Author's note: There were a few little 'niggles' I had with Heart, so this is my humble attempt to set them straight. Not that I don't think the boys did an amazing job and that the ending was awesome though...
Oh, and this one is dedicated especially to Limonade (Allie), as a 'thank you' for all the amazing reviews she has so kindly given me lately :)
And speaking of which – a huge thanks to all of you who take the time to review my stories, it really does make my day!
Anyway... on with the story!
"Dean! Dean, wake up!"
The sound of Sam's frantic voice jolted Dean from his sleep so fast he almost headbutted his brother as he sat up.
"Huh? What - what is it, what's wrong Sammy?" he said, his voice slightly slurred with sleep and blinking as he tried to focus on whatever the danger might be.
Sam came into view, his expression pained and his face pale. He was sitting on the edge of Dean's bed, one hand still on Dean's leg where he'd been shaking his brother to get him to wake up.
"I didn't check." he said, his voice wavering slightly and his gaze so full of pain that it made Dean's stomach flip.
"Check what, Sam?" he said, his mind running through everything that had happened in the past 48 hours and desperately trying to work out what had Sam so agitated.
He could recall every second of that awful day. Sam's panic as he told him Madison had turned, despite their best efforts, the heartbreak on her face and Sam's as the awful truth had finally sunk in. And the utter devastation in his brother's expression as he'd stepped into the other room to kill the first girl he'd been with since Jessica.
Dean had never felt so helpless. He'd waited in the other room, as Sam asked, the sound of the gunshot cutting through him like a knife. It had taken every ounce of willpower he had to stay there until Sam had come stumbling back in, his expression even more haunted than it had been before. Dean had gone into instant coping mode, sitting Sam down and taking the gun gently out of his hand. He'd gone into the kitchen, deliberately avoiding looking at Madison's body. He'd grabbed a cloth and quickly wiped down every surface, everything Sam might have touched. He'd emptied the bin in the bathroom, pulled the sheets from the bed and stuffed them in a bag. Only when he was as certain as he could be that there was no evidence left of either of them having been there did he go back into the other room.
Sam had still been sitting where he left him, staring into space with a dazed look in his eyes. Dean had taken his arm and pulled him to his feet, leading him gently out to the Impala. They'd driven out of town until they reached a spot of wasteland. Dean had got out, grabbed the rubbish bag and the bedclothes and quickly burned them both. He'd also made an anonymous call to the police about hearing a gunshot from Madison's apartment. While Sam wasn't with it enough to think about these things now, Dean knew he wouldn't want her lying there, undiscovered, for long. She deserved to be treated decently and laid to rest.
That had been last night and since then Sam had barely said two words. They'd driven for hours, the need to put San Francisco far behind burning in both of them. They'd finally stopped at a Motel in the middle of nowhere only when Dean had been so tired he was worried about wrapping the Impala round a tree and killing both of them.
He'd checked them in and watched anxiously as Sam had numbly gone through the ritual of showering and getting into bed. He'd been so exhausted by events that he had fallen asleep almost instantly and despite Dean's fears, there had been no nightmares. In fact, Sam had slept late but even when he did wake he had been no better. Dean had managed to get him to eat something at lunchtime but he got the impression that had been more for his benefit than because Sam was actually hungry.
They'd stayed in the Motel room all day, Dean for once being the one on the laptop while Sam just stared vacantly at nothing. His heart had literally been breaking for the pain his brother was feeling but there had been nothing he could say, no words that could make it better. Not for the first time he wished it was as simple as it had been when they were kids. When he'd been able to make everything alright in his brother's world. Sadly those days were long gone and all he could do was be there, ready to listen if and when Sam decided to talk.
Of course he hadn't really thought that his brother would pick 3am to have that talk or that he would start it off with a sentence that made no sense.
Rubbing his eyes and shaking his head to try and clear the last vestiges of sleep, Dean looked at Sam.
"You're gonna have to help me out here Sammy – you're not making sense, man. What did you forget to check?" he said again, gently, and was horrified to see Sam's eyes fill with tears.
"You. I forgot to check about you." Sam whispered and Dean frowned with incomprehension.
"Check what about me?" he said and Sam shook his head, agitated.
"You got attacked - knocked out! And then you went after the werewolf alone and I never even asked if you were ok! I was so wrapped up in helping.." he tailed off and swallowed, unable to bring himself to say Madison's name. "I should have checked, Dean. What if you really hurt yourself? You could have got into trouble going after that thing and I'd never even have known!" he said, sounding anguished.
