This story first appeared in Hunting Trips 1 (2006), from Neon Rainbow Press
K Hanna Korossy
Okay, note to self: Don't leave weapons lying around when Sam's delirious.
"Sam," Dean said levelly, "put the gun down."
In his own defense, Dean hadn't realized Sam was that feverish until his little brother had gone from sleep to high alert in about two seconds, rolling out of his bed and grabbing the freshly cleaned and loaded Glock from Dean's. But the excuse didn't change the situation in any appreciable way Dean could see.
He took a step closer. "Sam."
"Don't move." The gun trembled – heck, all of Sam trembled – but not enough that it would miss splattering some part of Dean's head on the wall.
He held up both hands higher and stopped. "Sammy, what's going on?"
What was going on was that Sam had been fighting a bug for days, tired and hoarse and reflexes a few shades slower than Dean was comfortable with. He had finally pulled them off the road, set up camp in some rest-stop motel in the middle of Missouri, and invested in a lot of orange juice and cold medicine. Sam had mostly slept and listlessly watched TV, until Dean was ready to go stir-crazy… and brought out the weapons to clean. Not his brightest move, it was turning out, but he hadn't exactly expected his brother to go psycho on him in EMF-free country, either.
"Sam?" he asked again.
"What did you do to Dean?" Sam snapped.
Well, that was a new one. "Dude, I'm right here." Dean curled one of his hands toward his chest.
Sam shook his head, dark hair plastered to his forehead. Not sweating, which meant the fever was high and holding, as if the glassy eyes and red cheeks hadn't given Dean a clue and, oh yeah, the gun in his little brother's hands.
"You're not Dean. Where is he?"
This momentary impasse was becoming more than a moment, and Dean was getting uneasy. Especially the way their conversation was going. "Sam, listen to me. I'm right here, okay? It's me, it's Dean."
"No." Sam wasn't at his best, and the gun wasn't light. It shook harder now, but nowhere near where he would be safe to jump. "No. Where's Dean?"
The plaintive desperation creeping into his brother's tone flipped a switch inside Dean, and he felt himself starting to become a little desperate, too. Sam feeling afraid and alone had just pushed this little scene from blackmail material to utterly unamusing, besides the whole fact of Dean having a gun in his face.
He tried to sidle another step closer, but jolted to a stop as Sam brought the gun up a little higher, shakily sighting along it. Not that Dean was particularly afraid of getting shot; his brother was fading and he could always outwait him. But killing time until Sam finally collapsed wasn't a plan Dean was too excited about, especially knowing Sam would fight with everything he had. John Winchester had raised soldiers who didn't quit.
"Okay," Dean said, feigning reasonability, "uh… sixth grade. You had a crush on Mary… Mary somebody, but you were afraid to talk to her, so you–"
"Stop it." The words ground out, like they were painful. "I know you have his memories. That doesn't make you him."
Dean frowned. "Who do you think I…? Oh." Oh. And, wow. Of all the things for Sam's subconscious to summon in his delirium, it had managed to pick one of the nastiest. And the only one Dean had no idea how to counter. Sam's head always had made him a formidable fighter, and Dean wasn't too happy to be on this side of the equation.
Sam shifted, tongue flicking over dry lips. His eyes held no doubt, no compassion, only well-hidden fear. Dean had never been able to ignore his brother being afraid.
"Sammy," he said quietly, "I'm not the skinwalker, okay? It's me. You think of any way for me to prove it and I will, but it's me, your older and more handsome brother. Who, I gotta admit, is pretty worried about you right now."
A cold smile flickered across Sam's face for a moment. Not reassuring. "You don't even sound like him."
Well, uh, okay. Was he supposed to be insulted at that? "What, 'cause I said I'm worried about you? Who's standing there looking like he's going to pass out any minute, huh? Sam, you're sick, man. You're cold, your throat hurts, and your head's a little scrambled. You need to get back in bed. I'll make you some more tea, you'll get some sleep, and when you wake up, I promise all of this'll be over."
"It's never over," Sam whispered. Dean had an idea he didn't even realize he'd spoken.
He wasn't touching that one, though, not when Sam was healthy, especially not when he was delusional. Meaning-of-their-life stuff could wait until never, or when Dean was dying, whichever came last.
A hard tremor went through Sam, and the gun dipped.
Dean surged forward a step, only to find himself way too close to the open end of the barrel. Nice recovery; Sam's skills hadn't dulled much during three-plus years apart. It was the first time Dean regretted that. He spread his hands wider.
