Worth Living For 1/16

by Swanseajill

Summary: When Dean and Sam look into a series of suspicious deaths in a small Colorado town, they have no idea that their investigation is about to put Dean's life in grave danger. (Sequel to Three Little Words)

Characters: Dean and Sam (with an appearance by John)

Timeline: Set eight months after Devil's Trap, so probably AU by now

Spoilers: Salvation and Devil's Trap

Rating: PG-13 (Genfic). A bit of cussing and difficult themes. Dean whumping, Sam angst.

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters nor am I making any money from them.

Author's notes: Huge thanks as always to Angela who's worked hard on the beta for this story and must be sick to death of it by now!

This is for everyone who asked for a sequel to Three Little Words. I hope it lives up to your expectations. I think it can be read as a stand alone, but it would make sense to read Three Little Words first to understand why Dean is so emotionally and physically fragile at the beginning of this story.

The story is in sixteen parts. I'm posting five parts today and the rest over the next couple of days.

Part One

Sam came awake with a start. He sat up, eyes flying open and rapidly scanning the room around him. He grunted in relief as he took in the sparse, shabby furnishings and grubby curtains of the cheap motel room. The dark, damp warehouse he'd been trapped in a moment before was just a memory – albeit a memory of a living nightmare he wished with all his heart had never happened.

There was a time when his nightmares had been identical, night after night. Jess, pinned to the ceiling, her face a mask of terror, flames surrounding her body. But for the past few months another image had often replaced the picture of Jess. Dean, face contorted in agony, lifeblood bleeding away into the wooden boards of a cabin floor. And now a new image had joined the collection. Dean, pinned against a wall, a hunting knife hovering over his chest as their father uttered the three words that spelled his death sentence.

Sam shuddered involuntarily and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, eyes moving anxiously to the other side of the room. Dean was still asleep, lying half on his side, propped up on a pile of pillows. Sam glanced at his watch. Nine a.m. Almost three hours since his brother had woken, shaking and sweating, from the third nightmare that night. As on the other occasions, Sam had sat beside him, offering silent support until the trembling stopped and he slipped back into sleep.

It felt like a lifetime, but only sixteen hours had passed since an old enemy of their father's had lured the three Winchesters to an abandoned warehouse. Sixteen hours since Manson had put his plan of revenge into action as they stood helpless, bound by a demon's power. "Make your choice, Winchester. Which of your sons will live and which will die?"

Sixteen hours since Dad had made his choice, and with three little words had blown a hole in Dean's heart.

Rubbing at eyes gritty from lack of sleep, Sam quietly padded across the room and squatted down beside Dean's bed. The blanket had slipped down around Dean's waist and Sam frowned as he scanned the bruises that stood out starkly against pale skin. Dean's back from left shoulder to hip was a mottled patchwork of blue and black. He was going to be in a lot of pain when he woke up, despite the succession of ice packs Sam had applied the night before.

After a moment of indecision Sam decided to leave Dean to rest, and quietly made his way to the bathroom. A shower would wake him up and chase away the lightheaded feeling caused by lack of sleep.

When he stepped back into the room a while later he found his brother awake and sitting hunched on the edge of the bed.

Dean looked up as Sam approached and a ghost of a smile touched his lips. "Morning, sunshine."

"Hey." Sam kept it deliberately casual. "How're you feeling?"

"I'm fine."

"Well, you look like crap," Sam commented honestly.

Dean's lips quirked up. "Yeah? Well, right back at you, raccoon man."

Sam had to smile. "We comparing bags now?"

"Did I mention bags? Not on this face, man. This face is smooth as a baby's ass."

"Just wait 'til you look in the mirror."

As Sam had expected, his brother's usual brash, cocky self had reasserted itself, replacing the emotionally vulnerable Dean from a few hours ago.

He'd rarely seen Dean as close to losing control as he'd been last night. Control was everything to Dean, who prided himself on his tough persona and was usually strong enough to preserve it, no matter what happened around him.

Knowing that, Sam had understood -- and backed off -- when Dean had made it clear he wasn't ready to deal with his feelings about their father's choice.

Mentally shaking himself out of his musings, Sam critically studied his brother. Dean really did look like crap. "Seriously, Dean, you don't look too good, man. Let me take a look at your back."

"Nuhuh. Hands off, dude. It's fine."

"Dean, you can't even straighten up.

"I'm just stiff. Seriously, I've been worse. Those ice packs did a mean job. So back off Florence Nightingale, and let me go take a shower. Unless you want to come in and scrub my back?" Dean waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Sam rolled his eyes. "Thanks, I'll pass."

"Okay then. Why don't you start packing, then we can take off, get some breakfast on the road."

"Take off?" Sam frowned. "I was thinking we'd stay here a few days, give your back a chance to heal. It's not like we have a deadline."

"Dude, the trail'll be getting cold down in Four Pines."

"The suicides? You still want to look into that?"

"Why not? We were on our way to check it out before--" Dean stopped speaking, and something flickered in his eyes.

Sam regarded his brother carefully for a moment. The wall was back in place, but he could tell that its foundations were shaky.

He considered their options. On the one hand, it was totally stupid to take a road trip when Dean could barely stand. On the other hand, the idea of taking on a new case had merit. Dean needed something to focus on, to take his thoughts away from the events in the warehouse. The last thing he needed was down time that would allow him to sit and think.

"All right," Sam said finally. "We head for Four Pines, on two conditions."

Dean's eyebrows shot up. "You're giving me conditions?"

Ignoring him, Sam began to count off on his fingers. "One – you take some painkillers before we leave."

Dean stood up slowly, grimacing as he tried and failed to straighten his back. "Okay. I guess I can live with that one."

"Two – I'm driving."

Dean's eyes narrowed but Sam squared his jaw and held his brother's gaze, arranging his features into his most determined look. "Take it or leave it, Dean. Actually, I really like the idea of spending the day here. We could watch some daytime TV…"

"Okay!" Dean growled. "You win." He motioned toward the bathroom. "I'm getting that shower."

Sam waited until his brother had pushed open the bathroom door. "Don't forget to take those painkillers."

He couldn't help but grin as Dean gave him the finger, just before the door slammed behind him.