|Breath of Life
Author: K Hanna Korossy PM
Roadkill tag: The hunt's not done yet. Unfortunately for Sam.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Hurt/Comfort - Words: 5,673 - Reviews: 29 - Favs: 126 - Follows: 6 - Published: 02-17-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4079915
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Breath of Life
K Hanna Korossy
"I don't know about you, but I'm beat," Dean yawned.
He didn't need to look over to know that same thoughtful, distracted look was on Sam's face as had been ever since Molly had dispersed to…wherever it was she'd gone. He could practically hear the gears turning as his brother absently said, "Yeah, I could stop."
Dean nodded to himself and swung off at the sign for Gas-Food-Lodging. They were really due for all three. It had been a long night, and aching, tired, and starving was an understatement.
"She looked happy," Sam ventured after another minute.
"Who?" Dean asked. Okay, there was the gas and lodging. Food?
"Molly. Before she crossed. She looked…at peace."
"Yeah, well," Dean turned the car in a u-turn. Maybe the other way? "You were the one that said it was important she have hope."
"Yeah…" A deep sigh, then a sniff. "Where're you going?"
"Trying to find the—huh." The diner snuck up on him, but it seemed worth looking for. No neon or chrome, but a fat pink pig grinned at them from the roof, and Dean had a completely unscientific theory that places with animals on them tended to serve better food. "Peggy Sue's," he read with a grin off the board-front above the door. "You think that's Peggy?"
Sam snorted gently and climbed out as the car stopped, not in the mood for the game. Dean shrugged and joined him.
They were halfway through barbeque pork sandwiches and cheese fries—and yeah, that theory about the animals on the roof was looking more solid all the time—when Dean realized Sam's attention was only marginally on his food. Or on anything else, for that matter, as it skipped around the diner, the table, Dean. Long fingers turned the silverware over, fondled the ketchup bottle, and rubbed the glass in between bites.
Sam wore his hair parted and out of his eyes these days, but the night in the rain had tousled and curled the locks across his forehead. Dean tilted down to see underneath them, pursing his lips around a bite of sandwich at the sight. Sam's mind was definitely not anywhere near Peggy Sue's.
It took a second, then the shaggy head raised, expression clear and puzzled. "Huh?"
Dean canted his head. "Those deep thoughts of yours are probably worth more than just a cent."
He did coax a smile out of his brother this time, and Sam chewed on a few fries before answering. "I don't know, it's just…something feels unfinished about this, you know?"
Dean gulped his root beer and shook his head. "No, actually, I don't know. Dude, we toasted Farmer Greeley, sent Molly off into the light—Highway 41 is clean. What more is there to do?"
Sam's mouth twisted in frustration. "I don't know. Burn the house, maybe, or the hunting cabin? Maybe Greeley was tied to something besides his remains."
Dean was already shaking his head. "Naw, I was there, I saw him burn, remember? It's done, man, case closed."
"Yeah." Sam sighed, shoulders lifting and lowering, and shook his head. "Never mind, don't worry about it. It's probably just how weird this one was. I mean, how often do we get a ghost's help on a hunt?"
"You ask me, once is too often," Dean muttered. "And what it probably is, is you're getting sick."
Sam reared back. "What? No, I'm not."
"Dude, you so are. Your voice is doing that thing it does when you're coming down with something, and—"
"—I'm just waiting for stuff to get disgusting, puke or snot." He gave an exaggerated shudder. "Better have seconds before I lose my appetite."
Sam glowered at him. "You know, Molly the ghost was a lot more sensitive than you."
Dean grinned back around a mouthful of food. "Yeah, for one day a year. You get me for 365."
Sam groaned, and Dean had an idea it wasn't because he was feeling sick.
Well, not yet, anyway.
