had been missing. It wasn't in the room either, which meant it was probably still back wherever Dean had been when he'd gotten hurt. "Where were you, huh?" He mused aloud, his eyes tracing his brother's slackened features as if they might offer him a clue. "You were at that house weren't you?" He realised suddenly, remembering the newspaper headline he'd seen on his way to the motel.
He found a copy of the previous day's paper on the room's small round table and retrieved it, moving to sit on the opposite bed so that he could keep a close eye on his brother while he perused the article. "Let's see what you've been up to, huh?"
One moment Dean was floating in the ignorant bliss of oblivion, and the next, he jolted awake as the ton weight of reality came slamming down on top of him. Every part of him ached, a dull pervasive, throbbing ache. And then there was the ball of burning, stabbing pain in his thigh, sparks of agony shooting out from it like bolts of energy in a plasma globe. His breath caught as he tried to ride it out, unintentionally setting off a chain reaction of blazing fire across his chest and back.
Before he'd even been able to verbally articulate any of this, he heard footsteps coming from...somewhere. "Dean?"
Sammy? His bewildered mind called a time-out and started going back over yesterday's footage. The house. Gillingham. The glass doors. The Buick...Sam didn't figure into any of that. What the...and how the...and why the...? Everything was hazy, clarity dancing tantalisingly out of his reach as he battled against his closed eyelids.
"Dean! You back with me, dude?" Sam sounded as if he was teetering on the edge between concern and relief, and the elder Winchester really wanted to tip him the right way, so he fought even harder to reach the surface.
He scrunched his forehead, groaning when several bumps and bruises decided to make their presence felt. "Guuuuhhhh," he grunted as the primitive instinct to curl away from the pain took over for a few seconds. And jeez, his mouth was drier than a nun's...okay, wait, no he wasn't going to verbalise that thought. Didn't need to anyway, because a sweating glass had already been pressed against his lips. Psychic Sam at work once more.
"Here," Sam murmured from somewhere up above, and though the elder Winchester could only imagine what he must have looked like to his brother – features mangled and sucking down water like a freakin' baby – Dean, for a few precious seconds, felt incredible.
Then the glass was removed and silence crashed down on top of them. And Dean realised that Sam was waiting for him to do something. But suddenly opening his eyes didn't seem like such an impossibility, the water having given him strength even though the rest of his body was failing him.
To Dean's relief, the light prodded rather than stabbed as he eased his eyelids upwards. Nevertheless, he had to squint to make out his brother's features. Sam was sitting on the opposite bed, leaning forward, clasped hands hanging down between his bent knees. He was watching Dean with rapt attention, concern fogging the air around him.
"Hey," Dean rasped despite the soothing effect of the water, wincing as his tender head protested. Apparently even talking was too loud for his over-sensitive skull.
Sam broke into a face-splitting smile; one of those goofy ones that Dean always scoffed at but secretly delighted in. "Hey," the younger man returned, relief smoothing out the tension on his features. "Welcome back!"
Dean arched a brow with considerable effort. "Shouldn't that be my line?"
The younger Winchester's smile dipped almost imperceptibly, and Dean's heart sank slightly; he hadn't meant to upset the kid. "What are you...? Why did you...? I mean, why aren't you still...communing with nature, or whatever the hell you were doin'?" The elder hunter demanded, his head hurting from more than just his physical injuries.
"Uh..." Sam huffed out a hesitant breath. "Y'know, I got, uh...bored." He rolled the word around on his tongue as if he was trying it on for size and Dean instantly knew that he was lying.
"Bull," The elder Winchester barked, but then his voice softened; his stomach tightening with worry as a thought occurred to him. "Did something happen?"
"Yeah," Sam's expression turned earnest. "To you."
Huh. Dean frowned slightly and then glanced down the length of his body. Sam had clearly covered him with a quilt, but the elder hunter could see a patchwork of white gauze peeking out from underneath the bedclothes. Somehow Sam had come to his rescue, he just didn't know quite how. Or when. Dean wasn't even sure he'd made it back to the motel under his own steam, his memories hazy at best.
"When'd you get here?" Dean tried to wrap his mind around the few disjointed pictures that remained from the last time he'd been conscious. But to no avail.
"Uh, I guess a couple days ago now," Sam replied, steadily meeting Dean's gaze and reading his brother's silent question. "You've been pretty out of it for a while. You were running a fever," he explained.
Dean raised his eyebrows and puffed out a breath. Well that explained the overall feeling of crappiness. He shifted involuntarily on the bed, barely smothering a groan when he jarred his injured leg. And that explained the pulsing waves of pain that were rippling up his body like a sonar beam.
"Hey, you alright?" Sam had moved from the other bed to crouch at his side.
"Yeah, I'm awesome!" Dean shot his brother the most sarcastic smile he could muster through gritted teeth.
"Yeah, you look awesome," Sam rolled his eyes impatiently and reached for a small bottle of pills that Dean hadn't noticed on the nightstand.
"Glad you're finally admittin' it Sammy!" Dean managed to joke even as he warily eyed the medication.
