Summary: Dean learns how NOT to use a tire iron.
A/N: Gem and I have this list--the Ways to Hurt Sam List. It's a great list--pretty inventive, though my whole severed/reattached limbs idea may be a little out there. So, needless to say, we are always thinking of new ways to torment Sam (and by extension, Dean) and so this idea started with Sam getting hurt while change a tire. I do not claim the idea--this one was all Gem, and she even had to walk me through the process of changing a tire (lugnuts, not screws--who knew?). So thanks to Gem for the beta and the inspiration. And thanks to Brenna, whose excitement alone makes me want to write more and more and more.
Disclaimer: I make no claims on this stuff. I know that I'm using other people's characters, and I am SO grateful that I have the chance to play with them.
There was something oddly soothing about the hunting lifestyle for Dean.
He liked the transience. He liked the constant movement. He liked helping people who didn't know how to help themselves.
It gave him power, control, dominance. It put him in charge, gave him purpose. And it kept him from standing still long enough to realize how his power and purpose were both as transient as the motels they stayed at.
So, though he relished the down time between hunts--that time to recharge, to kick back, to soak up the finer things in life--he was always ready to move on.
And moving on seemed all the more pressing now. In the months since Sam had been back with him, both Sam and Dean had been on an emotional roller coaster--roaring with unspoken grief, turning with poorly veiled pain, and both desperately trying to deny the existence of both to the other.
Dean knew his brother needed time and space to work everything out. After all, seeing his girlfriend go up in flames was likely to have a lasting effect, and Dean knew from the number of conversations they had had about it (which he could count up on one hand), that coping wasn't exactly Sam's forte. But playing grief counselor wasn't exactly Dean's either.
He could still see shades of the Sam who had rebelled and left for college. Sam's questioning had a way of suggesting, ever-so-subtly, that Sam thought he knew a better way. That Sam was smarter, more knowledgeable. It never failed to rub the wrong way. Dean could see there was a lot Sam still didn't know about his family and a lot that Sam still hadn't made peace with yet. Without their father to bear the brunt of Sam's constant stream of questioning, Dean was feeling a little tense.
And Sam's questioning had peaked recently in a way that made him suddenly sympathize with his father. It hadn't reached full on defiance since their blowup in Indiana, but it was reasserting itself in a thousand ways since then, each time more and more frustrating than the last.
This recent hunt had been relatively simple--vanquishing a spirit on a Colorado farm--but it had seemed to open Dean up more than usual to Sam's annoying habit of questioning. So much so, that Dean had nearly hauled off and smacked his brother several times. Were it not for the fact that he needed Sam to cover him while he dug up the bones, he might have.
It always seemed so innocent. "Are you sure you want to do that?" "Did you really look into it?" "Why do you think that?"
Continual, small doubts that made Dean want to scream--Dean had been hunting longer and harder than Sam, so why couldn't the kid just trust him every now and then? Dean trusted Sam all the time--still watched out for him, but never doubted when Sam said he'd taken care of something, never pushed too hard when Sam said he was sure of something.
And the questioning didn't just happen during it a hunt. It happened all the time, over the stupidest things. "Don't you think you should get a salad?" "Why are you watching this movie again?" "You think she's worth it?"
When Sam had asked him yesterday, "Are you sure you know the last time you got the oil changed?" Dean had left his brother in the motel room and drank his anger away, sure to leave the keys in the motel room to avoid the temptation of taking off without his brother. He didn't care that Sam had found a lead on some disappearances in South Dakota--he couldn't bear to hear Sam delineate all the details to him as if he were five years old. He had to get out.
If they didn't get a hunt to focus on soon, Dean was going to kill his brother.
So when morning had come with a set of coordinates on Dean's cell phone, Dean had been more than a little relieved. Temporary reprieve was over. Dean was throwing his clothes into his duffel before Sam could even clear the cobwebs of sleep from his mind.
Sam squinted. "Right now?"
"Dude, I need to shower."
Dean responded by throwing Sam half-stuffed duffel in his face.
Sam glowered and threw it to the ground, rolling onto his back. "What about that thing in South Dakota I told you about?"
But Dean was already out the door, opening the Impala's trunk, readying for their prompt exit.
With a sigh, Sam shut his eyes, willing sleep to take him once again.
No such luck. "Sam, now," Dean ordered, his voice sounding far too like their father's.