Dean shook his head. "It doesn't matter, Sam - I'm fine. It's not like I've not been knocked out before." he said with quiet urgency, but Sam was already shaking his head.
"And that's supposed to make me feel better? I should have checked! It's my job to look out for you and I was so caught up – you would never have done that. I'm so sorry." he said and Dean put his hand on Sam's shoulder.
"Hey, come on Sam – stop beating yourself up over this, please! There's nothing wrong with the fact you were into Madison, or that you got caught up in saving her. I understand, really I do. And I don't need you looking out for me, I can take care of myself." he said but Sam cut him off before he could finish.
"That's not the point, Dean! You shouldn't have to, that's why I'm here. I watch your back and you watch mine – that's how it works. But what do I do? The first pretty girl that comes along I forget all about you and send you off to hunt alone when you were hurt! I let you down." he said, self disgust clear in his voice.
Dean groaned in frustration. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate what Sam was saying, but he couldn't stand listening to his brother add even more guilt on top of what he was already feeling about Madison's death.
"Enough, Sam! I mean it – you did NOT let me down and this was not just some 'pretty girl'! You had feelings for Madison, strong feelings. You think I don't know how you've kept yourself closed off since Jess? I mean, look at Sarah. I know you liked her, but you weren't ready. This time you were and it totally sucks how things turned out. You have no idea how much I wish I could change this for you, Sammy. But do not feel guilty about how you felt for this girl. You have nothing to apologise to me for Sam – nothing." said Dean, as firmly as he possibly could.
Sam looked down at the covers he was currently picking at agitatedly. He knew Dean was trying to make him feel better, that he was putting him first as always, but it wasn't working. He'd been dreaming about the whole thing, going over it in his mind, and the first thing that had hit him when he woke up hadn't been just the grief at what he'd had to do but horror at the cavalier way he'd reacted to Dean getting hurt. What had he been thinking? The idea of Dean out there hunting the werewolf with concussion, or maybe even worse. The thought that he could have been overcome, could have been killed, tore through Sam like a knife. This was his brother. As deeply as he'd felt for Madison – and he had felt deeply, a connection he'd not felt since Jess – it was nothing compared to the relationship he had with Dean. This was his family, the only one he had left, and Dean was the most important thing in Sam's world.
He looked up again and swallowed the lump that materialised in his throat at the thought of losing Dean. Dean's gaze was so compassionate and so forgiving that Sam felt even worse. Whatever he did, his brother never held it against him. He wondered sometimes what he'd done to deserve such an amazing big brother.
Dean for his part was blown away that in the midst of all this, in the aftermath of killing the woman that he could possibly one day have loved, the biggest concern on Sam's mind was that he'd failed Dean somehow. Truth was he hadn't even given it a second thought when Sam had begged him to go after the werewolf. He'd understood totally Sam's desperate need to try and save Madison, and he hadn't blamed him for a second.
Knowing they had to deal with this now, before it became one more thing that would eat away at his brother, Dean leant forward so he was literally inches away from Sam.
"Listen to me Sam – I know you care about me, and I know you look out for me, and I appreciate it ok? Hell, I probably wouldn't have made it through these last few months if it weren't for you." he said truthfully, for once not hiding behind quips or easy humour. This was one of those occasions when the stuff that usually went unspoken needed to be said out loud, and however uncomfortable it might make him he would do it for Sam's sake. "This job – it was out of our control, man. We couldn't have known what would happen between you and Madison, and I wish to God you hadn't had to go through this. But whatever regrets you might have about the past few days, do not add this to that list, you hear me? I'm fine, Sam. And I'm not going anywhere. So just stop this, please."
Sam looked away but he could tell that as far as Dean was concerned, he was telling the truth. And while it didn't completely dissolve the guilt he still felt about neglecting his brother's welfare, it did make him feel a little better to know that Dean didn't hold it against him.
Although of course that said more about Dean's forgiving nature than anything else.
He sighed. "Alright. But I'm still sorry – I mean it." he said earnestly and Dean rolled his eyes.
"Fine – apology accepted, ok? Can we drop it now?" he said and Sam nodded reluctantly.
They sat there in silence for a few seconds before Sam looked at Dean again, a pensive look on his face.
"There was one other thing." he said quietly.
