Sam looked up at the unusual tone of Dean's voice. Sort of... Hesitant, almost afraid. Not the cocky, self assured, tone his brother used most of the time. Sam frowned, not liking it. There were only a handful of times he could remember Dean sounding like that and none of them were good.
"Yeah?" he said warily, watching Dean as he shifted uncomfortably on the bed.
After a few minutes of heavy silence he was about to repeat himself, when Dean finally let out a long breath that was almost a sigh.
"Nothing. Doesn't matter." he said, going back to looking at the tv.
Sam frowned, knowing that whatever Dean had found to watch couldn't possibly be interesting enough to require the level of concentration he was suddenly lavishing on it. He got up, switching the tv off as he walked past it to sit on the chair next to Dean's bed.
"Hey! I was watching that!" said Dean, fixing him with an indignant stare.
Sam didn't even bother to reply to the blatant lie and instead fixed Dean with a look of his own.
"What were you gonna ask me, Dean?" he said and Dean huffed.
"Nothing, ok? It wasn't important." said Dean firmly, avoiding Sam's gaze.
"Doesn't seem that way to me. You've had something on your mind since we got here last night. Just tell me what it is." said Sam gently, but Dean still refused to look at him.
Sam sat there, prepared to wait all night if he had to. It was obvious that whatever was on Dean's mind was really getting to him and he wanted to help if he could. If he had to hazard a guess he would say it had something to do with their last job and the conversations it had led to about faith, angels, and everything in between. Sam was still feeling the effects of it himself if he was honest, swinging between despair that it had been a spirit and not an angel and hope that Dean was right about the end results perhaps being 'God's will' after all. And if it was this hard for him, then he knew it had to be just as tough for Dean.
For all Dean's denials that he was affected by these things, despite the air of nonchalance he always adopted, Sam knew his brother felt things probably even more deeply than he did. The difference was he had grown up trying to hide this fact, a habit Sam still couldn't break him out of much to his frustration. Trying to pin Dean down about his feelings was like trying to nail jelly to a wall, and about as productive.
A fact Dean clearly seemed determined to illustrate right now.
"I said it wasn't a big deal, Sam. Now drop it, ok? I'm gonna go for a drink – I won't be long." said Dean, getting up and stepping round Sam before his brother could stop him.
"Wait, Dean.." said Sam, standing, but Dean didn't give him a chance to finish.
"I'll be back later." said Dean over his shoulder as he left the room.
Sam stared at the door as it closed behind his brother and wondered just how the hell he was supposed to look out for Dean when he insisted on making it this difficult. Sighing, he went over to the window and watched as Dean walked across the road to the bar. Well at least he wasn't going too far, Sam thought. Not liking the idea of Dean bottling up whatever was bothering him or that he seemed to be following in John's footsteps by trying to drown those feelings in alcohol, Sam had no choice but to wait for his brother to come back. He knew Dean wouldn't be drunk – ever since their most recent run-in with the Feds they were both on high alert and keeping their heads down as much as possible. But he also knew Dean wouldn't be any more receptive to the idea of talking later than he had been just now.
Knowing there was no point spending the next few hours watching the clock, Sam went back to the laptop and tried to concentrate on looking at the latest news reports for the area they were in.
Sure enough Dean had been as stubborn as ever when he finally got back from the bar and Sam had reluctantly let it go in the end, not wanting to push Dean so far that they ended up fighting or saying something they'd both regret.
That had been 2 days ago and since then Dean had been quieter than usual. Sam had tried to get an actual conversation going more than once but every attempt was met with one word answers. If he was honest he was starting to move straight past concerned and straight to 'about to throttle my terminally stubborn brother with my own bare hands'.
Dean for his part was wishing he'd never opened his mouth. Almost as soon as he'd got Sam's attention he'd already backtracked in his mind and decided he wasn't going to share what he'd been thinking, but Sam was now like a dog with a bone and wouldn't let it drop. He knew from experience that Sam had definitely inherited the Winchester stubbornness and wasn't above using it on Dean when he thought he was hiding something from him.