They got a room at the motel down by the gas station, which looked like a motel next to a gas station. The bed covers were so old and faded, Sam couldn't tell if they'd originally been blue or grey, and the wallpaper's thick stripes made him feel vaguely like he was in jail. Not that he cared all that much as he flopped down on his back. After running around and digging graves in the rain and cold all night, anyplace warm and dry earned four stars from him. And it was not because he was getting sick.
Dean puttered around him, unloading equipment that needed cleaning and shucking off wet clothes, grunting as aching muscles pulled. Pausing sometimes next to Sam's bed to give him a no-doubt leery glance.
Sam finally opened one eye to glare at him. "What?"
"Nothin'. Just, don't you think you'd be more comfortable if your feet weren't still on the floor?"
He lifted them up to hover a few inches above the coarse carpet, just to be ornery.
Dean made an amused sound and kept moving.
Something soft landed on Sam's chest, and he felt blindly for it.
"Dry clothes. You're gonna get sicker if you stay wet."
"I'm not getting sick," Sam growled.
"Yeah, whatever. You want the shower first?"
He was tempted to tell Dean what he could do with the shower, and his brother had been the one smacked around by an angry ghost that night. But warm water did sound good, and Sam knew the attempt at care for what it was. Besides, his clothes really were uncomfortably damp, and if he stayed there any longer, the bed would be, too. Which would kinda suck. With a groan, Sam pushed himself up, grabbing at the dry clothes before they tumbled to the floor.
"Don't drown in there," Dean called after him.
He muttered something back that made his brother laugh.
The bathroom was clean, at least, even if the shower made Sam wince and sigh. Few really accommodated his six-foot-four of height, but this one he'd practically have to kneel under. Oh well, he'd make it fast, just warm up under the spray, wash his hair, then get out. Rolling his shoulders to ease the cramp of a long night's work, Sam began stripping off wet shirts, then jeans.
A breeze blew over his moist skin, sending a trail of gooseflesh up his arm.
Sam paused, frowning as he looked around the room. The door was closed, and the one window high up on the wall looked like it hadn't been opened in decades. The only sound was the low hum of the TV from the other room as Dean settled in for the evening.
Sam shook his head. Old building. He pulled off his undershirt, turning to add it to the pile on the floor by the toilet.
And was totally blindsided by the tight band that suddenly wrapped itself around his neck from behind.
Sam crashed back against the shower curtain and the edge of the tub, nearly losing his balance as he grabbed at the thing tightening around his neck. Belt, he dimly realized, his own, leather and sturdy and not budging a millimeter as he clawed at it. It had happened too fast for him to even get a sound out, and as it constricted even further, spots were already flaring in front of Sam's eyes.
Desperately, Sam threw a hand out to look for something, anything to get his brother's attention, even while his other hand automatically scratched and tore at the noose. His groping came up empty, though, as the belt was yanked back toward the shower. Suddenly, he was being pulled up instead of just choked, and Sam lashed out in a frantic last attempt to get help, elbow and palm smacking against the door.
Then sound and sight began to fade, and in a last burst of rational thought, Sam wondered how mad Dean would be that he'd managed to get himself killed by his own clothing in the john.
The Simpsons was on, usually worth at least most of Dean's attention, but it was divided tonight. Whatever Sam thought, Dean had helped raise the kid and he knew when Sam was coming down with something. Add to that a ghost he'd empathized with a little too much—big surprise there—and yet another rehash of the good-things-going-evil debate, and Sam was more than a little off-balance. Nothing Dean wasn't up to handling, but it meant maybe indulging Sam a little, probably a little bit of nursing, paying closer attention for a few days. And no time like the present to start, especially as Mr. Energy had dragged himself into the bathroom nearly five minutes before and since then been ominously silent.
Sounds of movement finally were audible from the other room, and Dean relaxed a little, rolling sore shoulders. Good, the kid hadn't fallen asleep on the toilet or something. Because that would have just been awkward, if grounds for major blackmail.
