"Well this is just perfect."
Sam glanced up from his examination of Dean's knee but didn't comment. He could feel a full scale rant coming on and he'd learned from an early age it was easier – and safer – to just stay quiet and let his brother get it out of his system.
"Why the hell weren't you looking where you were going?"
On the other hand..
Sam raised his eyebrows.
"I could ask you the same question, Dean. Since you're the one who fell down here first."
Dean's gaze narrowed.
"My flashlight was broken. You on the other hand had one in perfect working order. If you'd been paying a little more attention instead of running round in hysterics, screaming like a banshee, then you'd have noticed the huge damn hole in the ground!"
Sam glared at him.
"First off? I was NOT running round in hysterics or screaming like a banshee! I was calling your name and if you'd actually replied I might have noticed the fact you were in the hole in the first place! And secondly, excuse me for being worried when you suddenly disappear into thin air while we're in the middle of a hunt!"
"You make it sound like I was doing magic tricks, Sam. I didn't disappear into thin air, I fell. And you were still overreacting."
"Oh, like you wouldn't have?" said Sam and Dean was glad it was dark enough Sam couldn't see the colour rush to his face.
"That's different." he said and Sam shone the flashlight in his face for a second.
"How?" he demanded and Dean batted the light away, looking annoyed.
"Because you seem to have this huge sign on your back that says 'kidnap me'. I on the other hand know how to avoid that sort of thing."
Sam gave him an 'oh really?' look.
"You mean apart from when you got taken by the Wendigo. Or tied to a tree as a sacrifice. Or kidnapped by Gordon."
Dean held up a hand.
"Ok, fine. Your track record is still way worse than mine. Anyway, this is getting us nowhere – unless you plan on staying here for the rest of our lives?"
"It might be safer." muttered Sam, but he stood anyway and shone the light round looking for a way out. He heard Dean move behind him and turned round in time to see his brother struggling to get to his feet.
"Could you just wait for five minutes?" he said, exasperated, but he was already grabbing hold of Dean's arm to help him stand, since he knew that was pretty much a rhetorical question.
Dean didn't bother dignifying it with an answer but he did let Sam help, since his knee was being annoyingly uncooperative right now. He winced as he put his full weight on it, or tried to, and it was a good job Sam hadn't let go yet otherwise he'd have been back on his ass in the dirt.
"How is it?" said Sam, looking at him with concern, and Dean grimaced.
"I'll live. You'd just better hope if we get chased by anything it's really unfit or really old."
Sam looked decidedly unamused.
"That's hysterical, Dean. You should see how much I'm laughing on the inside."
"Hey, you'll be ok. I'm gonna be the one hopping to get away."
Sam looked at him.
"Oh right, cos I'm gonna be sprinting into the distance to safety and leaving you behind." he said and even as Dean opened his mouth to reply Sam held his hand up.
"We're not having this argument again. Lets just concentrate on getting out of here, ok?"
Dean gave in, mainly because Sam had that look in his eye that said this could be a long conversation. Leaning back against the dirt he looked up, just about able to make out the edges of the hole they'd both ended up in.
"Well, we're not getting out the way we got in, that's for sure." he said with a sigh and Sam glanced up as well.
"Yeah, I know. It looks like there might be a tunnel over there." he said, aiming the beam of light at the far end of the space they were in.
Dean squinted at it. "We're gonna be taking a chance. No telling where the hell that leads." he said and Sam shrugged.
"We haven't really got much choice, have we?" he said and Dean had to admit, reluctantly, that he was right.
"Let me go first."
Sam raised his eyebrow.
"Are you kidding me? You want me to let the person who, out of the two of us, can't walk properly go first?"
Dean blinked. "That'd be a 'no' then I take it?"
Muttering something under his breath that Dean had an idea it was good he couldn't make out properly, Sam turned round and made his way towards the tunnel. Dean took a deep breath and pushed himself off the side. The first step sent agony shooting through his knee and he gritted his teeth, grateful Sam was facing the other direction. The second step was slightly better and by the third step he'd worked his way up to a kind of limping gait that probably made him look like an Igor from one of those black and white horror movies.
He was so glad it was dark.
Sam had paused by the entrance and Dean could practically hear the effort it was taking for him not to offer to help.
"Ready?" Sam said as he reached him and Dean just nodded.