Some days, Sam would comment to Dean, talk back, try to vie for his way. But he was too tired today, too worn out from the endless road he found himself on again. For now, it was easier to follow.
Fifty miles and two cups of coffee later, Sam decided to try his luck at communication again. "It's only 100 miles to South Dakota."
Dean drove on, eyes focused ahead. "We're not going to South Dakota."
"Four people are missing now, Dean. And there's no solid explanation."
"Dad's sending us to Alabama."
"I'm just saying, I think we should check this out."
"Well I'm just saying, no." He didn't have the time or the patience for this. They needed something to focus on and the more that they didn't have to decide, the better they'd be in the long wrong.
Clearly Sam didn't see it that way. "But you haven't even heard all the facts."
"Doesn't matter. Dad sent us coordinates. We follow that."
"I get that Dad has a lead for us, Dean, but I think people may be at risk in Marion. And it's only a day's drive." Sam tried to be reasonable.
Dean's patience was nonexistent. He just wanted to follow orders, be the good son--it made life so much simpler. "And that would be a day away from the hunt that Dad wanted us on. A hunt that I'm sure has people at risk, too."
Sam gaped. "You're really not going to listen to me on this one, are you?"
"Nope. Following orders. Just like you should. There's a command structure for a reason." The minute it was out of his mouth, Dean knew it was the wrong things to say.
Sam bristled. "Oh, so you're my superior now?" The anger dripped from Sam's voice.
Dean rolled his eyes, hoping to quell this conversation before it spiraled out of control. "You take everything so seriously, Sammy."
Sam laughed humorlessly. "You really do think you're above me in the chain of command," he said with a shake of his head.
With a perturbed glance at his brother, Dean shrugged. "I'm older. I'm the one Dad turns to in his absence. Maybe if you weren't always wanting to go AWOL, things would be different."
"You do realize we're a family, not a unit, don't you?" Sam said icily.
It was the same thing, all over again. No matter how many times they fought about it, tried to make peace with it, it always came back to this. And Sam just didn't get it. He never had and Dean wished that someday he would. "Whatever, Sammy. In hunting, there's no time for questions. So you take it from the top and go with it. Like we are now. End of discussion."
Sam looked like he wanted to protest, his mouth open and primed, but he could not formulate the words. Instead, he leaned back, arms crossed tightly across his chest. He clenched his mouth shut and stared stonily at the road ahead. Apparently even Sam grew tired of this debate from time to time.
A terse moment of silence passed. "Do you even know where you're going?" Sam finally asked begrudgingly.
"Alabama. It's not hard to figure out."
"I mean, the roads we need to take. The name of the town?"
"Isn't that the navigator's job? You expect me to drive and look at the map?"
Sam swallowed his words and reached for the glove compartment in barely controlled anger. "Do you remember the coordinates?"
"They're on my phone."
"Great. But they're not doing me much good there, are they?"
"Well, gee, genius, maybe you'd like to see them?"
"Unless you want to end up in Michigan, yes, please."
Dean tore his cell from his pocket and tossed it harshly at Sam. "Happy now?" he asked, eyeing his brother purposefully.
"Dean--" Sam began, his eyes on the road.
"Can't you just shut up for a minute--"
"Dean, watch the--"
Sam's warning was cut off abruptly when there was a loud popping noise and the car veered sharply.
Dean cursed, struggling with the wheel to keep the Impala from careening into the ditch.
The car came to a skidding halt.
"--road," Sam finished awkwardly.
"What the hell? What was that?"
Sam shrugged. "I told you to watch the road."
Dean glared at Sam's quiet self-righteousness. "You think this is funny?"
"Then wipe the smug look off your face."
"Maybe if you'd listened to me--"
And Dean couldn't take it anymore. Sam always had a way of making it about him--he had no idea what Dean went through and it was as if he didn't even care just how much Dean sacrificed every day to keep the peace between them. "Maybe if you'd stop be such a pompous, impossible bastard. You can't see past the end of your own nose. I guess I'll go change the tire. I can't expect you to be bothered with something like that."
Dean opened the door with a melodramatic flair and Sam was hot on his trail, meeting his brother as he stalked to the trunk. "Where do you get off, Dean? You only value what you deem valuable. Only your talents are worth anything. But when it comes to who gets to be the geek, you just take that for granted."
"Like I couldn't sit in a library and read, Sam. It's not rocket science, and I managed it just fine without you."
