Disclaimers: Don't own them, bla, bla, bla… We all know the drill.
Warnings: I did my best, but this is unbetaed, and I'm Italian, so please excuse any errors.
Dean Winchester cursed vehemently under his breath as he attempted to shake some of the mud off his leather jacked and his boots so as not to dirty the interior of his beloved car.
Standing leaning on the passenger door, his brother Sam grinned, amused.
"Dude, I sure could mistake you for a swamp monster or something right now," he said.
"Oh, shut up," Dean growled as they climbed into the Impala. "Why does it always have to be me that gets covered up in squishy yucky things?"
"That's because you're clumsy," Sam grinned again.
Dean glared at him.
"Clumsy? Oh, shut up," he growled once more as he started the engine.
They drove in silence for a while, letting Metallica do all the talking as the music pumped through the radio.
Dean grimaced slightly and let go of the wheel with a hand to work his right shoulder.
"You okay, man?" Sam asked, giving him a sideways glance.
"Yeah, just a little stiff."
"Want me to drive?"
"Nah, I'm good." He sighed wearily. "This sure was a mean one," he said, referring to the specter they had gotten rid of that night.
"Yeah, well, we're meaner," Sam stated with confidence. "What?" he asked when he noticed Dean staring at him.
"Nothing," his brother said, grinning slightly as he took his gaze back to the road. "I just never thought I'd hear such Rambo-like statements coming out of your mouth, college boy."
Sam glared at him as he sunk down in his seat.
"Oh, shut up."
Sam swallowed hard as he looked at his brother lying in the hospital bed, the dark circles around his eyes the only color on his ghastly face.
He knew Dean had noticed him, but he wouldn't acknowledge his presence, adverting his gaze as he stared blankly at the TV screen.
"Have you ever actually watched daytime TV?" he said at last, voice tired and scratchy. "It's terrible."
Sam shook his head and sighed heavily.
"I talked to your doctor."
His voice was already breaking. He hated it, but he couldn't help it: the man's words were still stuck in his stomach, and they hurt like a sharp knife.
"We can't work miracles."
When Sam had heard those words, he'd been sure he was the one dying, they hurt so much.
"That fabric softener teddy bear… Oh, I'm gonna hunt that little bitch down."
Still ignoring the subject. Still ignoring him.
Soft, firm, pleading.
And Dean gave in.
"Yeah," he sighed, in a way that was more like a moan really, as he turned the TV off and let the remote fall at his side. "Alright, well…" Dean finally looked up, finally looking at him, and sighed again, and only now did Sam realize that he was just trying to draw in a decent breath. "Looks like you're gonna leave town without me."
Sam stared at him in disbelief, smiling nervously, incredulously.
"What are you talking about? I'm not gonna leave you here."
"Hey," Dean interrupted him seriously. "You better take care of that car, or I swear I'll haunt your ass."
"I don't think that's funny," Sam said, snarling in pain, voice cracking again.
"Oh, come on, it's a little funny," Dean said, pretending he didn't care, pretending it didn't hurt. But he lowered his gaze for a second, and that was enough for Sam to see through it all. Not that he hadn't, already.
The younger Winchester looked down and shook his head, then he turned to look out of the window, not really seeing anything, just blinking back tears, because he knew Dean didn't need to see them. Not right now.
They were silent for long moments. Sam didn't want to turn. He didn't want to see the pain he knew would find in Dean's eyes if he only managed to catch him off guard.
It was Dean who broke the silence then.
"Look, Sammy, what can I say, man? It's a dangerous gig. I drew the short straw. That's it, end of story."
"Don't talk like that, alright?" Sam tried to snap, but it just came out desperate.
It was enough though for Dean to frown and look at him worriedly. Worriedly… Sam's stomach dropped lower, if possible. Dean was dying, and yet there he was, trying to make him feel better.
"We still have options," Sam said then, and despite his voice still being soft with pain and worry, there was a steely note of determination in there.
Dean frowned, and it was then that Sam saw the fear in his brother's eyes. Fear, and a little bit of anger, too.
"What options? Yeah, burial or cremation."
Sam looked at him, appalled at the way he kept talking, as if it didn't matter, as if he'd already given up. He couldn't take that. Not from Dean. Dean never gave up. Never.
The younger brother looked away, shaking his head in denial.
"And I know it's not easy, but…" Dean went on, looking away himself and then lifting his gaze back up to his brother, pinning him with his eyes. "I'm gonna die." A small smile. Bitter, resigned, and trying to look reassuring. "And you can't stop it."
Sam's eyes hardened, and he had to swallow a few times before his face wrinkled up in a snarl.
Sam opened his eyes with a small gasp, still feeling the anguish from the nightmare, no, the memory, weighing at the pit of his stomach.
"You okay there, Sammy?" Dean asked, giving him a sideways glance as he kept driving.
"It's Sam," the younger brother grumbled, sitting up straight.
"Yup, you're okay," Dean nodded with a small grin. "So where to, little brother?"
"You just had a vision, right?"