Sam walked as slow as he could, aware of every pained hiss and sharp breath Dean was taking behind him. He would have ignored his brother's stubbornness and just helped him anyway, were it not for the fact that the tunnel was too narrow for anything other than single file.
Sam gritted his teeth.
He could feel the smirk even without looking.
"Whatever. You think what we were chasing will find the hole? Cos that would be handy. Save us having to come back and look for the thing."
Sam stopped so fast Dean barrelled into the back of him and swore as he jarred his knee.
"What the hell, Sam?"
Sam shone the flashlight at his brother and tried to form a sentence past the sheer stupidity of what Dean had just said.
"You did not just suggest it would be a good thing for the creature we were hunting to follow us down this hole and come after us while we're stuck in a tunnel that we can barely move in?"
"I just said it would save time that's all. And given how today's going, it's not exactly impossible."
"You are just one big ray of sunshine, aren't you?" said Sam and Dean glared at him.
"Hey, I'm the one who broke my knee and had you practically land on my head! I'm lucky you didn't knee me in the face with those damn legs of yours."
Sam raised his eyebrows. "I thought you said your knee was fine?"
Dean tried to think of a retort for that one but came up empty so he settled for shoving Sam instead, and none too lightly.
"Just get moving would you. Unless you like it so much you've decided to stay?"
Torn between amusement and exasperation Sam turned round and started walking again. Now, thanks to Dean, the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up as he imagined what they'd been looking for coming up behind them. He frowned when he realised it would get Dean first and stopped again.
"Oh for crying out loud – now what?" said Dean, sounding even more annoyed than he had the last time.
"Maybe you should try and go in front. Just in case that thing does manage to find it's way down here." said Sam, sounding worried.
Dean looked at him.
"It's probably got better eyesight than either of us does apparently, so it'll most likely avoid the hole in the first place. And besides, how exactly are you proposing to change places?"
Sam realised that it was indeed too narrow for them to pass each other easily.
"Maybe we could just.."
Dean didn't let him finish. "Forget it, Sam, we are absolutely never going to get that close. Now would you please for the love of god start walking again?"
Sam didn't, unfortunately, have any better ideas so reluctantly he turned round. He'd already decided though that if anything did come after them he wasn't above throwing Dean over his shoulder if it meant saving his life.
They ploughed on, Sam fighting the claustrophobia that was beginning to flare from being stuck in the small tunnel and Dean trying to ignore the fact his knee felt like it was swelling to about five times its usual size.
"You still ok back there?"
Dean grinned, since Sam couldn't see him, impressed his brother had managed to go this long without checking on him.
"Yeah, I'm still good Sam. Although I'd be even better if we could find fresh air again."
"You and me both." said Sam and Dean noticed the tension in his voice.
"Hey – you ok, Sam?"
"Of course. I didn't hurt myself, remember?"
"That's not what I'm talking about. You seem kinda tense."
"Really? That couldn't possibly be because we're stuck underground with no idea where we're going or how we're going to get out?"
Dean paused. "Yeah, I mean aside from that."
Sam clenched his jaw, glad Dean couldn't see his expression in the dark.
"I'm fine, Dean. I just want to get out of here that's all."
Dean didn't believe that for a moment but he let it go for now. Unfortunately he was so busy concentrating on what might be bothering Sam that he tripped over a rock his brother had somehow managed to walk past without encountering. He put his hands out but they were walking so close together, given the flashlight sharing issue, that he ended up crashing into Sam. They both went down in a tangle of limbs, Dean swearing profusely as his knee hit the ground.
He lay there in the dirt for a moment, contemplating just staying there. Permanently. He was beginning to think it might be safer.
"Dammit! Dean, are you alright?"
He could hear scrabbling noises as Sam managed to get to his knees and turn round so he was facing his brother. Seconds later the flashlight came back on and Dean closed his eyes against the glare.
"I'm wonderful, Sam. I'm having a great day. You know I'd jump for joy if there was enough room in here."
Sam relaxed a little. If there was still sarcasm then it was a good indication Dean wasn't doing that badly. He could remember it was the silence after the accident and John's death that had scared him the most. Dean was functioning but it was like he hadn't really been there at all. Sam had never thought he'd actually miss the wise ass comments but he had, badly. Turning his thoughts back to the issue at hand he shone the flashlight at Dean's knee.