Which of course he was, but that was so not the point.
He really didn't know why everyone was so obsessed these days with sharing their innermost feelings. In Dean's experience it either left you feeling completely embarrassed or it just meant that two people were now pissed off/upset/worried or whatever else instead of one. Definitely overrated.
Unfortunately Sam was one of those many people who did think it was a good idea to 'share' and he was seemingly determined to make Dean indulge, whether he wanted to or not. He knew of course that Sam only did it because he cared, but that didn't make it any easier. In fact judging by the pointed silence and ominous atmosphere in the Impala if they didn't find something to kill - or at least beat the crap out of - pretty soon, he was fairly certain he was going to be on the receiving end of a major Sam blowout.
For once fate seemed inclined to cut them a break and the sign for the town they were looking for miraculously appeared in front of them. Depositing Sam at the local library to look up more information on the reports of a couple of missing hikers in the woods, Dean drove off to check out said woods by himself.
Which was of course his first mistake.
Seriously, he ought to have known by now that any plan that involved them splitting up, particularly when they weren't getting along that well, always seemed destined to end in disaster. And what do you know? This wasn't going to be an exception.
Who would have thought that the disappearances were in fact not due to anything supernatural, but were instead the result of a really scary, really anti-social, very psychotic nutcase who'd decided to set up home in the middle of the woods.
Who would also have thought that said nutcase was pretty handy with a knife and that Dean was lucky to escape from their encounter with all his limbs. Albeit with one gaping hole in his leg that seemed to have no interest in stopping bleeding at a slightly alarming rate. Of course more frustrating than that was the fact that he hadn't been able to take the guy out. There weren't many rules in their lives but not killing a human was right up there at the top.
Although he was seriously re-thinking that rule right now.
Maybe there should be a clause that excluded knife wielding maniacs and backwards cannibalistic hill-billies.
And of course when you're running for your life, suddenly one large group of trees tends to start looking the same as every other large group of trees.
Oh yes – he was lost. And bleeding. And Sam was gonna be really, really pissed.
Blissfully unaware of Dean's current predicament Sam was scanning through the newspaper reports with a slight frown. There'd only been two disappearances over the last year and he wasn't even entirely sure there seemed to be anything about them that looked unusual. The cops had searched the woods and found no trace of any of the hikers and the cases were simply left open, as so many were. He knew they'd been clutching at straws a little picking up on this one and he wasn't looking forward to telling Dean that it didn't appear to be a job after all. If only for the fact that would mean getting back on the road again, and the idea of being cooped up in the Impala with monosyllabic-Dean for another day was so not looking appealing right now.
As Sam sighed he suddenly jumped when his phone vibrated in his pocket. He quickly got up and stepped outside the library, glancing down at the caller ID as he opened it.
"Hey Dean." he said and for a moment there was silence at the other end. He was starting to wonder if his brother had been disconnected when he heard Dean's voice.
Sam frowned. Dean sounded slightly out of breath and there was something else not right about his voice as well. He felt his stomach clench, instinct telling him there was something wrong.
"What is it – what's happened?" he said trying not to sound too anxious.
On the other end Dean rolled his eyes at the fact Sam had known from a simple greeting that something was wrong. He wondered if it was a psychic thing or just a brother thing.
Sam's impatient call reminded him that he hadn't answered yet.
"Jesus, Sam! I'm not deaf! Or at least I wasn't." he grumbled and heard Sam huff in frustration.
"What. Is. Wrong?" said Sam, carefully enunciating each word in a way that told Dean if he didn't explain himself right now he wouldn't have to worry about bleeding to death. Sam would happily kill him himself.
"Uh, well, turns out this job? Not really our gig. I think the missing hikers were unlucky enough to run into the local whack job. Some psycho's built himself a little home in the middle of the woods and he's a little extreme about trespassers." said Dean, aiming for casual with his tone of voice.