The clanking grew louder, and Dean's eyes darted back to the door. Okay, that was a little strange. Sam had looked too weary to do much more than shower and change, but it sounded like he was fixing the plumbing or something in there. Dean frowned. "Sam?"
No response, not for a few seconds. Then, just as Dean got to his feet, a weak thump against the door.
Something was wrong. He could feel it not just in the brotherly, know-every-sound-Sam-makes kind of way, but also in the hunter sense. Something hissed along his nerves like he was a human EMF detector, and Dean grabbed for the shotgun before he dashed over to the bathroom door.
It wasn't locked—they rarely did that, old patterns of childhood unbroken—and Dean crashed through without hesitation.
Then paused in shock.
Sam was in the shower. Or, more exactly, Sam was hanging off the shower, which was a feat because the shower head wasn't as tall as he was. But his feet were dragging inside the tub as his flailing arms faltered and fell, body going limp. Only the obscene leather loop around his neck held him upright.
The other end of which was being wound around the shower head by ghostly hands.
No response. Dean cursed and fired, first above Sam, then in front of him.
The shower head groaned as it suddenly took Sam's full weight, the tile around it cracking, buckling. Dean slammed forward just in time to catch his brother with an arm across his chest as the wall gave completely, coating them both with plaster dust.
Sam bucked once, then went still.
Dean yanked him out of the tub, then went down to the floor with him, leaning Sam against him as he urgently tackled the belt with both hands. Without otherworldly influence, the only thing that held it now was a single metal tooth, and Dean couldn't bear the thought of wrenching it even tighter around Sam's neck to undo it, so he just jerked it instead, hard. Fear-driven adrenaline snapped the thin metal, and suddenly the belt was loose in his hand.
As was Sam.
Dean flipped him over with gentle alacrity, leaning in close to hear if he'd started breathing again on his own. "Come on, come on," he muttered to the pale face.
"Oh, no, you are not doing this to me," he snapped, and grabbed Sam under the arms and dragged him out of the bathroom where there was maneuvering room. Laying him flat on his back on the dirty carpet, Dean tilted his brother's head back and chin up, preparing for CPR. "C'mon, Sammy, this isn't the time to find out what's on the other side."
A jolt went through Sam's body. He started coughing, each hack convulsing his body. Breathing in painful gasps.
Dean gasped, too, the relief almost suffocating him as he quickly dragged Sam back up against him, supported his head with one hand, his heaving chest with another, his back with one knee. "Good boy. Just take it easy, you can breathe. Slow and shallow, Sam."
Sam's hands fluttered, one finally finding Dean's leg, the other the floor. Trying to prop himself on watery limbs as he dragged in air with rasps that made Dean's throat hurt in empathy. His neck was already red, and by the next day it would outline where every single hole on that belt had been.
Sam pushed away from the floor and grabbed Dean's wrist. "Easy, tiger," Dean soothed, patting his chest. When he finally decided Sam wouldn't topple without the extra support, Dean stretched their arms together to snake the nearest bedcover. Sam was clad only in his boxers, and between the cool room and the trauma had started to shiver.
"Wha—?" Sam's first attempt at speech dissolved into more coughs that almost devolved into retching.
"Air first, Sam," Dean ordered softly. "Then the third degree." He glanced back over his shoulder at the empty, innocuous bathroom, however, also wondering what? He was sure he'd seen a ghost next to Sam, but from where? A haunted motel, or something they'd brought with them? And why Sam?
Sam's struggles eased as his breathing died to a painful-sounding wheeze. Dean managed to lean him against the end of one of the beds, but Sam kept his wrist, and Dean was willing to let him have it for as long as he needed it. The position still let him look into Sam's eyes, gauging awareness.
"Can you hear me?"
Sam nodded miserably, head drooping like it was heavy. "Throat hurt," he croaked. "Not ears."
"Funny," Dean said acerbically. "Now can we get back to the part where something tried to hang you?"
Sam shut his eyes and shook his head, but it wasn't a negative. "Didn't see," he managed, wincing with every word.