"Do you think you damaged it any more?" he asked and Dean flexed his leg.
"Son of a.." He gritted his teeth and cut off the curse.
Sam winced sympathetically.
"Come on – lets at least get you up off the floor."
"Oh I don't know – I'm starting to like it down here." said Dean, but he took Sam's hand anyway and between them they both managed to stand up.
"Ready?" said Sam, giving him a few seconds to gather himself.
Dean's limp was even more pronounced now and he was convinced he looked like he was one step away from starting to shout 'The bells! The bells!'.
He was so staying in the car until he could walk properly again.
Speaking of which, Sam was gonna have to drive them for the next few days, which also didn't improve his mood. It wasn't that he didn't trust Sam, but he preferred to be the one driving his baby and also Sam tended to make more of a fuss if he wasn't capable of it. It was like it was some kind of barometer for how badly he was hurt.
Actually, as he thought about it, something occurred to him. He was surprised he hadn't thought of it before but then they hadn't really had a chance to slow down what with visions, demon viruses, psycho hunters and a dozen other things to contend with. Not the mention 'the' secret, which was still a sore topic for both of them. But now it had occurred to him he frowned.
"Why don't you drive the Impala anymore?"
Anyone else would have missed Sam's slight stumble at the question but Dean wasn't just anyone. He knew from that alone he'd struck a nerve and he waited patiently for a response.
"I ,uh, don't know. No particular reason, it just hasn't come up has it? What with my wrist and everything. Besides, I know how much you love your baby so I wouldn't wanna get in the way."
The tone was deliberately light, but it wasn't fooling Dean.
"You've had your cast off for weeks now. And you didn't drive her before you broke your wrist either. And as for the whole not depriving me of my baby? Since when did that bother you? We've been sharing the driving ever since we got back on the road again."
Sam cursed silently. Now was really not the time for Dean to suddenly want to bring this up, especially as there was – literally – no escape. He'd been glad Dean hadn't really taken any notice of it till now and he wondered exactly why it should occur to his brother at this particular moment.
Other than the fact the universe seemed to enjoy messing things around at every opportunity.
"I just figured after putting her back together you'd want to enjoy driving her, that's all. It's no big deal. Anyway, I'll have to drive now, at least until your knee gets better."
And wasn't that just perfect? he added to himself silently.
Dean was nothing if not dogged though when he thought something was wrong, especially if that something had to do with Sam.
"Are you done with the fairytales now or do you want to come up with a few more excuses?" he said dryly and he saw Sam's shoulders tense.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Dean. And in case you hadn't noticed? We got bigger problems to worry about than who drives."
"Nuh-uh. Not getting out of it that easily, Sammy. We've got nothing better to talk about while we look for the exit, so spill. I'm not gonna let this one go, so you might as well give in."
"Just drop it, Dean."
Dean frowned. Ok, that was definitely not frustrated-Sam. That was pissed-Sam. Which meant whatever the real reason was, it was something his brother didn't want to share with him.
Which was tough, really.
Sam stopped and turned round to glare at him.
"Could you be more annoying about this?" he hissed and Dean put his head one to side, apparently thinking.
"I don't know. Maybe."
Sam turned round again, deliberately quickening his pace now to try and give Dean something else to concentrate on other than trying to analyse his reasons for not driving the Impala. He hadn't bargained of course on Dean's slightly perverse sense of humour and all round stubbornness when it came down to making sure Sam was ok.
"I'm Henry the 8th I am, Henry the 8th I am, I am! I got married to the widow next to door, she's been married seven times before!"
As the song began, sung deliberately loudly and off key – Dean actually had a great voice, although he was so not telling him that – Sam cringed.
"Knock it off, Dean! I'm not kidding." he warned over his shoulder.
"And all of them were Henrys,"
"Stop it! I swear I will leave you down here."
Dean just smirked, knowing that was an empty threat and that he'd clearly just found the perfect way to wear Sam down about this.
As he took a deep breath to start singing again, Sam stopped dead and turned round to face him. Dean looked innocently at him in the glow from the flashlight and Sam ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
"Could we just not do this, Dean – please?"
Dean considered it.
"You mean the way we didn't discuss what was bothering me about Dad's death? Or about the thing he told me before he died?"
