Sadly, I don't own them.
Sam remembers the first thing Dean said when he awoke after surgery and could form something resembling coherent sentences: "Well, I guess you're driving now." While Sam was feeling nothing but relief at that moment, happy to have his brother alive and in one (albeit somewhat damaged) piece, he didn't totally miss the slight tone of sadness in Dean's voice.
The doctor's had done what they could, but in the end there was only so much that could be fixed. Dean had left the hospital with a clean bill of health except for a knee that was never going to function properly again. He walked out slowly, limping and in pain, but Sam knew it was a big improvement from the night he'd dragged his half dead, blood-soaked brother into the place.
They'd given Dean a cane, several rehab referrals, and a handicapped-parking pass. He'd chucked the referral slips into the trash just outside the door, no surprise there. The parking pass had yet to come out of the Impala's glove box. Sam had watched as that was almost chucked too, not saying a word when Dean changed his mind and shoved it in his pocket. It was only a matter of time before that was used somehow in a hunt, like any of their numerous IDs and costumes. Maybe it was still enough of a sore point with Dean that it would be a little longer before he'd willingly play up the knee problem.
And that's exactly what it was: a problem. Dean was slower moving, couldn't blend with a crowd well due to his altered gait, couldn't run fast if his life depended on it (though in his defense, he HAD managed to speed up several times when needed - it wasn't pretty but he could hobble along at a decent pace after a couple months). He took longer to get up after being knocked down, couldn't kick in a fight, though he somehow managed to compensate for it most of the time - balancing on his feet well enough to throw some wicked punches and faster jabs. Sam didn't miss the way Dean now worked his upper body twice as hard as before, the resulting muscle bulging ever so slightly. His tee shirts, once loose, now pulled snuggly across the chest.
But Dean wasn't the same, and he couldn't hunt the way they had before. All these things, all these complications that resulted from the bum knee were problems ...right?
They'd had exactly one fight on the subject of "Can we still safely continue to hunt?" Just one. Mind you it was a knock down, scream fest the likes of which hadn't been seen in a good few years in the Winchester family. When they'd hit a stalemate (and the front desk had called their room for the third time about noise complaints and were now threatening to phone the police), Dean had left. Sam, still breathing hard and shaking his head, had listened for the grumble of the car, but heard nothing coming from the parking lot. He knew Dean wouldn't be going any farther than the bar half a block up the street, within easy walking distance from the motel, cane or not.
Sam had plopped down at the table in front of the laptop, staring at the blank screen, replaying bits of their fight in his head.
"Goddamn it, Sammy! Hell, guys used to lose arms and legs all the time in war and they'd just go back and keep fighting. Remember Dad's friend, George? Huh? The dude had only one arm and a leg that bent less than mine does and he could kick our asses six ways from Sunday!"
Sam remembered meeting their Dad's old marine friend. He remembered the guy was clearly tough a nails and didn't give two shits if he was anything less than perfect. He also remembered the guy died fighting some kind of spirit only a couple years later.
But Dean had had a point. They'd been away from the hospital only a couple weeks then and already it was getting easier for Dean to manage getting around with his less than perfect leg. People got hurt all the time. They went on with their lives ... with their normal, safe lives.
Which had absolutely fuck all to do with them and their situation.
But hey, Dean was right, there was always some old painting with a long dead soldier who clearly had been damaged in battle yet kept on fighting.
"This is not a war, Dean! You haven't been drafted and you sure as hell CAN get out! You're not a soldier no matter what you might have going on in that screwed up head of yours, and even if you were, nobody would expect you to keep doing this when you CAN'T anymore!"
Ouch. He hadn't meant to let that all out. Wasn't a fair fight really; after all, Sam had had years of practice in loud and angry verbal sparing with his father while Dean had stood by quietly, waiting to referee if needed, bearing silent witness as his stubborn, dysfunctional family tore itself apart one argument at a time.
When Dean had returned to their rented room a couple hours later, Sam hadn't exactly apologized, but he'd suggested they go "burn some bones and shake some salt." Though it was a simple haunting, had taken less than an hour to finish their work and there had been nothing more than a little supernatural light show, Dean had actually whooped in triumph at the end. Looking over and seeing a genuine, huge smile on his brother's face, he'd known he wouldn't be able to stop Dean from hunting, bad leg or not. It was his brother's choice, and if it meant Sam would have to follow Dean right into hell because Dean got hurt or killed as a result of his leg ... well then, he would gladly do it for his brother.
Of course it didn't mean Dean wouldn't be in for an afterlife of "I told you so's."
Sam watches Dean now as he makes his way across the parking lot, back to the car. Sam's in the passenger's seat. He drives a bit more than he used to before Dean's leg got screwed up, but his brother still does the bulk of the driving. He knows it causes Dean a bit of pain, that his leg gets pretty stiff and sore if he's at the wheel for more than a few hours, but it's more than worth it to him, so Sam let's it go when Dean limps a little more than usual after a long drive.
