A/N: And here it is, the dramatic finish. :) Thanks to all of you who have stuck with this story and been so marvelously supportive. Faye, my dear – I couldn't do it without you (I wouldn't even want to try). And Kaly, your constant prodding and plot bunny feeding are very much appreciated (you little devil, you).
Sleep came in fits and starts and Dean was on the move again before dawn. He had no leads to research, so he retraced his steps and then sought out the side roads that seemed to lead either to nowhere or in circles.
It was nearly evening when he finally saw it, his mind so fogged with tiredness that at first, it barely registered. But when he blinked, it was still there – Bobby's impossible-to-miss robin's egg blue truck, parked in the tiny lot of an even tinier motel that stood like a lone weed in a garden of stones, far off the beaten path.
Dean jerked the truck into the adjoining space, not even bothering to lock it before he was pounding on the door. There was no immediate answer, and it took every ounce of control he had to make him pause long enough to listen for sounds of movement. All his hunter's instincts were trained on the opposite side of the door, but there was nothing, not even a whisper.
He pulled the lock picks from his pocket and knelt awkwardly, his knee not wanting to give. The tools were harder to manipulate with the cast on, but at least his fingers were uncovered. Still, it took a fair amount more time than usual before he felt the latch click.
The door opened to darkness and Dean was immediately grabbed and slammed against the wall. The door banged shut and he felt an arm pressing hard over his chest. He leaned against it and felt the prick of something hard digging into the soft skin at the top of his throat.
He made himself still, but not out of fear. He knew whose hand held the knife.
He heard a sharp intake of breath and the pressure against him was suddenly gone. He reached out blindly for the light switch, recoiling from the instant brightness. He caught only a glimpse of Sam's face before Sam staggered toward the bathroom. He was on the floor, next to him, just as Sam started to retch.
The spasms seemed to last for hours before Sam collapsed back against the tiled wall. His eyes were fever-bright and he was gasping, but when he reached out for Dean's arm, his grip was strong.
"Dean . . ." Like he'd expected him, all along.
"Are you hurt?" He barely listened as Sam tried to answer, already searching for himself.
No blood, thank God. There had been too much blood already.
Nothing appeared out of place, but Sam always wore so many damned layers, and he was struggling weakly against him now, pushing Dean away.
"Stop, it, Sam! I have to – "
Dean just looked at him in confusion for a moment and then it sunk in. He pulled the cord for the bathroom and then crossed back to the main door to turn off the overhead switch.
Once his eyes adjusted, he could just make out Sam's outline. His knees were huddled to his chest, his head buried in his arms and as Dean made his way back, he could see Sam rocking, just as he had at Bobby's.
"Come on." He put his good arm around Sam's back and hauled him up, caught momentarily off-balance when a majority of Sam's weight fell against him. He maneuvered them both to the more rumpled of the two beds, easing Sam down and pulling the covers over him. Sam was beyond speech, but he reached out a hand. His shaking seemed to ease marginally when Dean took the hand in his.
He perched on the edge of Sam's bed, not offering anything other than the hand Sam seemed unwilling to release. Not for the first time, he was at a loss. He had no clue what Sam needed – what would help or what would hurt.
But he was here, at least. And Sam wanted him here.
For the first time in weeks, the distance between them disappeared and they were brothers again.
The room was so dark that it was hard to know how much time had passed. But from the way his back groaned in protest when he sat up, Dean figured he'd slept at least a few hours, twisted toward the end of Sam's bed with his feet still on the floor. Sam had finally released Dean's hand from his death grip, and he was curled into himself, head buried in the pillow. He was shivering.
Dean laid his hand briefly against Sam's forehead. It was papery and over-warm, and even in sleep, Sam flinched away from him as though the light touch caused him pain. Dean reached to the other bed without turning to pull the other set of covers over Sam's trembling body. He ghosted a hand over Sam's hair and then limped into the bathroom, his knee still stiff. He made sure to close the door before turning on the light.
He emptied his bladder and washed his face, swirling some of the water around in his mouth before spitting it out. He wasn't refreshed, but he felt more like a human being. He wasn't sure if he was really ready to face Sam, but at the moment, Sam wasn't ready to face him either. He should have been relieved, but his stomach was in knots: fear or anticipation, or – more likely – both. He avoided his reflection and turned the light off again before he opened the door.