Sam sighed. Clearly he'd shot himself in the foot on this one. He wasn't ready to give in yet though.
"That was different. Those were two things that were clearly bothering you and I wanted to help."
"Well this is clearly bothering you and guess what? It's my turn to help – so start talking."
Sam briefly wondered if there was any possibility he could simply tunnel through the dirt and dig his own way out but it was unlikely. Resigning himself to what was going to be a fun conversation – not – he leant against the wall.
"Fine. You're not gonna like it though."
Sam was silent so long Dean was beginning to wonder if his brother had changed his mind about talking. Eventually he did speak, but his voice was so quiet Dean actually had to lean forward a little to hear properly.
"I tried it, once. After the thing with the clowns. You were asleep and I wanted to get some food, something nice you know? Maybe try and make you feel a little better. Anyway, I took the keys, got in the driver's side, but as soon as I looked in the mirror to pull out." he stopped.
"What?" said Dean, gently, and Sam blinked rapidly.
"I saw you, Dean. Sitting in the back seat, covered in blood. That whole drive away from the cabin I kept checking on you, even when Dad was busy yelling at me for not killing him. I needed to see you were still there, that you were still with us. But you had this look on your face – I'd never seen it before and I never want to see it again. You were dying. And there was nothing I could do except push the car to go faster and pray you made it to the hospital."
Dean looked at him, at a loss for words briefly. He'd thought it might be something like this, but hearing Sam say it aloud, hearing him describe what it had been like. For a brief second he was back there and his hand came up to rub his chest without him even thinking about it.
"Hey – you ok?"
He jumped and looked up into Sam's concerned gaze. He managed a brief smile.
"That's supposed to be my line, Sammy."
Sam gave a half smile in return.
"Yeah, well. That drive wasn't exactly a picnic for either of us." he said, softly.
Dean took a deep breath, not about to let Sam turn this into something about him.
"So that's why you won't drive her? Because you get flashbacks to that night?"
Sam nodded and Dean actually put his hand on Sam's shoulder.
"Ah, Sammy – why didn't you tell me?"
Sam raised one eyebrow. "For the same reason you didn't want to tell me how you felt about what Dad did. Things were hard enough, I didn't want to remind you what had happened."
"Like I could forget. You think I don't see it too sometimes? I dropped one of the guns in the back a few weeks after we were back on the road and I had to climb in to get it. Soon as I sat on that rear seat I totally panicked. I got out so fast I almost brained myself on the door frame."
Sam looked at him. "Seriously?" he said, torn between wanting to hear it wasn't just him and not wanting to know Dean had suffered anymore than he already had.
"Yeah. It's only natural, Sam. But you know what? That son of a bitch took enough away from us that night. I'm not gonna let it destroy how I feel about my baby. And neither are you. It's time to get back on the horse, Sam." he said with a grin.
Sam wished he felt as confident as Dean that it was as simple as that, but he knew he was right. Like it or not, driving was going to be his responsibility for the next week at least.
"I suppose you're right." he said and before Dean could say anything he stopped him.
"I know, I know – you're always right."
Dean's grin got wider. "Glad you're finally admitting it, Sammy."
Sam tried to look exasperated but ended up grinning instead. He supposed he should be grateful that even after everything they'd been through Dean could still make him grin over the smallest thing.
Feeling slightly better as they started walking again Sam deliberately stopped himself thinking about the crash. Dean meanwhile was glad he'd at least got Sam to admit what was bothering him, although he was kicking himself for not having noticed before.
Or at least he would have, if he'd had two working legs.
"You know I did wonder if you'd want me driving her actually, after what happened."
Dean frowned at the comment.
"What do you mean?"
He saw Sam's shoulders shrug in the dim light.
"Well it was me who was driving when we crashed."
Dean looked incredulous, although it was sadly wasted since Sam couldn't see him.
"You're not serious? Sam, I never blamed you for the accident – not once. It was the demon who was responsible, end of story. Besides, I haven't forgotten you were the one who wouldn't let Bobby scrap her."
Sam felt his face get warm at that. He could still remember practically yelling at poor Bobby that as long as there was one part working they were going to fix her. It had been the only thing he could do for Dean at the time and when he'd watched the sheer joy on his brother's face when they drove along for the first time after she was up and running again, he'd known he made the right choice.