"Nothing? 'Cause I'm pretty sure that was a casper in the shower with you. Which, by the way, with the leather and all, pretty kinky, Sammy."
The dark head, now damp with sweat and dusty with plaster, shook again wearily.
Dean sighed. "Okay," he relented, and wound the blanket a little closer around Sam, then glanced to either side. Only his duffel was in reach, and Dean snagged it and dragged it close, yanking out the first thing he found in it: a t-shirt. "Hang on to this instead for a minute, okay? I'll be right back."
Sam stared at him with incredulous bloodshot eyes—choking tended to burst blood vessels, Dean grimly remembered—and peeled his fingers off Dean's wrist. Neither of them commented on how much his hand shook, or that he did, indeed, wrap his hand around Dean's shirt before he pulled it into the warmth of the blanket.
"Just…stay there," Dean said, and rose to his feet smoothly. There had been an ice machine outside, he was pretty sure. He didn't usually note them unless the two of them were coming in injured, and only Dean was a little battered this time. Oddly enough, he hadn't considered the possibility of Sam getting hanged in the bathroom. He strode to the door, grabbed the doorknob.
And heard Sam gurgle a warning behind him just as a breeze brushed past Dean's neck.
It was back.
He hated being choked. Apparently every supernatural they came across thought he wasn't tall enough and wanted to stretch his neck. He wished they'd just…find something else to torture him with. The swollen flesh hurt, the scratches on his neck, the irritated trachea. But by far the worst was the feeling of slow suffocation, fighting to pull air into his starving lungs and not being able to. It lasted long past the trauma, even invading his dreams.
Dean helped, Dean always helped, so worried and soothing and matter-of-fact that Sam would be fine. Even his stupid shirt was reassuring, for no reason Sam could make sense of. But it was a reminder Dean was there and would take care of everything, and that let Sam just focus on breathing and trying not to think about that leather garrote crushing his neck.
A breeze caressed his bruised skin. Sam's eyes snapped open just in time to see a tie rise out of Dean's duffel and fly at him, and the air seemed to coalesce in front of him.
Sam's warning cry was muted to a mere whimper.
A second later, Dean blew right through the shaping threat, one boot pinning the tie to the floor as he planted himself between Sam and the spirit. He growled low in his throat, reminding Sam of a riled mama bear, and he might have smiled at the thought if that wouldn't have hurt. And if the air weren't still thickening, forming into something that was trying to kill him.
Fine features materialized, twisted with anger and hate, and clawed hands reached for them. But even as Dean bit something off and raised the shotgun and fired, Sam realized he recognized his attacker. From happier times, without the rage, but it was her.
The spirit vanished in the spray of rock salt, but Dean didn't back down, still scanning for any further threat. "Hold on, Sam," he said over one shoulder as Sam tugged at him, and he sighed and relented. A few more seconds would be more time to try to catch his breath, anyway, which still dragged and scraped out of him like it was barbed.
Then Dean was crouching in front him, eyes darting sharply over Sam as he checked for further damage. Sam shook his head. "M'all right, man. Just, know who…'t is."
Dean's eyebrows went up at that. "Oh, yeah? You been hanging out with any other ghosts besides Molly lately, little brother?"
"Marion Greeley," Sam said urgently.
That rocked Dean back. "Mrs. Farmer Greeley? Seriously? Dude, we just buried her—she killed herself. Right? I mean, she had to, door locked on the inside and all."
Sam grimaced at the feeling of his throat swelling. "Unfinished business? Died unhappy, we 'killed' Jonah…second time," he offered.
Dean looked like he'd bit into something sour. "You mean, you torched him. Which apparently makes you number one on her hit list."
Sam shrugged one shoulder. "Would explain…hanging, too."
Dean groaned. "Man, we coulda taken care of her when we buried her—now I'm gonna have to dig her up again."