Clearly he must have missed it because Sam's concern seemed to have actually gone up a notch when he next spoke.
"You saw this guy?" he said, the feeling of dread getting worse.
Dean snorted. "Oh yeah, I saw him. Let's just say I don't think I'm on his christmas card list." he said and Sam swallowed.
"Did he hurt you?" he said, the urgency in his voice blatant now and Dean winced as he tried to work out exactly how much to admit.
"Not really. I managed to get away from him." he said, which strictly speaking wasn't untrue. Ok, except the 'not really' part. He had a feeling that the amount of blood currently covering his jeans wasn't actually covered by that statement.
"Define not really?"
Dean sighed. It was official. His brother knew him far better than he was comfortable with.
"He sorta stabbed me a little. Only in the leg though. It's no big deal." he said nonchalantly.
Now it was Sam's turn to snort. "Right, no big deal. In other words your leg is probably hanging off right now." he said, already looking round for a car to steal.
"It is not! God, you are such a drama queen, Sam." said Dean and he could picture the look on Sam's face right now. The one that managed to somehow convey the fact that he was worried as hell and also slightly homicidal, all at the same time .
"Where are you?" Sam said, already making his way towards a fairly old looking saloon that was parked out of the way down an alley.
"I'm in the woods."
Sam counted to ten and made a mental note to smack Dean upside the head just as soon as he'd made sure he was in one piece.
"Could you be a little less vague?" he said dryly and Dean sighed.
"Actually, no. I kinda wasn't paying attention when I was running from the guy. I was too busy worrying about being filleted. And they don't seem to have got round to putting up road signs here yet." he said.
Sam closed his eyes briefly. He could feel the tension already building it's way up from his neck into his head.
"So you're lost." he said and could picture Dean rolling his eyes.
"That pretty much covers it, yeah." said Dean and Sam wondered whether he should be worried that his brother was being honest for once.
"Alright look – I'll come to where you started out from and take it from there. Just, don't move ok? You'll end up getting more lost if you stumble about not knowing where you're going. Where did you leave the Impala?"
"Just past the turn off. It's on the left. I followed the path in from there. Listen, that guy is holed up about half a mile in – you really don't want to come across him so try and come off the path and avoid that whole area." said Dean and Sam shook his head even though Dean couldn't see him.
"That'll take longer." he said but Dean cut him off.
"I don't care! This guy is good with a knife, Sam. I don't want you running into him." he said firmly.
"Alright, I'll avoid that part of the path. Do you at least know what direction you ran in?" said Sam, having no intention of taking the long way round. Despite what Dean had said, Sam knew he was most likely hurt worse than he was letting on and the image of his brother out there in the woods bleeding to death was not one he was enjoying right now.
"I think it was north. The sun is on my left so keep that in mind." said Dean.
He swayed slightly as the adrenaline and bloodloss began to catch up with him. He leant against the tree he was standing next to and slid down it till he was sitting on the ground. He stretched his injured leg out, wincing as that pulled at the wound, and trying to ignore the fact his jeans were now practically black.
"Ok. I'm on my way – just sit tight." said Sam, gripping the phone tighter as if he could somehow keep Dean safe by sheer will alone.
"Stay on the line though." he added as an afterthought and Dean smiled wearily at the anxious request. He had a feeling he'd be getting a lot of Sam-time in his near future, if that tone of voice was anything to go by. Truth was that didn't seem such a bad thing right now. He was feeling a little alone and exposed.
"Sure." he said casually, realising Sam was probably waiting for an answer. Resting his head back against the tree he listened for any sign of the guy coming back, and for his impending rescue.
Sam was pretty certain he'd broken just about every speed limit known to man. He knew he shouldn't be doing anything that might attract the attention of the cops, especially in a stolen car, but it was worth the risk if it got him to Dean quicker. Although he'd stayed on the line as Sam asked, Dean had been pretty quiet and only Sam calling his name every few minutes - sounding more anxious each time - was provoking any response from him.