"Right, and what about all the times I've saved you. All the times you've charged in without thinking and I've had to make things right."
Dean leaned in, his face angry. "Maybe if your head was in the hunt half the time I wouldn't have to waste so much time being distracted by your incessant brooding."
Sam's face twisted, and Dean could see a jab of pain flash in his eyes. A moment of tense silence passed, their eyes locked, neither conceding anything.
"I've got to change the tire," Dean said finally, making a show of opening the trunk. "Or do you have some vision you'd like to share to advise us to the contrary?"
Sam couldn't find the words, so he stepped away, retreating into himself.
With a huff, Dean retrieved the spare tire and the necessary tools. "Here," he said, holding out the jack. "Make yourself useful."
Sam's nostrils flared as he accepted the jack, his eyes bright and wide at his brother's jibes.
Neither spoke as they moved to the tire. Sam wordlessly positioned the jack, and slid out of the way as Dean set to removing the shredded tire.
Dean intended to tackle the changing expertly, proving to his little brother just how superfluous Sam's presence was. But the Impala was older than he cared to admit and the years of constant use had made the already difficult-to-remove hubcap even more of a bear to get off. He found himself grunting in exertion as he tried to pry it free.
His cheeks burned red as he felt Sam's critical eyes on him as his kid brother hovered just behind him.
"Do you even know how to change a tire?"
Dean grunted. "Look, wise ass, it's my tire, okay? And since I seem to be the one doing everything around here, I suggest you can it or I will leave you on the side of this road."
Sam watched, breathing evenly trying to will himself to stay calm. The angrier he got, the more he'd just make Dean mad. "Dean."
Dean wasn't listening, not really anyway, his focus entirely on the task at hand. Just one more good pull—he knew the hubcaps were a tight fit and if he could just—
"Shut up, Sammy, I think I—"
He never finished his sentence. The hubcap came lose with a suddenly jarring motion, propelling Dean backwards, led by the iron in his hand which was moving with surprising velocity.
He somehow managed to not let go of it, even as he hit the pavement hard on his rear. The backward motion of the iron halted with a decided thump. It reverberated in his hand, still shaking from its suddenly ended journey.
Dean paused, taking a minute to recollect himself. "See, Sam? What'd I tell you? It just takes a little force."
The victorious quip died on his lips as he turned to his brother.
Sam was sprawled out on the pavement, blood running down his face, unmoving.
Dean gaped, just for a moment, as his brain frantically reconstructed what had happened.
The iron. When it had flown back, it hadn't stopped of its own accord. It had stopped with an abrupt impact to Sam's skull.
Swearing, Dean dropped the tool, moving quickly to his fallen brother. "Sam? Sammy?"
Kneeling over him, he shook Sam's shoulder, tapped his face, hoping to garner some kind of response.
Dean efforts were only rewarded by the continual stream of blood seeping steadily from a gash on Sam's forehead. "Sammy, wake up, bro. I'll listen to you this time," he offered, trying to keep his voice light.
He could easily tell Sam was breathing, and a quick check of his pulse assured Dean that Sam's heart was pumping just fine. His little brother was simply unconscious—and apparently deeply so.
He may have been annoyed with his brother's incessant questioning, his continually unnecessary voice of dissent, but an unconscious Sam was hardly any less annoying than a mouthy one. Mouthy Sam may rub him wrong, but Unconscious Sam freaked him out, which made him angrier than just about anything else.
Mumbling a string of curses, he fumbled with the door and worked his way to the glove compartment. He needed to check Sam's eyes—if his pupils showed any signs of alteration, he'd have to forget the tire and call 911. As it was, he needed to get them both off the side of the highway and back on track to their next destination--Sam's level of consciousness would dictate whether it would be the long way to Alabama, a warm motel bed, or the hospital.
Dean was gentle but direct while assessing Sam's pupils, as thorough as his father had taught him to in the first aid crash courses both boys had been subjected to. He dragged each one of Sam's eyelids up in turn, having to brush away the mess of bangs that caught in the blood on Sam's forehead.
Sam's pupils checked out, which was a relief, but Dean wished that the light would have revived him. With a sigh, he sat back on his feet, studying his fallen brother. Sam was on the gravel shoulder, his right hand flailing onto the grassy decline and his left touching the pavement of the road. For now, Sam was safe enough. The best thing he could do was change the tire so they could get someplace more comfortable to rest.