"Yeah, well. I just didn't want to have to listen to you complain for the next century if he actually had got rid of what was left of her."
Dean whacked him lightly on the back.
"Sure, you keep telling yourself that. I know you got a soft spot for her really."
Sam grinned in the darkness but didn't reply.
They'd practically settled into a rhythm so it took a few minutes for Sam to realise that the tunnel was actually getting lighter. Looking up he squinted and realised it wasn't his imagination.
"Hey, I think I see a light." he said excitedly.
"It better not be a train." muttered Dean, but he managed to quicken his pace slightly to keep up with Sam, who was now moving faster.
Sure enough it began to get lighter until finally they turned a corner and saw a hole in the ground a few feet in the air above them, light from the full moon pouring through it. For the first time that day luck was on their side and the ground rose gently to meet the hole.
Sam grabbed Dean's arm to help him up the slope, not giving him the chance to protest, and a few minutes later they were clambering out.
They stood there, enjoying the fresh air, and brushing dirt off their clothes. Although that was pretty much a loosing battle. They both looked like they'd been mud wrestling for the evening.
"So where are we?" said Dean and Sam shone the flashlight round, trying to work out their position. After a second he actually laughed out loud.
"What's so funny?"
"You're not gonna believe it – we're at the start of the woods. The car should be just over there." he said, pointing.
Dean shook his head. "Well what do you know? Maybe someone up there does like us after all."
Wisely not commenting on that, just in case, Sam led the way as they headed for the Impala. Even he was pleased to see her come into view, sitting in the moonlight exactly where they'd left her.
Dean let out a sigh of relief as he limped over and leant against it to take the weight off his knee for a second, patting her lightly with his hand. He looked up as Sam joined him and reached into his pocket.
"Here you go." he said, holding out the keys.
Despite their conversation Sam hesitated, looking at them like they were red hot.
"Come on, they're not going to bite." said Dean, his tone gently teasing.
Sam took a deep breath and reached out to take them. He walked round to the passenger side, theoretically to hold the door open for Dean but in reality wanting to put off the moment of getting in a little longer.
Dean knew exactly what he was doing but let it go. The fact he actually needed someone to hold the door as he struggled to get in without bending his knee too much had nothing to do with it, of course.
Once Dean was finally in and the door was shut Sam really had no other excuse. He walked back round, literally dragging his heels, and opened the door. He stood for a moment, frozen, with one hand on the door and one hand on the roof.
"Would you quit letting all the warm air out? It's kinda cold in case you hadn't noticed!"
Dean's slightly exasperated voice made Sam jump a little. Swallowing, he slid into the seat and shut the door. He put the key in the ignition and turned it, gripping the steering wheel as the engine started.
And then he did it. He glanced in the mirror.
He could see Dean's bloodied face with crystal clarity and he was certain he'd actually forgotten how to breathe. But suddenly there was something else. A hand on his arm, tugging gently to get his attention.
He tore his eyes away from the mirror and met Dean's gaze.
"I'm right here, Sammy. It's over, remember?" he said quietly.
Sam stared at him for what seemed like ages but was in fact a few seconds. Taking in the sight of his brother alive and well.
Albeit it slightly muddied.
He let out the breath he'd been holding and felt a calmness settle inside, replacing the blind panic.
"Yeah. I know." he said and this time he meant it.
He knew the memories would never go away, for either of them, but it was time to try and move past them. Sitting here now, with both Dean and the Impala herself still going strong - even if they would always carry the scars - Sam realised it was time to focus on what hadn't been lost that night.
On how lucky they'd all been, in some respects.
"So you ready to actually drive or you want to spend the night here?" said Dean dryly, seeing the calmness settle over Sam.
"I think we've spent more than enough time here already." said Sam and Dean had a feeling he wasn't referring just to the woods.
Nodding, he leant back against the seat and closed his eyes.
"Wake me up when we get to a motel. I'm taking the first shower."
Sam rolled his eyes but smiled to himself as he watched his brother for a second. This was how it should be. This was what, he suddenly realised, he'd been missing the last few months.
Still smiling he put the Impala in gear and as they pulled away he glanced once more in the mirror.
At the empty back seat.
Dean was right. It was time to move on.
For all three of them.