Sam had never been so glad to see the Impala come into view. Screeching to a halt beside her the wheels had barely stopped moving before he was opening the door and hitting the ground running. A voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Dean berated him for not stopping to arm himself from the trunk, but that would have taken seconds that he wasn't prepared to sacrifice right now, not when Dean's life was at stake.
"Hey Dean – you still with me?" he said, sounding slightly breathless as he ran through the trees.
Dean jumped slightly, forcing himself to focus. He felt like he was drifting and it was only the fact that he had Sam on the other end of the phone that was keeping him awake. His brother already sounded pretty freaked and Dean had a feeling him passing out would really not help with that. Realising that psychic or not an actual answer would probably be appreciated by Sam, he cleared his throat and tried to sound as normal as possible.
"Yeah, I'm still here Sammy." he said.
Sam let out the breath he'd been holding and vowed never to complain about that nickname ever again. Or at least for the next few days.
"I'm at the woods. Is there anything you can see at all?" he said, hoping for even the smallest clue that he was heading in the right direction.
Dean seemed to think about it for a second. "Yeah, there is." he said finally and Sam felt hope leap inside him.
"What?" he said excitedly.
There was a beat. "Trees." said Dean finally.
Sam shook his head in disbelief. "That's hilarious Dean. Really good time to practise the stand up routine, man." he said and he heard Dean snort.
"Hey, it's not my fault you're asking me dumb questions. And you were the one that went to college." said Dean with a mock sigh.
Sam could just picture the smirk in his head and wondered, not for the first time, at Dean's ability to wisecrack at the most inappropriate times.
"Well pardon me for wanting to find you before you actually bleed to death." said Sam, unable to stop the frustration and fear creeping into his voice.
Dean winced, feeling slightly guilty. He knew Sam was only worried about him.
"Look, I'm sorry alright? But I was being serious too – only thing I can see for miles is friggin trees." he said, his own frustration beginning to show.
Sam let out a sigh. It wasn't really Dean's fault he was in this situation and arguing wasn't exactly helping.
"Well if it makes you feel any better, it's all I can see too." he said and was rewarded with a snort from Dean.
"Oh yeah, I feel much better. Thanks." said Dean and Sam found himself grinning.
If his brother was with it enough to manage their usual banter then hopefully that was a sign things weren't too bad. Then again Dean had still been wisecracking about fabric softener teddy bears and haunting Sam if he scratched the Impala when he was lying at death's door, so maybe that wasn't so reassuring after all.
"Sam you are going round where that guy was, right?" said Dean suddenly and Sam tried to sound as innocent as possible.
"Yeah, of course I am." he said, despite the fact he had a feeling he was running past that very spot right now.
For once luck was with them and there was no sign of him. Sam said a silent thank you to whoever was watching out for them and prayed that he wasn't far from Dean right now.
Dean was thinking the same thing. The whole bleeding-out in the wilderness thing was getting seriously old. Right now he wanted a hot shower, a cold beer and to sleep for a week. In that order.
Oh, and someone stopping the bleeding in his leg would be really good too.
At that moment he heard a branch snap. Instantly alert he sat up straighter, reaching for the knife that was tucked in his boot as always. He sat there tense, trying not to breath too loudly. If it was the knife wielding maniac he was so screwed. Standing up right now would be a challenge, let alone fighting anyone.
As it was the way Sam skidded to a halt as he practically ran over Dean would have been amusing, if it weren't for the fact Dean was so relieved to see him. Judging by the slightly sappy look on Sam's face the feeling was mutual.
"Dean!" he said, bending down and putting his hand on his brother's shoulder to give a reassuring squeeze.
Dean let the contact pass as he was so pleased to see him. At least Sam hadn't tried to hug him.
Aloud he said "Hey. What took you so long?"
Sam raised an eyebrow. "Oh you know, just taking in the scenery. You really picked a lovely spot for it, Dean." he said dryly and was rewarded with a tired smile.