The younger man ignored the jibe and shook the bottle in his hand so that the contents rattled cheerily. "I couldn't get you to take any of these before, so open up dude." He leaned closer, making a show of removing the cap.
Dean made a face. "What is this: 'here comes the freakin' choo choo train'? I'm not four, Sam! Gimme those." Sam allowed him to snatch the small bottle, but watched him with a distinctly supervisory air as Dean began fumbling with it. The elder hunter pretended not to notice, but Sam's scrutiny seemed to make the task even harder. After nearly a full minute of trying to unscrew the cap, Dean huffed out a frustrated, defeated sigh and wordlessly handed the bottle back to his brother. Sam took it without comment – for which Dean was more grateful than he could say – and easily opened the bottle, shaking out a couple of pills onto the elder Winchester's outstretched palm. Acutely embarrassed, Dean averted his eyes as he downed the painkillers with the remainder of the water. Still Sam remained silent, seeming to sense that any remark would have resulted in a bloody nose. For his part, Dean was consigning the whole experience to his mental incinerator.
More exhausted that he wanted to admit – least of all to Sam – the older man settled back against his pillow with a restrained sigh. He waited until his little brother had returned to the other bed, and to a safe distance, before continuing their earlier conversation. "So spill: what the hell happened?"
"Shouldn't that be my line?" Sam retorted with an irritatingly accurate impression of Dean's earlier deflection. He lasted several seconds under the scorching heat of his big brother's death-glare before relenting. "Look, I got worried dude. You haven't exactly been Mr. Ray-of-sunshine lately. I was already on my way back, but I couldn't get a hold of you and I knew something had happened. Where the hell is your phone anyway?"
"Got me. Think I musta lost it somewhere," Dean mumbled, resolutely ignoring the real message that Sam had been trying to send him. Sam had been worried; Mr 'Now you finally get to take care of yourself'...Talk about a vote of confidence.
"Somewhere between being thrown through a set of glass doors and bleeding your way back here in the car?" Uh-oh, the bitchface of disapproval had been unveiled with pomp and fanfare, and Dean squirmed uncomfortably.
Wait for it, Dean held his breath, feeling absurdly like a chastised child. Wait for it...
"What the hell were you thinking, Dean?" Sam threw his hands up and used his momentum to propel himself over to the other side of the room before whirling back to face his big brother. "Going to that house. Alone."
The elder Winchester opened his mouth to defend himself, but closed it abruptly when it became obvious that Sam was far from finished.
"Jesus, Dean! You could've been killed. Damn near were by the time I got here," Sam looked haunted at that, and suddenly Dean imagined the scene that the kid had probably walked in on; big brother passed out on the bed, bloody and half-stitched. "Why didn't you tell me, huh?" The younger Winchester continued. "Why did you go to that house without back-up?"
Because he needed to be needed. And Sam didn't need him anymore. And taking care of himself? It wasn't something he knew how to do, or particularly cared about.
"What house?" Dean stalled, wondering just how much the kid actually knew.
"Don't 'what house?' me, Dean!" Sam amped up the bitchface, grabbing a newspaper and waving it in the air. "I read all about it. Oh, and..." He paused and reached down, out of Dean's line of sight, and lifted the elder Winchester's duffel into view. "I brought this back for you. And your sawed-off."
Son of a bitch.
"Oh. That house," Dean bounced his eyebrows and lowered his gaze like a scolded dog. And then realised what Sam had actually done. "Wait a minute, you went there? Without back-up?"
"Uh, pot...kettle, Dean?" Sam wrinkled his brow sternly. "I had to go get your stuff. Couldn't exactly have the cops getting a hold of it."
The elder Winchester batted aside his brother's sarcasm with a flippant wave. "Are you alright? Anything happen?"
"Well, our spook showed up...didn't seem all that happy to see me. But..." He indicated a faint bruise on his temple that Dean hadn't been able to make out in the dim light. "I think I came off a little better than you."
"What, this?" Dean gestured to the gauze appliqué that decorated his torso. "This is nothing."
Sam huffed in exasperation. "For the love of–Dean, you were bleeding out all over the bed. When I found you, I thought...And then when I went to the house, I saw the door, Dean. Or at least, what was left of it. I think I pulled half of it out of your chest!"
Holy crap. He'd known it was bad – it had hurt like a sonofabitch after all – but hearing the strain in the kid's voice told him how close he'd really come.
"Hey, listen..." Dean began, eyes dropping away from Sam to examine a strange, orange-coloured stain on the light blue carpet. "Thanks for that."
"Don't mention it."
There was a brief silence where each brother avoided the other until Sam spoke again. "So you never did tell me why you took on a case by yourself, Dean."
"Yeah, you're right. I didn't," Dean agreed, his voice hardening. They were back to this again?
Sam looked defeated as he sank down onto a chair. "Talk to me, man. What's going on?"
"Nothing, Sam!" Dean felt his heart do a belly flop, there was no way he was going anywhere near the real reason. "You were off gettin' up close and personal with a buncha trees and I got bored. End of."
Sam stared at him, disbelief written all over his face. "That's a pile of crap, Dean!"