He picked his way across the room, avoiding obstacles as much for Sam's sake as for his own, and stepped outside. Tendrils of early morning fog rose from the concrete walkway. The air was moist and cool and it slid over him like a balm.
It had been three days since Sam had left South Dakota.
Dean grabbed his duffel from the truck, along with the standard weapons, a little shocked that he hadn't even thought to get them the night before. Then again, finding Sam, helping Sam, had been just a little more important at the time.
He locked the truck and went back to the room, this time easing into his own bed before letting sleep claim him.
When Dean awoke the next time, Sam was up, too. He heard the ping of bedsprings as Sam stood, sat abruptly, then stood again. He watched as Sam made his way to the bathroom, wobbly and listing like a newborn colt, his hand seeking the wall more than once as he strove for balance.
There was the sound of running water and then nothing. Enough time passed for Dean to worry, and he'd just started to move when Sam emerged, dropping into a chair rather than returning to the bed. He'd left the bathroom light on, and in the faint glow, Dean watched him prop his elbows on the table and press long fingers to his forehead.
He stood carefully and made his way to the other chair.
"How're you feeling?"
Sam was still rubbing his head and his voice was hoarse, but Dean believed him when he answered, "Better." At least Sam was coherent this time.
"You going to tell me what happened?" He hadn't meant to start off confrontationally, but he couldn't help it, the agonizing guilt and fear that had been keeping him going for the past three days finally manifesting.
"It was just . . . too much, you know? Brain overload." Sam gave a weak, self-deprecating laugh. His fingers moved to his temples.
Sam started to nod and winced. "That and getting here and the exorcism."
Dean smiled a little sardonically. "Now you know why I don't let you drive."
Sam laughed again – still weakly, but a little easier this time.
"So – an exorcism? By yourself?"
And with that, the ease was gone.
"It wasn't complicated. Just a poltergeist, but one of the kids was . . ."
Sam didn't finish, but Dean guessed from the shadow that flickered over Sam's face that that was what the vision had involved.
Sam started again. "I still had those herbs we got from Missouri. And there was a rite in Dad's . . ."
He faltered again and didn't say anything else.
Dean let the silence tick on for a beat or two.
"So, this is the way it's going to be now? You ditching me and dealing with the visions on your own?"
Sam shook his head once, then stopped, raising his hands helplessly.
"You . . . I . . . I didn't know what to do. I didn't plan to do this without you, but you were . . . " Sam's voice cracked a little, but they both pretended not to notice. "You wouldn't talk to me."
He let his hands fall just as helplessly. "I didn't know what else to do."
"You could have told me, instead of just packing up and leaving." Dean was up and pacing before he knew he was going to be. He could feels his hands tingling again and curled them into fists. "Damn it, Sam! You didn't even answer your phone. What was I supposed to think?"
He stopped pacing as abruptly as he started. "You were just gone." The unspoken again hovered in the air between them.
A grimace wrinkled Sam's face. "The phone's broken. It was in my pocket when I – when I was at the house. I have to get a new one."
Dean snorted without a trace of humor and shook his head. "Yeah. You do that."
Sam sighed and cupped a hand to his forehead. His shoulders were slumped in the same posture of defeat Dean had seen the last time they'd spoken.
"Dean, I don't know how to fix this. You've got to . . ." Gone was the soft, placating voice that had been Sam's default setting since the accident. It had been replaced – usurped – by a broken-glass sound that Dean never wanted to hear again, especially not from his brother. "Just tell me what you want. If you want me to go, I'll go."
Dean sat heavily on the end of Sam's bed. He looked at Sam – really looked at him – for the since they'd left the hospital. He took in Sam's pallor and the tiny lines of pain around his eyes and mouth, the stiff line of his neck, the faint white shadows that flanked the edges of his scar. Sam looked older than he remembered – tired in a way that sleep alone couldn't cure and broken in a way that time wouldn't completely heal.
Dean knew those feelings well.
He realized, maybe for the first time, that the last few weeks had been hard on Sam, too.
He ran a hand through his hair and struggled to find the right words. "I want . . ."
He swallowed, then made himself continue. "I want Dad to be alive. I want things to be the way they were." Always and always. Why were things only whole in the past? "I want to know what the hell comes next."