Truth was although Sam was trying to appear fairly calm, his stomach was in knots at the amount of blood on his brother's jeans.
No big deal my ass, he thought grimly.
He was silent as he pulled off his jacket and took off the shirt he was wearing underneath. Rolling it up he tied it tightly around Dean's leg, feeling a flash of guilt as Dean winced.
"Sorry." he muttered and Dean rolled his eyes.
"Don't worry about it." he said and Sam just shook his head.
"You know this isn't being stabbed a 'little' by the way." he said, trying not to sound too accusing.
Dean put on his best innocent face. "It looks worse than it is?" he tried but the look Sam gave him told him that this discussion was far from over.
Knowing that getting Dean somewhere safe and taking care of the wound was more important than discussing – again – Dean's tendency to downplay any injury, Sam grabbed Dean by his shoulders and helped him stand.
Dean swayed slightly and Sam put his arm firmly round him with a look that said attempting to tell him he could walk on his own would not go down well right now. Deciding not to add fuel to the flames, Dean let it go.
The fact he wasn't sure if he could walk on his own was not the point. He was doing this for Sam's sake. Absolutely.
The hike back to the Impala was silent, partly because Sam was putting all his effort into getting them moving as fast as possible and also because Dean was putting all his energy into not passing out.
By the time they reached the car Sam was taking most of Dean's weight and had already decided they were going straight to the hospital. Cops be damned. Knowing that mentioning it to Dean would simply lead to a battle of wills, he kept quiet.
"Keys?" he said as they made it alongside her at last and Dean fumbled in his pocket for a second before managing to find them.
The fact he handed them over without argument made Sam's stomach flip. Unlocking the door, he gently helped Dean in and made sure he was comfortable before running round to the driver's side.
Dean leant his head back against the seat and let out a brief sigh of relief at being back in his baby again. Even if Sam was driving, and he was probably bleeding all over the seats.
Sam was definitely cleaning her when they got to a motel.
The fact Dean had closed his eyes made it easier for Sam to drive them straight into the parking lot of the town's small hospital.
As the car stopped Dean opened his eyes and blinked, a little disorientated. Realising they weren't in front of a motel, he glanced round and saw the hospital sign. He glared at Sam.
"Oh, no way Sam! You know we can't risk a hospital." he said but Sam was already getting out of the car.
"No, what I know is you've been bleeding for the last hour and the fact you're still conscious is only down to your damn stubbornness. You need to get checked out properly, Dean and I don't care about the risk." he said firmly as he opened Dean's door.
Dean didn't move and put his hand on Sam's chest to stop him from pulling him out.
"I do care, Sam. I don't particularly feel like ending up in jail and I sure as hell don't want you getting arrested as an accessory! It's just a cut – we've dealt with worse on our own more than once." he said.
Sam looked at him incredulously. "And that's supposed to make me feel better? It's not just a cut, it's a deep cut that is bleeding like crazy and as for getting arrested? Let me worry about that, ok? For once in your life would you please let me take care of things and stop being so stubborn you end up bleeding to death!"
Sam's voice had risen gradually with every word until he was practically shouting. He flushed a little as Dean raised his eyebrows.
"Dude, you gotta cut back on the caffeine." he said dryly and Sam rolled his eyes.
"Please Dean." he said, quieter this time and Dean sighed. He never had been able to say no to Sam when he used that tone of voice, and he knew full well that Sam was aware of that too.
"Fine – we'll do it your way. But don't come running to me when you're stuck in a cell trying to make friends with some guy called Tiny." he said, moving his hand and letting Sam help him out of the car.
Sam felt his lips twitch but didn't push it, relieved just to have persuaded Dean to get proper medical attention for once.
The one plus to a small town hospital was that they were seen immediately. Dean was whisked off on a gurney while Sam filled in a multitude of forms, using one of their fairly new aliases in the hope it wouldn't throw up any flags with the authorities.