"Why the hell is this even botherin' you so much anyway? What does it matter what I do when you're off on the hikin' trail, huh? You were the one who said you didn't need me around–" Ah crap, he hadn't meant to say that. Why had he said that?
"What?" Sam was looking shocked, and then his features softened in understanding. Dean hated that look. It always signalled the start of a monster chick-flick moment. "Dean, I told you I didn't mean that. That was the spell talking, man."
But hadn't they been there before? Dean would never forget what Sam had said under the influence of the Siren...and Doctor Ellicott all those years ago at the asylum. There was always more truth there than Sam would ever admit. And Dean knew this was no different.
"Yeah," he responded shortly, not knowing what else to say, or where to look. His eyes settled on a neutral location in the corner of the room.
"Dean..." Sam began, raising his hands and then letting them fall again. "Just 'cause I've figured out how to look after myself doesn't mean that I don't...Look, I need you here, with me. Alive. Which means you have to look after yourself too."
"I mean it."
"Look, I get it," Dean swung his gaze to meet Sam's. And he did. Kind of. It just wasn't something he knew how to do, but for Sam, he would try.
"What, that's all you're going to say?"
"What do you want, a freakin' sonnet?"
Sam stared at him for a long moment, looking as if he very much wanted to pursue the subject further, but seeming to realise that his big brother was a closed book. "Fine," the younger man nodded, disappointed.
"Okay then," Dean shot his brother a closed-mouth smile and began pulling back his bedcovers. "Let's get–"
"Woah, woah, woah!" How exactly had Sam crossed the room so fast? One second he was sitting at the table, and the next he was looming over Dean, using his height advantage to push his big brother back down. "Dean, you've been out for, like, 48 hours. You're not going anywhere until you've rested up!"
"Well by the sounds of it, I've had 2 days to rest up," Dean countered, frustrated when his attempt to budge Sam's hold failed miserably.
"That doesn't count and you know it." God, he hated it when Sam got all bossy. "Dean!" The younger man pressed, unleashing the big guns; those friggin' eyes.
Dean lasted all of five seconds. "Okay, fine!"
To his credit, Sam didn't gloat. Just hovered and fussed and mothered his big brother for the rest of the day.
Huh. Maybe the kid had understood after all.
"Who'da thought the freakin' bullet would still be in the wall after all this time, huh?" Dean shook his head faintly as he hefted his duffel back into the Buick's trunk with a muffled grunt.
"I guess no one ever thought to remove it at the time," Sam moved to Dean's side and dumped his own bag next to his brother's, "and then people just forgot it was there."
"Yeah, just our friggin' luck there was still some of Gillingham's blood on it," Dean grumbled as he moved around to the passenger side.
Sam frowned as he watched his brother; Dean was still limping heavily on his injured leg, and the younger Winchester hadn't missed the slight tremor that had hindered his brother's grip on the duffel bag. At Sam's insistence, Dean had been forbidden from driving – a situation the elder hunter hadn't been happy about. At all. But Sam had mother-henned, and tutted and bitchfaced his way past his big brother's defences until Dean had caved.
Sam knew he probably shouldn't have even allowed the older man to come anywhere near the house, but short of tying Dean to the motel bed (an option he had seriously considered) or knocking him out (not really an option since Dean was already recovering from a concussion), there hadn't been a foolproof way of keeping his brother benched. And at least Sam had been there to supervise.
With the two of them working together, the job had been much easier. After another day of enforced – and reluctant – rest for Dean, the Winchesters had returned to the house to search the breakfast room. A chance finding by the older man had alerted them to the presence of a bullet hole hidden in a corner of the old cabinet Dean had noticed during his previous visit. Sam had covered Dean while he'd made his examination of the hole, fending off Gillingham whenever the spirit appeared to try to send them packing. Eventually the elder Winchester had managed to pry out the small, deformed nugget of metal (after he'd cursed the air a tangible shade of blue) and the two had hastily retreated outside to salt and burn the bullet.
They'd heard Gillingham's horrified scream as the bullet burned, had seen the eerie flicker of his spectral flame within the house, had heaved a sigh of relief as silence fell. The spirit had departed. Job done.
"Yeah," Sam agreed soberly, thinking of the way he'd found Dean just a few nights ago. "We get all the fun jobs."
"Someone's gotta do it, right Sammy?" Dean countered, but there was no conviction in his assertion.
Sam couldn't quite believe how much their lives had changed over the years, but somehow his brother's disillusionment and depression seemed to shine an even harsher light on the differences. He could remember a time when 'saving people' and 'hunting things' had been Dean's driving force, when his brother's idealism had defined him. But now...now Dean was barely holding it together.
And then it struck him. Dean needed him. Really needed him. And after all the times Dean had been there for him, Sam knew it was time to return the favour.
Believe in that! Believe me, okay? You gotta believe me. You gotta make it stone number one and build on it. You understand?
Yes, Sam did understand. Now more than ever.
"Right," the younger Winchester agreed with a soft smile and slammed the trunk lid closed.
Dean had laid stone number one, but stone number two was Sam's job.
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed this little slice of hurt/comfort.