"We," Sam corrected hoarsely.
"Yeah, right," Dean scoffed. "You're staying here with the shotgun and all the salt we've got out in the car."
Sam closed his eyes as he swallowed. "'S probably safer…wi' you. Dean, please."
"Sam, you can barely stand up, let alone dig a grave."
"Stay in car."
Dean stared at him with narrowed eyes. "You sound like someone tried to yank your lungs out through your throat."
"You sound like jerk."
"I'd call you a bitch, but no woman I've ever heard talks that deep unless they've got that whole Crying Game thing going on."
Sam gave him a pointed look.
Dean exhaled. "Yeah, all right. But if we have to shoot this thing in my car, I'm taking the damages out of your allowance."
It was a good thing Sam didn't have the voice to say what he thought of that.
He'd hardly been able to wait to get to the motel before and get some sleep, even though it was mid-morning. Now, driving in the cheerful sunshine back toward Highway 41 and the Greeley place, Dean felt wired, on edge. Anything threatening, let alone attacking and nearly killing Sam, tended to get his full attention.
He glanced over at Sam regularly as he drove, noting the eventual relaxation from taut tension to determination to weariness. His throat was already purpling from its previous vivid red, and he moved like his whole body ached. Which, considering how your muscles corded when you were fighting for your life, Dean could well believe. Plus there was still the matter of Sam getting sick…
"M'all right, Dean," Sam muttered to the dashboard, which was about as low as he'd sunk in the seat.
"That would make me feel a lot better if you didn't sound like sandpaper rubbing together." Off Sam's wince at the visual, Dean held out a bottle of water. "You should drink some more. You want me to stop for some tea or something?"
Sam's head barely moved side-to-side. "Naw, 's get this done."
"Whatever you say, Darth."
Sam rolled his eyes.
Another hour and they reached 41. Dean couldn't ignore the prickle of unease that zinged along his skin as they bumped up onto the cursed blacktop. They were getting close, and while Marion Greeley hadn't seemed bounded by geography, spirits were usually more powerful when they were closer to their remains. Her hatred must have been intense to overwhelm Sam like it had in a whole other state, and Dean wondered briefly if they'd salted and burned the right Greeley, after all. But yeah, guys who tortured young women, spirit or not, deserved whatever fiery afterlife they got.
Sam shifted, too, and Dean had no doubt his brother shared his disquiet. He glanced over at Sam. "Hey, you think—"
A flicker of color and shape was all the warning they had before the coil of rope from the weapons duffel in the back seat flung itself up around Sam's neck and pulled tight.
Sam's arms shot out, pressing against the door and the seat, then yanking at the restraint around his neck, eyes darting over to Dean in a silent, frenzied plea.
Dean spit out a steady stream of curses as he yanked the car to the side of the road and grabbed the shotgun as it started to slide off the seat. With only the briefest wince for the car, he aimed behind Sam and fired.
The back passenger side window shattered, and with a screech that seemed to rattle the remaining intact glass, a wind whipped through the back and was gone.
It didn't take much to untangle the now-limp rope from Sam and throw it disgustedly into the back. "Sam? You okay?" Dean lifted the hanging head in his palm, waiting until Sam opened his eyes. "Sammy?"
His face was flushed, and he flinched minutely whenever he spoke or swallowed now, but his gritted, "Getting old," reassured Dean more than he could say.
He offered a sympathetic grin in return. "I'll bet. This keeps up, we'll have to keep you away from socks and shoelaces, too."
Sam tried to laugh and groaned instead, his breath a whistle of air through swollen passages.
Dean grimaced. "All right, that's it," he muttered, and reached into the now well-ventilated back for their weapons duffel. Pulling out the box of salt, he started pouring liberally: on Sam's lap, the seat around him, his shoulders and shirt collar and hair.
Sam jerked back from the sodium shower, staring at him like he'd lost his mind. "What—?"