Checking Sam's pulse again, he found it still normal. He glanced at his watch--he had to keep track of how long Sam stayed unconscious. Head wounds varied in seriousness, but he knew not to take them lightly.
Reluctantly, he sighed, and moved back to the tire.
He tried to keep himself calm as he finished changing the tire, but he could not keep himself from fumbling the bolts, even dropping the two of them into the weeds, where he lost precious seconds having to search for them.
With a deep breath, he managed to finish the job, not even double-checking it as he turned back to his brother.
Sam had not moved. His arms were still splayed at his sides and his eyes were still closed.
Dean checked his watch, trying to find some way to change the hands. It had been nearly seven minutes since Sam had gone down. Seven minutes. Anything over five—well, Dean knew that head wounds increased in severity the longer the victim was out. Anything over ten had always warranted a direct trip to the emergency room.
He sighed. It was so stupid. All their arguments, all the tension, all of Dean's desperate need to be right all the time. And he certainly didn't want to be overshadowed--literally and figuratively--by his younger brother.
It was so like him. To keep doing what he thought needed to be done, heedless of anything—including Sam's logic and Sam himself. Because Dean was the big brother, he was always right, and even when he wasn't, he wasn't about to let his little brother in on that fact. Because Dean didn't know if he could handle not being the one in charge.
His childhood had been difficult and more or less taken from him when their mother died. His father had been too bereaved to parent, and that left Dean to grow up suddenly and drastically. It was a burden, Dean supposed, but not one that Dean resented. He may joke about it, complain about it, but it defined him. Without that role, Dean wouldn't know what to do. Without Sam—
Well, Dean wouldn't exist without Sam. Or at least, he'd have no reason to exist.
So it didn't matter to him that Sam was taller than him, smarter than him. Because he could pride himself in knowing that it was under his care and tutelage that Sam had flourished. And that role, that position, warranted him certain privileges. Being in control, being right without question, were definitely among them, and ones that Dean was not ready to relinquish.
Dean knew on some level that that was part of why Sam had left. His kid brother had been tired of taking orders, tired of letting everyone else around him control his life. While the fights may have been between Sam and John, Dean knew Sam was resisting Dean's control just as much.
But to him, Sam needed him in that role, even when he resisted it. When Jessica's death had left Sam malleable, vulnerable, Dean had not hesitated to resume his role as big brother. Sam was clearly not in control of his emotions and did not seem capable or ready to make his own choices—which suited Dean fine. For awhile, they had resumed that comfortable rhythm Dean had so cherished in his youth.
But Sam didn't want things to be like they were. Sam wasn't the same child he had been. Sam had never wanted to submit to orders without question, and that self-determination had only intensified in his years of freedom and normalcy.
And in those moments, the tension that had driven Sam away to begin with was back, and Dean found himself in the uncomfortable position of being his father, trying to assert his control over Sam to keep them together, to keep them safe.
But he knew enforcing his control came with a price. Most of the time, it just wore away something inside of Sam—either built into frustration or buried him in defeat. Dean knew this—had always known this—but so desperately craved to be a family, that he chose to overlook it most of the time.
He couldn't overlook it this time. Not when it manifested as a bleeding wound and an unconscious brother.
With another weary sigh, he leaned back over his brother, shaking him again, with the same results. Chewing his lip, he went for more aggressive measures. With a carefully placed fist, he rubbed hard into Sam's sternum, hoping that pain would elicit a response that his voice hadn't. "Sam?"
There was a minute noise and a flicker, both so small, Dean wasn't sure if he had imagined them.
Dean pushed harder.
A definite line furrowed across Sam's forehead and an unintelligible mumbled escaped his lips.
"Sammy?" he asked again, encouraged by the meager response.
Another moan answered him, along with a slight shifting of Sam's limbs.
"Hey, kiddo, I need you to wake up for me, okay?"
When his voice didn't do the trick, Dean rubbed again.
Sam whimpered this time, one hand flailing uncoordinatedly at the offensive pain on his chest.
"Wake up and I'll stop," Dean coaxed.
Whether Sam understood him or not, his eyes blinked blearily.
Dean grinned. "That's it. Wake up now."
Sam stared up at him, looking confused and not altogether coherent.
"Sam? You with me?"
"Mnnn whnn," Sam muttered, his hand pushing away at Dean and his legs working to struggle away.