"I know." The soft compassion Dean heard in Sam's voice was the same note that had pushed him over the edge days before. But now he could hear what was beneath it, too. Shared pain and loss and confusion and a little bit of fear that maybe Dean himself had put there.
"I don't want you to go." It would never be easy, saying that to Sam, showing that kind of need. And he felt like he'd had to say it too many times already. But maybe this time, it would be enough.
Sam took a deep breath before he replied.
"Good. 'Cause I've kind of gotten used to riding shotgun." He smiled then, tentative and watery, and Dean felt something inside him give a little.
A few more beats passed between them and then Dean broke the silence again. "Well, you can't ride shotgun back to Bobby's, that's for sure. He'll skin you alive if you don't bring his truck back."
He eyed his brother, trying to decide what Sam could handle. "So, what'll it be? Sleep or food?"
Sam seemed to consider that for a moment and then said, "Food."
They dressed and headed outside, Sam still moving slowly. He stuttered to a halt when he saw the black pickup.
"That's Dad's . . ."
"Yeah, Sam, I know."
Dean kept walking. He didn't notice that Sam hadn't moved until he opened his door and realized that Sam wasn't doing the same.
"Are you coming or what?"
"I'm coming." And if Sam sounded a little shaky, Dean was more than willing to chalk it up to the rough day and night he had just been through.
They climbed into the cab and Dean started the diesel engine. It wasn't the same as the Impala, but it was close enough, for now.
As they pulled out, Dean felt Sam's eyes on him. He raised a questioning brow as Sam cleared his throat and seemed to work his way around what he wanted to say.
"Are we good? You and me?"
Dean held his gaze for a moment and then turned back to the road. Sitting here in their familiar positions, his hands firm on the wheel and Sam somehow finding a way to fit his too-long legs under the dash, he was trying to remember why he had been so angry in the first place. It had all faded in the rush of panic of knowing Sam was gone and the frantic journey to find him again.
It wasn't Sam's fault – none of it, despite what the demon had wanted them to believe.
And Sam had lost, too. Dean hadn't recognized it in the beginning, convinced that Sam was minimizing Dean's pain because Sam didn't feel it. But he had seen the look on Sam's face when he'd talked about the journal, heard the tremor in his voice when he realized Dean was driving John's truck. Sam had grieved – grieved still. That he processed it differently really shouldn't have come as a surprise to Dean after all this time.
He had to laugh at that. Sam always processed it differently.
The seat squeaked a little as Sam shifted. Dean knew he was probably interpreting his silence as a negative. He started to speak, but Sam beat him to it, his voice tight and low and aching.
"I do need you, you know. I always have. Even when I thought I didn't." Sam wasn't looking at him anymore, and his hands were splayed over his thighs as though he was braced for a blow.
Dean clenched his jaw and closed his eyes and told himself that they were just words. They didn't mean anything – certainly not anything significant enough to calm the tingling in his hands once and for all or bring a tightness to his chest that was welcome instead of painful. Definitely not anything important enough to warm him from within or make him strive to commit every detail of the scene to memory – Sam's fingers tense with need, his tone raw and honest, the bond between them suddenly reaffirmed and tangible.
"I . . . " This time it was Dean who had to clear his throat. "I need you, too."
He could feel Sam watching him again, saw it from the corner of his eye. He flicked a glance at his brother. For an instant, Sam's eyes shone with a combination of relief and gratitude and an emotion that the Winchesters never put words to but meant, just the same.
Dean pursed his lips and turned back to the road. "You don't have to make a big deal about it."
Sam turned back, too. "I'll try to contain myself." He'd tried to put a sarcastic spin on the words, but hadn't quite managed it.
Dean let himself grin, just a little. He leaned forward and pushed a tape in the stereo. "Back in Black" came blasting out of the speakers, and he saw Sam wince. He reached for the volume control, but once again, Sam beat him to it.
Sam turned it down quite a bit, but not off, and if Dean didn't know better, he would swear Sam was tapping a finger in time with the bass. He watched Sam lean back against the seat, watched his eyes slide shut, saw a look of relaxation – maybe even peace – settle over Sam's tired features.
Dean hadn't seen that look in a long time.
He leaned back and felt himself relax as well.
They were going to be okay.Fin