"Nope." Sam shook his head with a sigh. "No vision, it was just a nightmare."
"Oh." Dean was silent for a few moments before he spoke again. "Care to share?"
"It's okay," Sam murmured, looking out of the window.
Dean nodded silently.
"Look, Sammy…" he began then, hesitantly. "I know you miss her. And I just wish I…"
"It wasn't about Jess," Sam interrupted.
Dean cast him another sideways look.
"It wasn't about Jess," Sam repeated, running a hand wearily over his face. "It was about you," he said in a whisper.
"So what, am I about to get strung up by a ghost?" Dean grinned, trying to lighten the mood in his usual way. "Well at least I hope it'll be the ghost of a beautiful woman."
"Dean! Stop it," Sam snapped harshly. "It's not funny, dammit."
"Okay, okay," Dean said quickly, shooting a concerned look at his brother. "What was it about?"
"It's no big deal."
"Well, excuse me, I just happen to care about my death."
"You weren't dead," Sam hurried to say, not daring to think about the possibility.
"I wasn't? Dude, that's a nice change. Your dreams are always so… gloomy."
"No, you weren't dead. But you were dying."
"There we go. I knew it was too good," Dean sighed dramatically. "So," he asked then, "what happened to me?"
Sam stopped staring at the landscape to look at his brother, stunned.
"How can you be so calm about it?"
"You said it yourself, it wasn't a vision. So I don't see any reason to panic, Sammy."
"You were dying!" Sam snapped. "You were dying and all you could say was 'I drew the short straw'. I hate it when you do that. You were dying and yet you were trying to make me feel better! I hated that!"
Dean stared at him, totally taken aback by the outburst. That was months ago. Sam couldn't possibly still be having nightmares about it, could he? He should've expected this. He should've tried to make his brother talk. He should've been more sensitive to how that experience had affected him. He should've… protected him better. Although Sam didn't seem to appreciate that. Irritation crept onto him.
"Well, excuse me if I didn't want you to see me panicking on top of seeing me dying," he snapped back harshly.
Sam looked at him and sighed.
"Dean, I didn't mean it like that," he said softly.
Dean sighed as he pulled the car over, and turned in his seat to look at his brother.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he said.
"Tell you what?"
"That you're having nightmares about it."
"Because they had stopped," Sam admitted. "I hadn't dreamt of that for a very long time. I don't know why it all came back now."
Dean didn't, either. So he didn't try to find an answer.
"Yeah, well, sometimes the mind plays tricks. But hey," he smiled reassuringly, "I'm here, I'm okay. And I don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon. You're stuck with me, Sammy."
Sam gave him a small smile.
"I'm glad I am," he said softly.
"Oh, man…" Dean groaned. "I swear, if you try to hug me, I'm gonna kill you."
Sam laughed, and then he became serious once again.
"Dean… If you'd allowed me to see you panicking… What would you have said? I mean, what…"
"Look, Sam," Dean interrupted, starting back the engine. "I've been driving all night, I'm tired and I'm still covered up in mud. I just wanna crash, okay?"
Sam sighed. Conversation on that subject was over. He should have known.
"Okay," he said. "Want me to drive for a while, so you can rest a bit?"
"No, thanks, I'm good."
"Yeah, Dean," Sam thought as he resumed looking out of the window. "You're always good."
Sam watched his brother sleeping. He wished he could do the same, but no matter how hard he tried, sleep just wouldn't come.
He got up and went to the window, absently looking at the cafe just across the street, right in front of the motel.
Gettysburg, South Dakota. It was a quiet town, and he was glad they could finally get some proper rest after their last adventure in Aberdeen.
He heard Dean shift and inhale deeply behind him.
"Sammy?" his brother's voice, still rough from sleep, called a moment later. "What is it?"
Sam turned and smiled.
"Nothing, Dean. Go back to sleep."
Dean eyed him warily for a few moments, then he turned with a groan.
Just when Sam thought he had fallen back to sleep, he spoke again.
"If you don't get some sleep yourself I'm gonna knock you out."
"Alright, man, I'm going," Sam chuckled, effectively climbing back in his bed. "You sure are a pain in the ass when you're worried."
"I'm not worried," Dean said, voice already slurring. "I'm just practical: you're awful cranky when you don't get enough sleep."
"Dean, I almost never get enough sleep."
Sam was about to make some retort when he noticed his brother's breath had evened out. Shooting a mock glare at the sleeping form, he got more comfortable and closed his eyes, already knowing that he wouldn't be sleeping a wink.
Moments later, he was snoring softly.
Dean stirred and opened his eyes, frowning slightly at the sunlight that hit them straight away. He turned and glanced at the clock, frowning deeper at the numbers. 5.00 PM.
"Oh man… How long did I sleep?" he thought, swinging his legs over the mattress.
He glanced at the other bed and wasn't surprised to find it empty.
As he stood up he was hit by a slight wave of dizziness.
Sam emerged from the bathroom, buttoning up a clean shirt, just in time to see his brother sway and grab the table for balance.
"Dean!" the younger Winchester cried, rushing forward and grabbing his brother's arm to steady him. "What is it?"