"Hey, Sam, relax," Dean said, trying to still Sam's movements. The kid was no where near ready to be moving yet. He maneuvered himself to be more clearly in Sam's line of vision. "Relax."
Sam's eyes struggled for focus, still moving hazily as his eyelids dragged lethargically over his eyes. "mmmDddnn?"
Dean stifled a laugh at Sam's pathetic attempt at his name. "Yeah, kiddo, it's me."
Dean could see the question struggling to form on Sam's disobliging lips.
"Shh," Dean said, letting his hand laced gently through Sam's hair. "You had a bit of an accident, okay? But you'll be fine. You've just got to trust me, okay?"
There was a moment of questioning in Sam's eyes, but the motion of Dean's hand in his hair and the sound of his brother's voice seemed to still the younger boy. His features relaxed and his eyes began to drift shut.
"Hey, none of that," Dean said quickly, giving Sam a sharp shake. "You need to stay awake."
Sam looked befuddled and tired and far too much like a sleepy toddler as he whimpered again.
"Just give your head some time to clear. That must have been some smack to the head."
Sam was still looking at him, his eyes clouded and droopy. He had no idea what Dean was talking about.
It could have been amusing, were the circumstances better. But as it was, Dean's stomach gnawed uncertainly with Sam's coherency (or lack thereof) and contemplated taking him to the hospital. And those concerns didn't even begin to approach the level of mental anguish he was feeling for how Sam ended up like this to begin with. He was supposed to protect Sam, not bash him in the head with a tire iron.
But it was more than that, and Dean knew it. He was supposed to protect his brother, not beat him down.
He couldn't deal with Sam's emotional wounds right now--especially since Sam didn't even seem to be aware of anything besides the pain in his head. He could start to remedy the physical problems, though, the first step of which was getting Sam off the side of this backwater highway.
With one hand, Dean gripped Sam's wrist, and fisted his other hand onto Sam's flannel shirt. "Up we go, Sammy," he said with a grunt as he pulled hard, hoisting his brother to his feet.
Sam's only reply was a pained moan and he swayed uncontrollably on the trip up. The change in altitude did not bode well for Sam, and, before Dean could stop it, Sam was crashing back to his knees, retching violently.
Hastily, Dean moved to support Sam, managing to keep his brother from collapsing into his own bile. He looked away as Sam heaved, swallowing his own nausea as he felt the exhaustion tormenting his younger brother's body.
Sam shuddered as the convulsions wracked him, and Dean held him tighter, willing his brother to calm.
The effort of dumping his stomach depleted Sam, and Dean felt the tension leave his brother's body a moment before gravity was pulling Sam to the ground.
"Sam," he muttered as he manuevered himself to cradle Sam as he lowered them both to the ground.
Sam was limp again, his limbs dangling heavily all over Dean and his head lolling bonelessly.
Damn. Just how bad of a head injury had he inflicted on his little brother?
"Come on, Sam," he said, tapping Sam's cheek and keeping his voice even. "You need to wake up."
Sam gave no response, remained a dead weight in Dean's arms.
Dean glowered. "Fine. You just lie there while I carry your heavy ass back to the car, okay?" Dean said, his voice sarcastic and strained.
Sam seemed to agree with that plan and remained hopelessly limp as Dean tried to drag him to the car. Sam's arms and legs were flopping everywhere--always in the way--and Dean struggled with his brother to keep the unconscious young man's head from dropping hard onto the pavement. Dean certainly didn't want another head injury to contend with.
It took some effort and some colorful language from Dean, but soon Sam was sprawled across the seat and buckled in. Collecting himself, Dean went to cleaning up the mess from the shredded tire, replacing the equipment back in the trunk. He closed the trunk and returned to the driver's seat. Sam had been awake--that much was true--and with the stability of his vital signs, Dean tentatively decided to try for a motel instead of a hospital, hoping that Sam would thank him in the long run.
He was so intent on getting the car into gear and getting the hell out of there, that Dean almost didn't see Sam's bleary, unfocused eyes roaming the Impala's ceiling.
"Sam? You with me?" he asked, his attention fully again on his brother.
Sam appeared to concentrate, and it appeared to take much more effort than usual. "Dddnnn?"
"Hey, Sam," he said, trying to hold his brother's gaze.
Sam blinked heavily. "I dn' w'nna go...," he murmured. "G'tta be sssafe."