He spent the next hour pacing the tiny waiting room and glancing at the clock every three seconds. He was just about to go and ask if there was any news when he saw a doctor walking towards him. Unconsciously he held his breath, feeling a flicker of hope when the doctor smiled at him as he held out his hand.
"You must be Simon Brooks – I'm Dr Carter, I've been treating your brother." he said.
"Is he ok?" said Sam, not in the mood for exchanging pleasantries.
"He's going to be fine. The wound was pretty deep, which is why it was bleeding so heavily, but there was no permanent damage and we've already stitched it. We'd like to keep him in overnight to replace the fluids he lost and he'll need to take a course of antibiotics so there's no risk of infection, but he shouldn't suffer any permanent ill effects." said the doctor confidently.
Sam sagged, taking in deep breaths.
"Thank you so much." he said gratefully. "Can I see him?"
"Of course. It's just down the hall here." said Dr Carter, leading Sam through the double doors and along the corridor.
When he went in, Sam was thrilled to see Dean sitting up in bed and looking better already. He was in a standard hospital gown and he shot Sam a murderous look as he closed the door behind him.
"You better be here to spring me, Sam." he said before Sam had a chance to say anything.
"Are you kidding me? The doctor just told me they want you stay overnight and that's exactly what you're doing, Dean." said Sam firmly.
Dean shook his head though. "No, that is not what I'm doing. I went along with this whole hospital thing just to shut you up, but they said it's fine, they stitched me up and now I'm getting out of here. So you can either go fetch me some clean clothes or I'm gonna walk out of here in this gown." said Dean, giving his outfit a disgusted look.
Sam hesitated. He could see Dean's mind was made up about this and he supposed he should be grateful that he'd managed to get him here in the first place. Knowing it was the lesser of two evils, Sam decided to let Dean have his way although not without conditions.
"Alright. But if we do this, we do it my way. We are going to stop at the next motel we come to, you are going to take it easy and get plenty of rest, and you will take the antibiotics that I'm going to pick up for you. Deal?" he said.
Dean glared at him but Sam wasn't budging. Finally Dean let out a frustrated sigh.
"Fine! And you call me bossy?" he muttered, ignoring Sam's pleased grin.
"Good. I'll go get your stuff and pick up your prescription and you stay put. Got it?"
"Yes sir!" said Dean, giving him a mock salute.
Half an hour later Dean was sat in the Impala waiting for Sam to come back with the key to their room. Despite it being a small hospital it had been surprisingly easy to sneak out of there without being noticed. He was starting to think Sam's idea wasn't a bad one as it happened. He was still feeling pretty wiped and his leg was throbbing, although there was no way he was telling Sam that. Bad enough he was going to have to take the antibiotics without Sam forcing painkillers down his throat as well.
He watched as Sam made his way back across the parking lot and opened his door, getting out before Sam could step in and try to help. Sam rolled his eyes but said nothing, going instead to the trunk and grabbing their bags.
"We're in 403." he said as they started walking. It didn't escape Dean's attention that Sam was walking far closer than necessary and he nudged him with his shoulder.
"Dude, quit walking in my pocket would you?" he said. Sam sighed but took one step back, which was as much of a concession as he was prepared to make.
Muttering about pain in the ass little brothers, Dean deliberately walked a little faster. Or rather limped. He was just glad their room was only a few feet away.
Once inside he sat down on the bed with a relieved sigh, kicking off his boots which was about all he had the energy for right now. Sam dumped their bags on the floor and turned to face Dean.
"I'm gonna go get some food so you can take these." he said, putting the bag with the antibiotics in on the table beside the bed.
Dean sighed, but knew he wasn't getting out of taking them. He supposed he should just be glad Sam had actually let him escape from the hospital.
"Ok, but none of that salad crap. If you're gonna make me eat at least get some proper food." he said.
Sam shook his head. "Dude, that crap you insist on eating is not proper food you know." he said mildly.
"I'm not kidding Sam." said Dean and Sam smirked.