"She's not getting any more chances at you. Twenty more minutes and we're there, but I've had enough of Greeley's House of Asphyxia. And look what that bitch did to my car!"
Sam lifted his hands helplessly, which Dean took as invitation to pour some more crystals into one palm and shove the box into the other. Then he started the car again, not looking at Sam again until they were back on the road.
Then almost breaking into laughter when he did. Between the lingering plaster dust, dirt from the night before, sweat, and salt, Sam looked like he'd lost a food fight in a bakery. A dirty one.
"Don't even…think 'bout it," Sam warned in a low, grating voice that cracked at the end like a young teen's.
And if Dean started helplessly chortling after that, he really couldn't be blamed, could he?
"This look like the right place to you?" Dean asked, peering through the windshield at the trees.
He was usually the one with the good sense of direction, so Sam startled a little at the question, casting his own gaze around. "Think so." His throat was so raw that every word hurt and came out with missing consonants, but Dean seemed to understand him just fine. Sam nodded, then unhappily put a hand to his throat. Bad idea. "That way—old tree looks familiar."
"Which one?" Dean mumbled, but he climbed out of the car without further hesitation and disappeared around the back to get out the shovel and lighter fluid. Sam already had the salt.
Dean reappeared on his side a half-minute later, shovel and bag in hand. He opened the door and snagged the box from Sam's hand, then bent down to give him a serious look. "You stay here no matter what, got it? Out there you're just a walking target."
"Watch your back," Sam said quietly.
Dean threw him a half-smile and picked up the water bottle from the floor, pressing it at Sam. "Drink."
Dean shut the door, winced again at the missing back window, then set his jaw and headed into the trees.
Now came the hard part: waiting.
Sam leaned his head back against the seat, thoughts straying again to the Greeleys' scrapbook. They'd seemed such a happy couple, good people. Then, because of one accident, one became a torturer, the other an attempted murderer. Did death twist people that much? It hadn't seemed to do so to Molly. Or had there been a dark side to the Greeleys that their love affair had glossed over? Maybe the possibility for evil was there in everyone, some just gave in to it while others fought it. Love had destroyed Marion Greeley, but had kept Molly going. Sam raised his head with a scratchy sigh. How were you supposed to know who was—
Outside the car, the air was churning, a figure formed out of nothing. The head turned toward Sam, dark eyes glaring at him a moment. Then they darted the other way, into the trees where Dean had gone.
Sam's hammering heart skipped a beat.
One more glance back at him, and barely-there lips curved into a cruel smile. Then she was flitting away, moving toward the forest, the house, Sam's brother.
He scrabbled at the door, stopped. He wasn't supposed to move, for good reason. But Dean… Sam grabbed his phone out of his pocket and turned it on.
He hesitated one more second, then threw the door open. He wasn't going to play it safe while Dean was out there alone.
Sam moaned as he pushed himself to his feet, but he straightened cautiously. He'd halfway been expecting an attack as soon as he was upright and the salt poured off him, but there was nothing. Nothing but the distant sound of digging, and the small breeze that rustled the trees. Sam opened his mouth to yell, realized that would not only be blazingly painful, but also about as helpful as whispering. Which was to say, he would be whispering. He set his jaw. No, he had to get to Dean. Even injured, he could still work a shotgun and protect both of them while Dean did the salt-and-burn.
Sam headed into the trees.
He followed the thuds of overturned dirt and the occasional clangs of metal against roots and rocks. The soundtrack didn't falter as Sam approached, and he wondered not for the first time if this was just a trap to get him out of the car. But it didn't matter. He wasn't going to risk Dean's life. And they were always best together.
The house's shape became visible through the trees, and Sam's relief eclipsed even the pain of the ground glass in his throat. He broke through the tree line with weary satisfaction, raising a hand to Dean, whose head had just popped up out of the almost-finished hole.
Dean's look of annoyance instantly shifted into horror.