Dean didn't know quite what Sam was talking about and he was pretty sure that Sam didn't really know either. But he also knew that a combative Sam was a hard to deal with Sam and even dazed and confused, Sam could prove difficult to subdue. "Don't worry about it, little brother," Dean soothed. "I'm going to take care of everything. Okay?"
For a moment, it looked like Sam might protest, but the sureness of Dean's voice seemed to reach deep within him, and he visible relaxed. "'kay."
Sam trusted him. Completely. Implicitly. Without hesitation. Dean knew it wasn't just a complication of the concussion. It had always been that way. And, despite everything, that had never changed. Dean wondered when he would finally learn to trust Sam with the same childlike wholeness.
Dean started the and tried to ease it carefully back onto the road. Sam's eyes were drifting lazily to the roof of the car, his mouth hanging open slightly, and Dean knew the sound of the road had to be pounding loudly into his brother's sensitive skull.
Sam was right about more than Dean ever wanted to admit. And Dean wasn't sure if he was ready to see his brother as an adult, as an equal, as a partner, not his charge.
But Sam deserved it. He deserved a lot more respect and trust than Dean ever managed to give him. Dean may have raised his brother, but he hadn't figured out how to let him go.
Dean patted Sam again on the shoulder. "But you've got to stay awake, okay? Can you do that?"
"Yeah. No sleeping. Not until I say so."
Nodding, Sam seemed to ease a bit more. He let his head roll back, trying to keep his gaze open and on the ceiling above him.
Sam hadn't moved by the time they reached the next motel Dean found on the lonely highway, but he also hadn't closed his eyes.
The blood had slowed to a trickle, coagulating grotesquely across Sam's forehead. But Sam seemed oblivious, too focused on consciousness to be concerned with the reason it was so hard to stay awake in the first place.
Dean forced Sam to look at him, assuring himself that Sam would be okay, then went in hastily to pay for a room. When he came back, he grabbed the necessary items (the first aid kit, first and foremost) and then he went to the passenger door and opened it. He found Sam's eyelids at half-mast, and he shook his brother gently to rouse him again. "Come on, Sammy," he said. "Let's get you into the room."
Sam's jaw was slack and his eyes glassy as he allowed himself to be manuevered out of the car. When his legs hit the pavement, his sleepiness asserted itself, and he went down, nearly taking Dean with him.
Dean barely stopped them both from a sharp impact with the ground. Instead, he rallied his own strength, pulling his taller brother upright. "Work with me here, kiddo," he said breathlessly.
Sam's head rolled on his shoulder for a moment before he straightened it, looking perplexed at his brother. "Dean?" he asked, his words still slurred but easier to understand.
"Are we in Alabama yet?"
At that, Dean laughed. "No, not even close."
"Are we in South Dakota?"
Dean began moving them forward, relieved when Sam seemed to follow his lead, though still leaning heavily on his brother for support. "Nope."
"Then where are we?"
Sam's disorientation was still disconcerting, but he sounded much more coherent and Dean could trace the threads of his brother's current questions. "A motel."
There was a pause. "It's not night yet, is it?"
"Nope," Dean said again, stopping and propping Sam against him. He fumbled for the key card.
"I'm really tired, though."
"I'll bet you are," Dean commented as he opened the door and began moving them through it, Sam's arm still around him. "Do you remember what happened?"
Sam grunted as Dean lowered him to the nearest bed. "We were arguing."
Blankness flitted through Sam's eyes. "My head hurts," he said finally. Then his mind kept working, and he cocked his head at his brother. "Did you hit me?"
"Not me," Dean replied gruffly. "The tire iron."
"The tire iron?" Sam sounded hopelessly lost. "Why was the tire iron attacking me?"
"It wasn't. We were changing the tire and it sort of flew back. Got you in the head."
Sam's hands went up to the sore spot on his head and felt the stickiness. "Oh."
Dean moved toward the bathroom to retrieve a damp towel. "We need to get you cleaned up."
When he came back, he found Sam looking up at him. "I don't feel so well, Dean," Sam managed to say.
Dean barely grabbed the wastebasket in time to thrust it in front of his brother, who took to vomiting again with vigor. He gripped Sam steadily again, and was relieved to find Sam stronger this time around. When the heaves finally ended, Sam was gasping, spent, but still awake.
When Dean was sure Sam was done, he put the basket aside, then moved back in front of his brother, pushing his bangs out of the way. Sam did not resist, merely wincing as Dean probed the area with the damp cloth.