"Go on." said Dean and Sam made sure he held Dean's gaze before he spoke.
"I get it now. The whole promise thing? I know how it feels to be on the other side of that." he said quietly.
Dean swallowed. As much as it hurt every time Sam brought that up, as much as he hated even thinking about what his brother was asking him to do, he wouldn't have had Sam understand what that felt like for the world.
"Look, Sam I never wanted you to know what that felt like." he said and Sam shook his head.
"I know, I know that, Dean. But the point is, I do. And I'm sorry. I wish there was another way, that I could say I don't still want you to keep that promise. But the idea of what I could become." Sam stopped as Dean reached out and gave his arm a gentle hit with his fist.
"We've had this conversation, remember? It's not gonna get that far because I am gonna find a way to save you. You know I wouldn't lie to you, right?" he said and Sam gave a half smile.
"You mean unless it was about how badly you were hurt or if there was something bothering you?" he said dryly and Dean grimaced.
"Wise ass. I mean it, Sam – I don't lie about stuff like this. I'm not gonna have to kill you. It will never come to that." he said earnestly.
"I believe you mean that." said Sam softly, which was the best he could do. As much as he knew Dean would do everything in his power to save him, the idea of becoming evil still terrified him and sadly he knew there were some things that were beyond his brother's control. Part of him hoped that if the worst did happen, some bit of him that remained would find the strength to take matters into his own hands. Because he knew from bitter experience now that Dean wouldn't defend himself against Sam and as far as he was concerned, there was nothing in this world that could be worse than being to the one to hurt or kill his own brother.
"So." said Dean, looking at him and trying to gauge his mood. "We good?"
Sam managed a full smile this time, albeit a slightly sad one.
"We're always good." he said and although Dean rolled his eyes at the sappiness of Sam's answer, he couldn't stop the grin that twitched at his own lips. Glancing over at the clock on the bedside cabinet he looked back at Sam with a mock glare.
"Not that I'm not thrilled to hear you say more than two words in one go, you couldn't pick a more reasonable time to have this revelation?" he said, smothering a yawn.
Sam gave him a rueful grin and shrugged. "It wasn't like I planned it." he said and Dean bounced his fist lightly on Sam's knee.
"Well, I'll let you off this time Sammy, under the circumstances, but for the love of God can we please go back to sleep now?" he said and Sam got up, heading back over to his own bed.
"Be my guest." he said as he lay back down, pulling covers hastily discarded before back into some order.
Dean gratefully lay back down and listened as Sam got comfortable. Despite his half serious grouch at Sam's timing, he really was grateful that his brother had opened up to him a little and that he'd hopefully been able to at least allay some of the guilt Sam was feeling.
"I wish we could have saved her." said Sam softly and Dean turned his head slightly so he was facing Sam, even though he knew he couldn't see him in the dark.
"So do I." he said and he heard Sam let out a soft sigh.
"I'm glad you're ok though." was the next thing Sam said and Dean smiled affectionately to himself at the earnestness of Sam's statement.
"That makes two of us, Sammy." he said and was rewarded with a snort from Sam's direction.
Companionable silence reigned briefly again before it was Dean who spoke this time.
"Thanks, Sam." he said and he heard the rustle as Sam turned his head to face him.
"For what?" said Sam, quizzically, and Dean cleared his throat self consciously before continuing.
"For what you said, about watching my back. And for caring about what you thought you'd done wrong so much, even after everything else that happened. Even if you did have to get all girly and slumber-party about it." he added, unable to let the moment get too deep.
Sam rolled his eyes at the last part but the rest of what Dean had said made him glad that he'd told his brother everything, even if it did leave him open to affectionate ridicule as always.
"You're welcome. And I'm not even gonna ask how you know what goes on at a slumber party in the first place." he said.
Dean decided to treat that one with dignified silence, although he did file it away for retribution at a later date. After the past few days he figured he owed Sam a break, for now.
As Sam listened to Dean's breathing even out he thought about Madison and said a silent prayer for her soul. As much as he regretted her death and mourned what might have been, he knew he had a lot to be grateful for. Because things could have been a lot worse. At the end of the day he still had Dean and as long as he had that, there was hope for the future.
Turning over, he closed his eyes and felt himself drifting off. Tomorrow they'd be back on the road again, doing what they did best.
Saving people. Hunting things. The family business.
And when it came down to it, everything else they could deal with. Together – as always.