"Fine, whatever. One bag full of grease coming up." he said as he opened the door. As he stepped out he turned back to Dean and fixed him with a look.
"Don't even think about moving, Dean – I won't be long." he said firmly.
Dean waved him away without actually agreeing but Sam knew it was as good as he was going to get.
As it turned out even though Sam was only gone for half an hour, by the time he came back Dean was asleep.
Smiling fondly at the sight, Sam put the food down and pulled the blanket up so it was covering Dean properly. His brother mumbled something and turned on to his side but didn't wake up. For a moment Sam just stood there watching him, revelling in the fact that the colour was starting to come back to Dean's face and he was looking almost normal again.
He took advantage of the quiet to eat his own food and look through some stuff on the laptop. It was a full hour later when Dean finally stirred, sitting up and blinking blearily at Sam.
"Hey. How long have you been back?" he said, stretching and sitting up carefully.
"About an hour." said Sam with a smile. "You looked like you needed the rest so I didn't want to wake you. Your food might be a bit cold though."
Dean shrugged, reaching for the bag of food that was on the table beside him. Opening it he inhaled the aroma of burger and fries and gave Sam a quick grin.
"It's just as good cold, Sammy." he said and Sam grimaced.
"That's just gross." he said, looking away from the sight of Dean taking a huge bite and going back to the laptop.
There was a brief companionable silence as Dean chomped away happily and Sam scrolled through what he was reading. Glancing across and seeing Dean was nearly finished, Sam got up and grabbed a bottle of water. Bringing it over to the bed he held it out to Dean and picked up the bag with the antibiotics in with his other hand. Dean sighed but took the bottle anyway, and the pill that Sam handed him a moment later. He put it in his mouth, overdramatically, and took a big swig of water.
"Happy now, Florence?" he said and Sam just gave him a slightly smug grin.
"Ecstatic." he said.
Going back over to the chair he sat down again, but as he did so he looked back at Dean. He debated for a second before coming to a decision.
"Hey, can I ask you something?" he said, trying to act nonchalant.
Dean looked at him a little warily. "You can ask." he said, in a tone that told Sam there was no guarantee he'd get an answer.
"What were you going to ask me before?" he said quietly.
Dean frowned. "When?" he said, looking genuinely confused.
"At the other motel. Before we came here to check out the disappearances. You were going to ask me something and you stopped. I just wanted to know what it was."
Dean sighed. "Man, you really don't give up with this stuff do you?" he said and Sam shook his head.
For a moment he thought Dean wouldn't answer, but eventually he spoke.
"Alright, I'll tell you. But don't go making a big 'thing' of it ok? I was just curious." he said, shooting Sam a warning glance.
Sam nodded and Dean took a deep breath. "I was just wondering what you prayed for." he said, so softly that Sam only just about heard him.
Part of him was pleased that he'd guessed right before, about what was bothering Dean, but he was also aware that what he was about to say would have him treading on slightly shaky ground. He didn't want to get into another debate about whether God existed or not, but he had a feeling that wasn't what Dean was after either. Aware that his brother was watching him and waiting for an answer, he leant forward slightly as he spoke.
"Well, it kinda depends on the circumstances sometimes. After Jess died I prayed for her. That she was safe and happy somewhere. I did for Dad too, and Mom sometimes. And I've prayed before when you've been hurt – like when you were electrocuted, or after the accident."
Sam had to pause there and swallow, memories of desperate pleas made as he sat beside Dean's almost lifeless body sweeping through his mind. Dean gave him a sympathetic look, sorry that he'd stirred up what were obviously bad memories. Before he could say anything though Sam continued.
"And I pray for help sometimes. Since you told me what Dad said, about the demon's plans for me. I pray for the strength to get through whatever's coming and that I don't end up hurting anyone. But mostly? I pray for you." he said simply.
Dean blinked, looking shocked. "Me? What do you pray for me for?" he said and Sam gave him a sad smile.