"Stitches?" Sam asked.
"Yeah, sorry, bro, I think so," Dean said as he examined the gash. "You'll be Frankenstein for a bit."
"That make you Dr. Jekyll?"
"You are really weird, Sam," Dean said as he reached for the first aid kit. He prepped the needle and thread and looked at his brother, who was staring at him warily. "You going to make it through this?"
Sam nodded half heartedly and braced himself as Dean moved in to start repairing the broken skin.
By the time Dean was done, Sam was fully awake, tensing against the pain of the needle in his skin. Dean bandaged it neatly, then offered Sam a drink of water.
Sam accepted the glass eagerly, drinking in small sips. "You hit me with the tire iron, didn't you?"
Dean rolled his eyes, attempting to stave off his own guilty conscience. "It was an accident, jackass," he quipped. "Besides, if you hadn't been standing there trying to tell me what I was doing wrong, none of this would have happened."
Dean's tone was light, and he immediately regretted the words. Sam seemed to pale, handing the glass back to his brother. "I'm tired," he said.
"Well, you've been awake for a while now, but you've got a concussion."
"I know," Sam said. "You'll wake me as you need to."
There was an undeniable resignation in Sam's voice and Dean's emotions twinged. He could keep on doing what he was doing, charging ahead regardless of Sam's needs, concerns, wants. And they may pull through in the end, but Dean wasn't sure he could handle the effect it had on Sam. Whether a concussion or a broken spirit, Dean knew neither was worth it.
He hovered near Sam as his brother shifted toward the end of the bed and undid the covers. Sam sank with exhaustion to the pillows, letting his eyes slip shut almost immediately.
Not wanting to disturb his brother, Dean retreated to his own bed, but kept his eyes fixed on Sam. After a few minutes, Dean figured his brother was asleep, and rolled his eyes up toward the ceiling.
It wasn't right. None of it was right. Everything that had happened--their whole lives--were wrong. He and Sam existed side by side but were so wrapped up in their own tragedies that they didn't know how to speak to one another. And worst of all, Dean didn't know how to make it any better.
Sam's voice startled him and he stiffened before replying in a measured voice. "Yeah, Sam."
Dean glanced up, perplexed. "Sorry for what?"
"For spending more time brooding than helping."
Dean's heart clutched in his chest. "Sam--"
"I mean, it can't be easy for you. And I need to see that more."
Dean swallowed hard, his stomach churning. He forced a chuckle. "That tire iron must have knocked a few screws loose up there, Sammy."
Sam did not respond to the humor. "I owe you a lot more than I know."
The statement begged reciprication, acknowledgement, something--anything. Dean trembled to control his breathing, willing himself to stay calm, to admit the words he so needed to say, that Sam so needed to hear.
"I owe you too, Sam," he said finally, his voice barely a whisper. "Without you, Sam, I'd--I'd--" Dean's voice broke. "I don't know what I'd do."
Dean's words hung tentatively in the air, waiting, hoping, terrified. Dean never expressed this kind of brokenness, this kind of vulnerability, and he could not help the fear that ate away at the pit of his stomach with it expressed so openly.
A moment passed in silence, and Dean worried--what if Sam laughed? what if Sam didn't understand? Dean waited for mocking, for reprobation, for anything.
Dean sat up, perching on the end of his bed. "Sam?"
Sam answered him with a soft snore.
At first Dean was horrified, angry--how Sam could sleep when Dean bared his soul? The emotion was quickly replaced by relief--peace at knowing he'd said what he needed to and that he wouldn't have to do with the emotional aftermath Sam would have surely forced upon him.
Getting up, he moved gently to Sam's bedside, adjusting the covers. He couldn't let Sam sleep too long, but he could not deny his brother this much of a reprieve. Especially not when Sam looked so peaceful, so content. He let his fingers rest on Sam's neck, assuring himself that Sam's pulse was strong and steady.
Sam shifted under his ministrations, murmuring lightly in his sleep. Dean waited until Sam had settled before sinking to his brother's bed with a sigh.
He'd said the words he was often too scared to admit, but Sam still needed to hear them. Dean let his hand rest lightly on Sam's head. Sam was here, and that was what mattered. As long as they were together and alive, Dean could speak the words another day. And he promised himself that someday he would.
Someday, he thought, brushing back Sam's hair again, before it was too late.