Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.
From where they were standing on the front porch, Dean and Sam Winchester could hear the echo of the doorbell playing throughout the house.
The tune was 'It's A Small World'.
Sam shot his older brother a glance, eyebrows raised in an 'I-told-you-so' expression. "Not exactly what you'd expect from an evil werewolf's lair, is it?"
Dean rolled his eyes and didn't answer.
"Follow my lead on this one, okay?" Sam pressed as someone began to move towards the door on the inside. "Okay?" He insisted when there was no reply.
"Okay, okay. Control freak." Dean grumbled as the door was opened.
A man looked out at them, smiling in guarded welcome. "Hello. Can I help you?"
"Malcolm Tucker?" Sam held out a badge with an answering smile. "Detective Simmons. Can we come in for a moment?"
The man led them through his house towards the back door.
"My wife is out running some errands." He explained as they went. "The children are in the back yard, playing with their new puppy. Is it okay if we talk out here so I can keep an eye on them?"
Dean's trained eyes were studying his surroundings as they went, looking for anything unusual. The house had a warm, lived in feeling…the furniture was well cared for, but obviously not new, and newspapers, books and coffee mugs decorated the available space in the living room haphazardly. The walls and various shelves were covered in photos; showing their host in various positions of relaxation with a pretty woman and three laughing children.
Toys littered the hallway, and when they passed the kitchen the smell of something sweet baking in the oven wafted to their noses and made Dean's stomach rumble.
It seemed like a happy house that was home to a happy family.
They sat on wicker chairs on the back porch, and Malcolm excused himself for a moment to return quickly with a plate laden with homemade chocolate chip cookies. "I can't resist them when they're fresh out of the oven." He said with a shy smile. "I'm sure my wife won't mind if I tell her we had guests."
On the lawn in front of them, three children tumbled around in the grass with a tiny Labrador puppy, their laughter and the dog's delighted barks a pleasant background noise.
"So, Detectives," Malcolm began as he offered the plate of biscuits, "What can I do for you?"
"We're here about some strange things that have been happening around here." Dean spoke through a mouthful of biscuit. "Things we think you might know something about." He wasn't sure whether it was his blunt tone or the fact that he sprayed crumbs on Sam when he spoke that made his brother kick him in the shins.
Something flickered behind Malcolm's eyes, but when he spoke his voice was calm. "What things might you be talking about, exactly?"
Sam empathized with the man in front of them. After seeing his house and tasting his wife's cooking, the youngest Winchester couldn't believe that Malcolm Tucker was some sort of evil monster.
"You've heard about the two people who've been killed in town recently?" His voice was soft, without a hint of accusation, but Malcolm flinched a little.
"I suppose everyone in town has heard about it." He said, and they could tell he was speaking with forced calm. "The authorities are saying it was some kind of wild animal that attacked them. What has this got to do with me?"
"We don't think it's a wild animal that attacked them." Dean spoke up again, earning him a frustrated glare from his brother. "We think it was a werewolf. We think it was you."
Malcolm tried to laugh in disbelief, but it was a weak attempt, and he looked scared now. "A…what? What are you talking about?" He started to rise from his seat. "I think it's time for you to leave."
"Malcolm, wait." Sam's hand shot out and closed around the man's wrist, holding him there. "Just listen, okay? We're not really detectives."
"No shit." Malcolm muttered, and Dean started to like him.
"We're people who can help." Sam continued, his puppy dog eyes big and earnest and making Dean roll his own hazel orbs.
"I seriously doubt that." Malcolm sounded weary now.
"We can help you, Malcolm." Sam promised, and Dean would be damned if the guy wasn't starting to look at Sam with something like hope in his eyes.
Their host ran shaking hands through his hair, settling back into his seat as Sam relinquished his hold. "I must be insane." He muttered, mostly to himself.
"Just tell us what you can." Dean encouraged him, surprised at the feeling of sympathy settling in his own stomach, squeezing its' way in there along with about ten homemade cookies.