He realizes Dean's not really self-conscious about the cane anymore. He knows it used to irk his brother a bit, being such an obvious sign of a problem. Though they do spend a lot of time trying to blend and hide, Sam knows that the car in which he now rides is the most obvious indicator that Dean doesn't feel the need to disappear in a crowd, that not being "normal" isn't the kind of hang up for him that it's always been for Sam.
It's early morning and the sun is already bright, its extreme angle in the sky making every metal object all the more reflective in the gas station parking lot. Dean's necklace shines and glints as it bobs against his chest. His gait isn't quite so awkward anymore. True, he doesn't have the smooth grace he used to be capable of, but sometimes he does still almost bounce with the effort of containing his excitement and keeping up speed. A hound dog that's caught the scent of its prey. It's those times when Sam thinks Dean is close to moving the way he used to, all that barely contained energy and enthusiasm just below the surface. He can keep his face blank but that bouncing walk never hid a thing.
Watching his brother hurry across the parking lot, Sam is glad that not even a permanently messed up knee can destroy that walk, can ruin the driving force behind it.
"What're you smiling about, Francis?" Dean asks after carefully getting behind the wheel. He yanks his cane inside the car before shutting the door and purposely bangs it off Sam's own leg when he slides it over to the foot space on the passenger side. It's become something of a ritual now. The first time was probably an accident, but Dean played the awkwardness off as "accidentally" banging his brother's lanky leg with a smirk. Now he does it every time on purpose. Sam has a small permanent bruise on the side of his thigh, just above the knee, but he doesn't mind, knows it's like a smack upside the head or a light slap on the chest - just goofy, brotherly, affectionate touching. He sighs dramatically, right on cue though, playing his part.
It's funny that the cane has become so much a part of Dean now. He remembers the first one they'd given him in the hospital, can still see the look on Dean's face, just barely make out the words "old person" in the mutterings Dean barely gave voice to that day. It was kind of ugly, strictly utilitarian, and definitely better suited to an old person. Dean had broken it two over the head of a werewolf several months later. Though he'd had to hobble quite badly without it, and had refused to take Sam's hand to help walk, Dean had laughed over the look in the wolf's eyes when the cane had busted in two over its furry noggin. Sam was pretty sure the werewolf hadn't really noticed just what had hit it on the head, especially since Dean had shot it in the chest the moment it had hit the ground. He wasn't sure which Dean had liked more that night: taking down the massive and murderous werewolf, or breaking that ugly, old cane in half in the process.
Three days later, Dean had stopped at a post office box in Ohio and retrieved a package from the desk clerk that was too large to fit in the tiny box with the rest of their mail. They'd rented a motel room for the night, and Dean had opened the long box and pulled out the most impressive-looking cane Sam had ever seen. This was black, with a satin finish that gleamed yet didn't shine in a garish way. It had a silver handle and tip with intricate yet still masculine etched scroll work. Something about it reminded Sam more of a sword than a walking stick at first glance.
"Wow," was all Sam had managed to say, immediately impressed with the style and craftsmanship, when Dean suddenly grabbed the end of the cane and swung it as hard as he could, like a baseball bat right into the heavy wooden doorframe. The frame cracked and split - the cane was not even scratched.
Sam still didn't know what it was made of; he wasn't even sure he wanted to know, nor did he ever ask how Dean had come to find such a thing, let alone have it shipped to him. Had things gone differently, Sam would have suspected their father responsible, but that was no longer a possibility.
And Sam knows that it shouldn't make Dean seem all the more a warrior, knows that it should look like a big neon sign flashing, "This one is an easier target now!" but when he looks at that black and silver cane, he thinks about the tiger he saw on a school field trip when he was eight. The massive, predatory animal had a broken tooth; one of its canines was shortened, about half the length it should be, and ended in ragged shards, almost like several sharp spikes.
Sam remembers when they fed the tigers hunks of meat out of large steel bowls, the jagged toothed tiger wasn't a slow eater, and none of the other cats in the enclosure dared come near him as he tore the food to bits.
If you'd asked him off the top of his head how long it's been since Dean was hurt, he'd probably say about three months without thinking. In reality, he knows it's actually closer to three years. They're on their way to look into a series of disappearances, young mothers, strange circumstances, definitely right up their alley. Dean's been biting at the bit to get there, eager to stop whatever's happening before night fall, before another family loses a loved one. They drove all night and are only a couple hours out of the city. Sam sees that Dean is already humming with anticipation, eyes bright as he navigates the curves in the highway with practiced ease.
"Nothing," he says to Dean, belatedly answering his question. Denying and still smiling as he settles back in the passerger seat, "Not smiling about anything at all."