"Because of who you are. Because you're always trying to save everyone and do everything, all by yourself. Because you put other people before yourself, especially me. And because one day your luck might run out and I need to believe that someone else is looking out for you. Other than me." he said.
Dean looked at him, astounded. Of all the answers he'd been expecting, this was definitely not one of them. The idea that with all the things Sam could ask for, all the wishes he could make, the biggest thing he could think of was for Dean to be kept safe was touching and overwhelming all at the same time.
He rubbed the back of his neck, looking a little awkward, while Sam quietly waited for him to respond.
"You know I'm sure if God does exist he's got better things to do than cover my ass." he said finally and Sam sighed.
"You're kidding, right? You're exactly the kind of person who God should be looking out for, and don't even think about interrupting." he said, cutting Dean off before he could even get a word of protest out. "With all the good you do, with all the people you've saved. You deserve to be saved too, Dean. All your life you've done what was expected of you. You never asked for anything for yourself and you put up with all the crap from me and Dad. Hell, even when you were dying, when Roy Le Grange picked you out of that crowd, you told him to find someone else! And don't even get me started on what you said about Dad making that deal for you. You just don't seem to get that you're precisely who deserves a break now and then. And I know you won't ask for it for yourself, so I do it for you." he said softly.
Dean looked away. He could see that Sam believed what he'd just said but he had a hard time reconciling Sam's image of him with the image he had of himself.
"I'm not perfect, Sam." he said quietly and Sam snorted in genuine amusement.
"Oh yeah, I know that, man! Believe me, I am the last person to call you perfect." he said and Dean tried to look indignant but ended up smirking along with Sam.
"But you are one of the good guys. And I don't even know if it makes any difference, if there really is someone up there looking out for us, but if there's the slightest chance then it's one I'm willing to take. Because days like today? When it could have been so much worse, or I could have found you too late? That's the days when I believe that maybe it is working. And that's good enough for me." said Sam.
Dean thought about it for a moment. Maybe Sam was right. Maybe it wasn't all the bad stuff that was a sign God didn't exist, but the near misses and close calls that were a sign he did. It was worth considering.
He cleared his throat. "Yeah, well I guess it can't hurt. Although if you want to drop in a quick line about winning the lottery that would be a big help." he said, wanting to lighten the mood before it got too heavy.
Sam chuckled. "Yeah, I'm sure that would work." he said dryly.
Dean smirked and reached for the remote to switch on the tv. Taking the hint that the 'moment' was over with, Sam got up and went to his bag to look for some fresh clothes to change in to once he'd showered. As he was rooting through the clothes Dean spoke again.
"Thanks Sammy." he said, quietly.
Sam glanced up and saw Dean's gaze was fixed firmly on the tv but he knew he'd heard him correctly.
"No problem." he said, keeping his voice at the same level as Dean's and concentrating his attention on the clothes as if it was no big deal. He knew Dean heard him though as he saw him out of the corner of his eye smile slightly and glance quickly in his direction.
Pleased to have salvaged something good out of a bad day, he headed into the bathroom for his shower.
As the bathroom door closed, Dean switched off the tv that he hadn't really been watching and leant his head back against the wall. He stared into space contemplatively for a moment.
He'd never had the faith his Mom and Sam had. What had happened in Lawrence had changed him forever, even at such a young age. He'd lost the innocence that would have allowed him to believe in a God that rewarded good people and punished the bad ones. And the life they lived only served to reinforce the idea that bad things happened to good people and there was no rhyme or reason behind it.
But whatever his thoughts on God and faith, there was one thing he knew he could rely on. And that was his brother. For all that it was his job to protect Sam, he knew that Sam considered it his job to return the favour. And he was proving that more and more these days. And maybe that was all he really needed – to have faith in Sam and more importantly, faith in the two of them together. Because perhaps it wasn't about him facing off with danger and standing in front of his brother. Perhaps it was about them standing side by side and facing it together. As a team.
Dean smiled softly. Yeah – maybe he really did have faith in something after all.