"I…I don't know much." Malcolm was staring down at his clasped hands. "The mornings, after those people died…I woke up in the woods, with blood all over me…I can't remember exactly what happened, only bits and pieces…screaming, and…and growling…." He knotted his fingers tighter together, turning them white. "I think I've done something horrible."
"It wasn't you, at least, not exactly you. Look, Malcolm, I know…I know how hard this is." Sam took a deep breath beside him, and Dean glanced his way out of the corner of his eye. Knowing what Sam was thinking, what he was remembering. The incident with 'Meg' taking over Sam's body and using him to kill an innocent man was too fresh in both their minds.
"You can't be blamed. You didn't have control over your own body." Dean said loudly, and Sam lowered his eyes for a second, knowing who his brother was talking to, and it wasn't Malcolm Tucker.
"I don't want to hurt people." The man pleaded with them, raising his eyes. "I don't want whatever's happening to me…to keep happening. I have a family I love, a life…" He scrubbed his hands over his face.
A couple of months ago Dean would have stuck with his motto; if it's supernatural, we kill it. But so much had happened since their father had died, and he'd seen things that changed his mind. Vampires, drinking blood from cows to save human life. His own brother, hunted like some sort of monster when he was the exact opposite.
"We're going to help you." He said, his voice more compassionate than he'd intended, and he practically felt Sam perk up beside him.
If Sam teased him later about turning soft, he'd say he'd done it for Sam, and that would be mostly true.
But he was also doing it, at least a little bit, for himself.
The night was crisp and cold, and fresh snow crunched beneath their feet and sparkled silver in the moonlight.
Dean was cold, eager to get the job over and done with, and for once it was Sam hurrying to keep up with his brother's long strides.
"What will we do if this doesn't work?" Sam asked a little breathlessly beside him, and for the millionth time in his life Dean wished his baby brother wouldn't ask so many questions.
"I dunno, Sam."
"Because this ritual has never been tried out, at least not that we know of, Dean." Sam pointed out again. "I mean, sure it's in a good book that we've used other spells from before, but that doesn't mean this one will work."
"You got any better ideas?"
"That's what I thought. So we try this and see how it goes, okay? We don't have much choice."
"Yeah, I know."
They continued up the hill in silence then, to where a lone figure waited for them under a tree, in the snow.
Malcolm Tucker was wrapped in layer upon layer of clothing, but he was still stamping his feet and shivering when the Winchesters drew level with him.
They bound him to the tree, just in case, Sam with quiet apologies, Dean with brisk ones. The sooner this was over and done with, and this man could have his life back, the better.
Sam positioned himself in front of Tucker, book open in his hands, and started to read the spell words in a low, firm tone.
Dean stood a little way apart, keeping watch just in case anyone should stumble upon them, keeping a wary eye on the man bound to the tree.
When it all went wrong, it went wrong so fast Dean didn't have time to think, only to act.
Man morphed into werewolf in a matter of seconds; nothing like the gradual change one sees in the movies, with hair and claws and teeth slowly sprouting. This was almost instant; one second there was a man bound to the tree, the next there was a great beast, free of the bindings and staring at Sam with hate and hunger in its' eyes and snarl.
Dean thought later he screamed his brother's name, because Sam was too engrossed in the words he was reading to notice something was wrong. Then his little brother looked up and Dean saw his eyes go wide with fear.
Then the thing was leaping for him; lunging at Sam with its' claws outstretched and its' jaws wide open.
Then it was on top of the younger Winchester, and Sam was crying out in pain and fear, and Dean was running forward and his hand was yanking out the gun with the silver bullets he'd hidden in his jeans just in case.
A second later he'd fired, and the thing was still, and he was calling out for Sam, then Sam was struggling out from underneath it.
Dean dropped to his knees and grabbed his brother's shoulders and yanked him away roughly, yanked him up so he could see his face.
"Are you hurt? Where did it get you? Did it bite you? Sam!"
"I'm okay, Dean, just scratches." Sam whispered, and Dean lifted his brother's shirt up so he could see his chest and judge for himself.
Satisfied for now, he pulled it back down, shrugged off his own coat and wrapped it around his brother's trembling shoulders, because Sam's was torn and ruined and wet from the snow and blood.