Dean blinked a few times, frowning at how lightheaded he was feeling.
"It's nothing, Sam, I'm fine. Just still half-asleep, I guess," he smiled reassuringly at his brother.
"I don't think so," Sam argued, eyeing him worriedly. "You're pale, dude, and you're sweating."
"I'm okay, man, you don't have to fuss," Dean grumbled, shoving him away.
As soon as Sam let go of him though, dizziness assaulted him again. His vision started blurring at the edges and he blinked again, desperately. Then it was like he was suddenly drained of every ounce of his strength, and Sam's frantic voice calling his name was the last thing he heard as he crumpled to the floor.
Sam panicked when he saw what little color his brother had left draining from his face and his body just going limp all of a sudden.
He rushed forward and caught Dean before he could hit the floor, cradling his head in the crook of his arm.
"Dean!" he called, gently starting to pat his brother's clammy cheek. "Dean, come on, man, wake up. Come on… Answer me, damn you… Open your eyes, Dean… Dean!"
Why he was so scared, he didn't know. His brother didn't have any wound, didn't have any fever… He was probably just exhausted after last night's fight. But the memory's images were still fresh on Sam's mind, just as the anguish was still fresh in his guts.
Forcing himself to calm down and snap out of it, Sam dragged Dean up and eased him back on the bed. Then he went to the bathroom, filled a bucket with cool water and grabbed a washcloth.
Hurrying back to his brother's side, he dampened the washcloth and started running it gently over Dean's face, all the while calling his name.
"Come on, wake up…" he murmured. "Please. Please Dean, wake up."
It wasn't long before Dean frowned and groaned softly under the cool touch of the water.
"Dean?" Sam called, relieved, resuming his patting of his brother's cheek. "That's it, man, wake up. Nice and easy. Wake up."
Dean opened his eyes and blinked, licking his lips.
"Sam?" he said in a rough voice. "What the hell happened?"
"You passed out, you jerk, that's what happened."
"Why do you make it sound like it was my fault?" Dean grumbled, sitting up.
"Take it easy, Dean," Sam warned, putting a hand to his chest.
"I'm fine," he declared, swatting Sam's hand away.
And Sam had to concede that his brother wasn't probably lying this time. The color had gone back to his face, he wasn't sweating anymore, and he sounded stronger than ever.
"Man, you sure gave me a scare back there," he said as he watched Dean get up and start to get dressed.
The older Winchester lifted an eyebrow and his trademark cocky grin appeared on his face.
"You worry too much, Sammy."
Dean smiled slightly to himself, enjoying the chatter going on in the little cafe. The waiter brought their meal and he had to regret once more that it wasn't a waitress.
His stomach grumbled at the sight of the food. Man, he had been craving a hamburger.
He was about to get at it when he looked up and noticed Sam staring at him. Again.
"Sam, I swear, you don't stop looking at me like that, I'm gonna punch you in the face," he said matter-of-factly.
"Sorry," Sam said with a small grin. "It's just…"
"Sam, I'm fine," Dean said for what he felt was the hundredth time. "It was nothing."
"Yeah, I know," the younger man said, lowering his gaze.
Dean frowned. He couldn't quite see why it was that Sam had been left so shaken by a mere blackout. And then it hit him. He stared at his brother appalled for a few seconds before speaking up.
"Wait a minute… Is this about the nightmare you've had this morning?" he asked in disbelief.
"No," Sam said, a little too quickly, right hand shooting out nervously to grab the mayonnaise.
"Man, I can't believe it!" Dean cried. "Hey, look at me," he said then, firmly. When Sam looked up uncertainly, he went on. "I'm fine, okay? My heart's okay. I'm okay. Hell, Sam, you know that."
"Yeah, I know, but…" Sam trailed off.
Sam drew in a deep breath.
"I don't know, man… I mean, I know you're right, I really do. And I know it was stupid… but you really scared me earlier."
"It wasn't stupid, Sam," Dean reassured. "But I don't want you to worry: I'm fine," he said once more.
Sam nodded and smiled, somehow feeling a lot better. Dean could do that, put his fears and worries to rest with just a few chosen sentences.
"Oh no…" Dean groaned, and Sam looked up, startled. "Please tell me you're not about to do what it looks like you're about to do."
Sam frowned at him, then noticed that his brother was looking at the mayonnaise still held in his hand and grinned broadly.
"Of course I am," he said, lifting the bread and splashing the sauce over his hamburger.
"Man, that's so barbaric," Dean grumbled.
Sam chuckled, and then his smile softened as he lowered his gaze once more.
"You know… Jessica used to tell me the exact same words. She thought putting mayonnaise on a hamburger is the eighth capital sin."
"Smart girl," Dean nodded approvingly, munching at his own hamburger.
"Yeah…" Sam whispered hoarsely. "Yeah, she was."
Dean looked sadly at his brother, and felt the familiar guilt coming up to eat him inside. But he didn't want Sam to see it, so he took a swig from his beer and swallowed it down, like he always did.