Injury had damaged both his reflexes and his quick-thinking. By the time Sam realized that it was indeed a trap, cold hands had tightened the shirt at his neck, twisting it until it dug into the already battered skin of his neck and cut off his air for the third time that day.
He'd been halfway there already, though, his throat a bruised mess, and oxygen instantly became a problem. Sam fought hard for it, managing to tear one shirt in an effort to provide relief, only to find the one underneath pulled tight to take its place.
His eyes sought Dean in desperation as they always did, and with distant dismay registered that Dean wasn't coming. In fact, he seemed to be working harder. Light flared, died down, sprang up ten times brighter.
The spectral scream tore through Sam's pounding, bursting head.
And then he was falling, falling, his neck released but his throat spasming, still closed. The light tilted, faded.
Hands hauled him up, hauled him close. Lifted his head so his neck was straight, and even that made his eyes water. A hand on his throat again, but warm, gentle, relaxing his muscles with its steady heat. An elbow hooked under his chin to prop it up, and circles rubbed on his back coaxed his lungs back to rhythm. Sam hovered on the brink of darkness, helpless to do anything but sit there and try to fill his lungs.
Through the rush of blood in his ears, a familiar voice filtered through. "Easy, easy. Just breathe with me, okay? In, out, in, out. Feel me doing it? Don't fight it, Sammy—if you black out, it's okay, I've got you. Just try to breathe slow and shallow. You can do this."
Dean always thought he could do anything.
Sam knotted his hands in the grass, his brother's jacket, his jeans, focused on the rising and falling chest wall against his side. Trying to match it with his ragged pants. In, out. So easy and so agonizing. Involuntary tears of pain rolled down his cheeks and he didn't care, just wanted to let it go for a while and not struggle for every breath.
"That's it, bro, just take it easy. You're okay. You're okay."
In, out, in, out. Warm hands. Warm voice. Warm currents pulling him along.
Sam drifted for a while, half there and half not. Eventually, he felt Dean shift him over against something hard and rough, warmth lingering behind. Then there was more light and burning, the smell crawling into Sam's throat and making him cough. That roused him briefly, but then Dean was back and his shirt pressed against Sam's face blocked out the worst of the smoke.
At some point, they started moving, Sam's legs on a sort of automatic pilot. Then there was the car, warm and rumbling and a lullaby to his overloaded senses. The next thing Sam knew, he was flat in bed, momentarily rearing up at the sensation of cold at his throat, then relaxing as hands pinned his carefully and the cold penetrated and numbed. Slowly, slowly, the panicky feeling of not having enough air faded to mere discomfort, and Sam dragged his eyes open to stare blankly at the scene before him.
Dean sat on the edge of the bed, giving him a rare sarcasm-free smile. "Feeling better?" he asked.
Sam might have made a sound, or maybe just blinked, too comfortable and hazy to do more, but whatever it was seemed enough.
Dean snorted softly, combing God only knew what out of Sam's hair. "I've met puppies that stay better than you do, Sam." A deep sigh, and he scrubbed fingers through his own messy hair. "I burned everything—the corpse, the tree, both houses. The Greeleys ain't coming back."
Memory flickered: pictures of a smiling couple, words of love, mementos of a love affair. His throat tickled, and Sam swallowed painfully.
"You still feel all warm and fuzzy about ghosts?" Dean continued whimsically.
Sam looked at him, wondering if there'd been any sign before their death of what they would become. If Marion had tried to save her husband's soul in any way. He shivered and lethargically curled up on his side.
Dean's hand was flat on his spine. "You're running a fever—I got you some liquid Tylenol for when you wake up. It should go down better then."
Hope wasn't enough. Some things you had to believe. He nestled down into the blankets.
"Go to sleep now, Sam," Dean said softly, tucking the covers in around him, adjusting the cold pack so it covered his throat completely. Sam's eyes sank shut.
He doubted sometimes, questioned often, despaired on occasion.
But he believed.