"Come on." He drew his younger brother to his feet, wrapping an arm tightly around him when he swayed a little. He tried to start walking, but Sam wouldn't move, stood still as stone, staring at something over Dean's shoulder.
The older Winchester turned to see what it was, half afraid the monster had risen again.
But there was no sign of the werewolf.
Malcolm Tucker lay dead on the snow, a bullet hole in his head and one in his heart. His eyes gazed up at the night sky, sightless and confused. His life blood was slowly pooling around him and sinking into the snow, making patterns in the crystal flakes.
His wallet had fallen from his pocket and lay beside him, open to a photo of him with his family, all of them laughing and smiling at the camera.
Dean thought he might have stared at that horrible sight all night if Sam hadn't swayed against him and choked out his name.
He pulled Sam closer and helped him limp away, only too willing to escape the sight of what he had done.
In the motel room he bullied Sam into a hot shower, waited for him to finish, patched the wounds on his chest and stomach up while trying to ignore the way his hands shook and the nights' event replayed in his head.
It was too soon to know what he felt; what he thought. All he knew was that he felt sick, that he could still see Malcolm's eyes staring at him sightlessly, full of confusion and sorrow and blame.
Sam didn't miss the way his brother's hands, usually so sure and light when ministering to his hurts, trembled unsteadily and were rougher than usual.
"Dean," he tried to force his way out of the sleep fog that had invaded his brain, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Sammy." His brother's voice was wooden, expressionless, and Sam fought to stay conscious, to talk to Dean. But his older brother was covering him with a blanket, and turning out the light, and it was so warm in the bed and out of the snow. "Go to sleep." He heard Dean say quietly, and he unwillingly obeyed.
When he next opened his eyes it was much darker. He blinked drowsily a few times; realized he was still lying in the position he'd fallen asleep in, his head turned to the side and facing the edge of the bed where Dean had been sitting earlier.
Moving gingerly, his neck a little stiff from so long in the unfamiliar position, he turned his head the other way, his eyes searching for and finding the form of his brother.
Dean was in bed now, lying beside him, flat on his back with the arm closest to Sam folded under his head.
"Why aren't you asleep?" Sam asked, not fooled by the fact that his brother's eyes were shut.
"You woke me up." Dean replied without opening his eyes, his voice clear and not heavy with sleep. Concerned, Sam scooted a bit closer, his bare leg brushing against his brother's.
"Dean? Are you alright?"
Dean made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. "Of course I am, Sam. I'm always alright."
Sam hesitated, unsure what to say, unsure what was on his brother's mind. Then Dean added quietly, "It's always you who gets hurt," and Sam, knowing him so well, could hear the guilt and sorrow and fear in his big brother's voice, and knew instantly this was why Dean had been lying awake.
"Dean," he said, his own voice tender and gently reprimanding, and then he thought that with Dean, words always spoke louder than actions.
He moved closer again, rolling onto his side and up against Dean's body, and his older brother made a gently irritated noise, shoving at him with the hand farthest away. "Stay on your own side of the bed."
In answer Sam slipped his arm over and around Dean's waist, pulling himself still closer and resting his head on the pillow next to Dean's. "I'm right here, Dean."
"I know that, I can't miss you." Dean said sarcastically. "You're a bit old for this, aren't you, Sam?"
"Don't care." Sam let his chin rest on Dean's shoulder, his breath tickling Dean's neck so that when he breathed out, Dean shivered slightly.
"You're a pain in the ass." Dean muttered, but there was no real heat, and the arm that had been folded up above his head slid down and around Sam's shoulders, squeezing him gently.
Sam relaxed into his brother's embrace, soaking up Dean's warmth, sharing his own as he lay quietly against Dean, the arm around Dean's waist holding loosely.
For a long time they stayed like that in silence, but Sam knew, from the slight tenseness of his brother's body and the depth of Dean's breathing that the older Winchester was not asleep. Finally Dean spoke again.
"I'm sorry we didn't save Malcolm. I know you wanted to."
Something in his brother's voice made Sam tilt his head up, trying to see Dean's face, but it was too dark. "It wasn't your fault, Dean."
