A/N: Here it is, the final chapter! Hope everyone enjoyed the story. Thank you all for the kind and supportive reviews! And Faye, I dedicate Sam's lips to you for always, in appreciation and gratitude for your all-around wonderfulness.
"Sam! Sam!" Dean was growing hoarse as the minutes ticked by with still no sign of his brother. While Dean was grateful that Margie and Marve were looking too, his patience had been left back on the side of Glen Road. Too much time had passed, and his mood had slipped from annoyed to furious. That, in truth, he was more worried for his brother's safety than angry at him for disappearing was something Dean chose not to think about.
The cold seeped through his jacket, gripping his skin with icy fingers. What Sam could have possibly been thinking, going out in this weather - without a coat! - was beyond Dean's comprehension.
He had reached a small park and was scanning the sidewalks and green spaces when he saw it - a figure curled on a bench off one of the side paths. If he'd had any doubts it was Sam, the sight of the familiar too-long hair hanging off the edge of the seat took them away.
Dean released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding and was at his brother's side in an instant. "Get up, Sam!' He shook his brother roughly and was surprised when there was no response.
"Sam, get up! Now!" He shook him again, harder this time, and Sam moaned.
Startled by the pain evident in the soft sound, Dean knelt beside him, a hand on Sam's forehead. The boy's skin was ice cold, but there was a sheen of sweat along his hairline.
"Sammy?" Concern finally overrode Dean's anger, gentling his hands and his voice. "Sam, open your eyes. Come on, man."
Sam's eyes fluttered open and he winced. It took him several seconds before he could focus and realize he was looking at his brother. "Dean."
Sam reached out with one hand, closing on his brother's coat. Dean covered the hand with his own, patting it awkwardly.
"Sammy, what are you doing out here? I've been looking everywhere for you."
Sam's hand tightened reflexively, and Dean could feel the tremors as Sam shivered. "I couldn't find you." His voice broke a little, and he sounded far younger than his fifteen years.
"I told you I'd be back, remember? Why did you leave the car?" Dean still wasn't sure what had happened, how Sam had ended up here, in the state he was in. Without a coat. That part finally registered in Dean's brain. Carefully, he pried Sam's fingers away and he shrugged his off, placing it over his brother. Sam still hadn't answered, so Dean prodded again.
"Sam, what happened?"
Sam fought to keep his eyes open. He tried to remember, but the whole night was a blur. All he could remember was cold and pain and the desperate need to find his family. He wanted to explain, so Dean would understand, but the only words he could think of were, "I couldn't find you."
Silent tears slid down his cheeks and Dean was dumbfounded. Sam never cried – not since he was a baby. It was one of the first lessons they had been taught as children: crying didn't solve anything. All it ever did was annoy the heck out of their father. They had been masters at stoicism from preschool age on. Things must be pretty bad if Sam was driven to this.
Sam felt Dean's hand ghosting through his hair in a familiar gesture of comfort, but recoiled, gasping, as Dean's fingers touched the bruise by his temple.
Dean pulled his hand back abruptly when he saw Sam's reaction. But he'd felt it – raised flesh above and forward of Sam's ear – and he sought it again, this time with more care.
"Oh, Sammy." Finally, things were starting to make sense. He must've hit his head in the car. Damn it! How did I miss this? A swift, harsh voice answered from his subconscious. Maybe if you hadn't been so caught up in being mad at him and being in such a hurry to get to Dad . . . maybe if you had watched over him half as carefully as you did that car . . .
He peered more closely at his brother, taking in Sam's pallor, the shallowness of his breathing, his confused speech, the tears, and was reasonably sure he had a concussion.
"It's okay. It's okay. We're going to get you out of here, alright?" Memories of the evening's argument, his righteous anger and frustration, his worries about the expense of fixing the car and what their father would say – all vanished in an instant. The only thing that mattered was making sure Sam was safe.
"Here's the deal, little brother. We're going to head back to the garage and then we're going to get you to a hospital."
He started to stand, but Sam stopped him, his hand weakly gripping Dean's shirt. "Don't leave me."
Dean's heart broke a little, hearing that lost, almost panicked whisper. He rested his hand again on Sam's forehead. "Don't you worry, Sammy. The only way we go is together."
He closed his hand over Sam's and gave it a brief squeeze. Sam finally let go. Dean shifted Sam's feet to the ground and moved his coat to the back of the bench. He pulled Sam's arm over his own and wrapped his other hand around Sam's waist, gently lifting him. Sam was upright in seconds, the position change leaving him breathless. Bile rose in his throat and he was sick almost before it registered that he was going to be. He barely felt Dean supporting him, barely heard Dean speaking soothingly as the worst of the nausea passed. Tears sparked his eyes again.