There was a snort from his older brother. "No? I shot him, Sam. I killed him. He won't be going back to his family, to his kids…because of me."
"If you hadn't shot him, he would have killed me." Sam pointed out.
"You don't know that." Dean snapped wearily.
"Would you be willing to take the chance?" It was an unnecessary question, and Dean answered without hesitation, his arm unconsciously tightening around his little brother's shoulders.
"No way. Of course not."
"Well, I'm telling you, Dean, I was on the receiving end of that attack and it sure seemed to me like he wanted to kill me." Sam told him. "So please stop feeling guilty about saving my life. Again."
There was another long silence, and then Dean's voice. "It was just…at the end, you know? When he…when he turned into a man again."
Sam nodded, his cheek brushing up and down against his brother's shoulder. "You did the right thing, Dean."
"The right thing." Dean repeated. "I don't know what the right thing is anymore, Sam. After this, and those vampires, and that priest who was acting like some sort of avenging angel…I mean, Dad raised us, raised me, to kill these things without question. And I've done it my whole life, no questions asked, thinking I was doing the right thing. Well what if I wasn't? What if I've killed things that don't deserve killing? What kind of a man does that make me?"
"The same as me and Dad." Sam said quietly, and felt Dean's chin brushing through his hair when his brother shook his head vehemently.
"No, no way. That's different. You, Sammy, you empathize with everyone! You give everyone and everything a chance, it was you who convinced me not to kill those vampires. If you weren't there I would have gone with my gut instinct and slaughtered every one of them. You…" Dean was struggling to find the words. He didn't speak his feelings often, but for his brother he would do just about anything, and he couldn't bear the thought of Sam berating himself. "You're the best person I know." He said quickly, awkwardly, hating exposing his soft side.
He heard Sam laugh softly and stiffened defensively. "What?" He snapped.
"You wanna know something funny?" Sam didn't wait for his brother's response, just continued quietly. "Dad's your hero, right Dean? You always thought he knew everything, did everything right, admired him, looked up to him? Modeled yourself on him?" He took his brother's silence as assent and continued. "Well I have a hero too. I look up to this person, I admire him, I've always wanted to be just like him. You say I'm the best person you know. I guess I have this person to thank for that, because I try and model myself on him, I try and do what he'd want me to do, I try to be like him. I have my whole life. And I know I'm not much like him. I'm nowhere near as brave, or as strong, or as selfless. I'm not as kind or as giving or as good at hunting. But I try and be like him, I try every day and the best thing about him is that when I fail, when I'm not as brave or as strong or as good as him, he doesn't laugh at me or make me feel bad or anything like that. He just keeps going and he's brave enough and strong enough for both of us." There was more, much more he could have said, but he stopped then because he could feel Dean's breath hitching just the tiniest bit, and he thought he felt a wetness that wasn't his own tears on his face. "Do you know who I'm talking about, Dean?"
"Sam…" Dean tried to silence him, his voice breaking a little, but Sam spoke over him firmly.
"You're my hero, Dean. You always have been. You're the best man I know, and you should cut yourself a break, and if it's the only way you can believe it then look at it this way. You say I'm a good person, Dean, well you raised me, you made me what I am, so that must make you a good person too."
Dean made a noise that might have been a sob and might have been a laugh and hugged Sam briefly, tight against his chest, pressing his face into his little brother's too-long hair.
After a minute he loosened his grip, letting Sam lie back on the pillow next to him and scrubbing impatiently at his face.
"You and your damn chick flick moments." He mumbled after a while, when the warmth from Sam's words had seeped through his whole body, relaxing him, driving away the doubt and pain and fear. "You didn't get this mushy stuff from me, that's for sure."
Next to him Sam rolled his eyes and kicked him sleepily, and Dean laughed and squeezed his brother's shoulders.
Sam was nearly asleep again when he heard his brother's voice, soft and peaceful in a way Dean's tone rarely was.
"Thanks, baby brother."
The younger Winchester smiled sleepily and didn't answer.
He was just grateful that for once, he could be his brother's hero.