"It's okay, Sammy. Just breathe. I've got you. We'll just wait a minute." Dean pressed Sam's head to his shoulder, resting his chin against the soft brown hair. Guilt ate away at him like acid. Sam had been hurt – badly, from the look of things – and he hadn't even noticed. Hurt and wandering around in the dark in unfamiliar territory, alone. Bad on so many levels.
Sam had no idea how much time had passed, but it hadn't been enough for him to gather any semblance of energy. It had, however, been long enough for Dean to pull the coat over Sam's shaking arms. The cold had become a part of him, and even the coat didn't make him any warmer. But he drew comfort from the familiar scent of his brother as it folded around him. He took an unsteady breath, trying to collect himself. "Is Dad okay?"
Dean glanced at him quizzically. "Dad's fine. He's in Colorado. We were going to meet him, remember?"
Sam couldn't remember, but at least now, he knew his father was safe.
"I was worried." Dean heard the mumbled words and pulled his brother closer to him.
"We're fine, bro. The only one we need to worry about right now is you. You think you're ready to stand up now?"
Sam managed a small nod, and although Dean wasn't convinced he was going to be able to make it, there was really no choice. Sam needed to be inside, and he needed a doctor. He kept his arm wrapped solidly his brother, supporting him as they rose. Sam swayed as the world in front of him careened wildly.
"I've got you, Sammy. Just lean on me, okay? Lean on me."
Sam didn't respond, but he moved with Dean when he started walking. Dean was amazed that Sam was on his feet at all, and he felt a swell of pride for his baby brother.
Now that he thought about it, Sam had always been this way. When faced with a difficult challenge, Sam always rose to the occasion. For all of his complaints and arguing and wishing for a different life, Sam never backed down when it mattered. There was never a moment when he couldn't be relied upon completely to do what needed to be done.
Maybe that said a lot more about Sam's commitment to the family than Dean or their father cared to admit. Maybe – just maybe – it was harder to be dedicated when you didn't believe in the cause than when it was your reason for living. Maybe it was harder when you knew the only two people in your life didn't understand you and couldn't (wouldn't) make the effort to ever see things from your point of view.
And yet – Sam never faltered. He had never let them down, no matter how upset or hurt he was. Even with all he had been through this night, Sam's only thoughts had been for his father and brother's safety. Dean felt more than a little shame acknowledging to himself that he had obviously not placed the same importance on Sam's.
The brother in question stumbled, his meager strength waning. Dean barely kept them both from falling. They were still several blocks from the garage, and Dean was weighing the merits of leaving Sam to go get a vehicle when a familiar truck rounded the corner.
Marve eased over to the curb and leapt from the cab. "Looks like you found him. He okay?"
Dean shook his head, grateful for the assistance when Marve slipped his shoulder under Sam's other arm. "He needs a hospital."
He didn't have to say anything else. Within minutes, they were on their way. Dean cradled Sam against him, allowing the boy to rest as they drove. He roused him periodically, not willing to let Sam fall asleep. Marve turned the heat on full blast, but Sam still shivered. Dean kept his arms around him, trying to lend him warmth.
The county hospital was blessedly close, and even better, blessedly empty. Sam was taken in immediately, with Dean permitted to stay with him as he was examined. The diagnosis of a concussion and mild hypothermia was inevitable.
Dean waited until Sam was settled in a room before calling their father. He left a voicemail explaining what had happened and where they could be reached before returning to Sam's side.
Sam looked drawn and pale. A warm saline IV was attached to his arm, and there was an oxygen tube hooked under his nose to help ease the pain of his headache. His eyes were the barest of slits, but he seemed to recognize his brother as Dean stood over him.
"Hey, kiddo. How you doing?"
Sam reached out an unsteady hand rather than answering, squeezing slightly as Dean grasped it. His eyes slid closed as Dean squeezed back, finding more comfort in the touch than any words that could have been spoken. Dean was here and safe. For Sam, that was all that mattered.
Dean hooked a foot around a chair, pulling it over to the bed and sitting without breaking contact with his brother. "You rest, Sam. I'm here. Everything's going to be okay."
Sam drifted to sleep, but Dean continued to hold his hand. He could feel the strength in it, that quiet strength of Sam's that Dean was only just beginning to appreciate. He still didn't understand his brother – probably never really would – but he was starting to think it would be worth the effort to try a little harder.
I love you, little brother. He wouldn't say the words out loud. It just wasn't what they did. But he thought, somehow, that Sam understood.