"At least sit down, okay? You look like you're about to take a header onto the floor, and this carpet, I don't know…"
Sam tried to lick his lips again, blinked against the hair in his face, or maybe iffy vision, because he looked like he was having trouble focusing. Dean wasn't too worried about the fever spiraling out of control, but this couldn't be helping it. He put on his most persuasively earnest face, and waited for the inevitable.
Sam stumbled back a step, feeling with one hand for the wall, then slid down against it to the baseboard. His aim didn't falter.
Dean changed elevation with him, going down in a crouch. He noted with mixed approval and frustration as Sam braced his gun hand on his knees, but offered him a twisted smile. "So… now what?"
"We wait for Dean."
"Okay, see, that's gonna be difficult considering I'm already here."
The raised voice didn't seem to bother Sam. "Dean'll come."
With the hundred different things wrong and surreal about this scene, Dean had to get hit between the eyes with the one right one: the certainty, the raw faith in Sam's voice that his big brother would come to the rescue. Dean wasn't usually there for that part of the stand-off with the bad guy.
It would have just been mildly helpful if Dean weren't playing the role of bad guy in this scene, or if Sam would only let his brother rescue him.
"So," Dean shifted, "what makes you think I'm not your brother?"
"You're just… wrong," Sam said tiredly.
He would try not to take that one personally. "What, hair, make-up, fashionable clothes?"
An unexpected flinch. "You did something to him, didn't you?"
Dean frowned back. "Sam–"
But Sam was shaking his head. "You can't stand to see anyone else loved and happy, can you? You have to destroy it."
"You were wrong about him." He pressed a hand back against the wall, used it as shaky leverage to prop himself back on his feet. "Dean doesn't resent me leaving – he let me go because he loved me. And he's not scared of being left because he knows I love him. That's something you'll never know and it's killing you, isn't it?"
Yeah, it really was. Dean swallowed, hating this uneven playing field. Clearly the skinwalker had said more than Sam had admitted to, and now Sam's own psyche was playing traitor, revealing thoughts usually left unspoken for both their sakes.
Fair was fair. Dean stood, letting the lighthearted act fall away, offering only his honest concern now. "Sammy," he said very gently, "you're sick, bro. You're confused. Let me help you. We'll sort out the skinwalker thing tomorrow, I promise."
Sam blinked in slow-motion. He was out on his feet, only some incredibly stubborn self-preservation – or maybe fraternal-preservation – streak keeping him upright. And Dean was grateful for that, truly, but it could really take a break now and he wouldn't mind a bit.
He held Sam's gaze with his own, dead serious, and put out his hand, very slowly and unthreateningly, palm up, for the gun.
Sam frowned a little, tilted his head, as if he were listening.
"Sam, give me the gun. I'm not gonna hurt you."
"You'd never hurt me." That whisper again, like tuning into the wavelength of Sam's thoughts.
"That's right. I just want you to get better." His fingers moved invitingly.
"Dean?" Doubtful, hopeful, and confused.
Dean nearly laughed; that was Sam for you, over-thinking everything. Trying to figure out how the thing he'd been holding a gun on had suddenly turned into his brother. "Right here, Sam." He stretched, closed his hand around cold metal, and tugged. It came without resistance, and Dean thumbed the safety, tossing it back on the bed. Good timing, as Sam swayed.
Dean stepped in, nudging a shoulder under his brother's, wrapping an arm around the shivering torso and taking his weight. "You ready to go back to bed now, or you wanna spar a little longer?"
All right, so Sam was still a little out of it. Dean could deal. "I'm here. C'mon, let's go visit your bed."
"Dean, there was a…" He seemed to lose his train of thought, blinking owlishly.
"Yeah, I got it." Dean heaved Sam over the edge of the bed with a grunt, swinging up long legs after. His skin was too hot, but Dean wasn't quite ready to leave him with a room full of weapons for even a glass of water. He sat on the edge of the bed instead, pulling blankets over his brother until the shivering eased. "Feels better, huh?"
Sam watched him through dull eyes, the earlier confused awareness gone.
Dean sighed, patted his arm. "Go back to sleep, Sam."
"It wasn't you, Dean," Sam slurred just as he was moving away, low enough that Dean wasn't sure he heard him right.
He turned back. "What?"
But Sam's eyes were closed.
Wasn't you? Which part, Dean couldn't help but wonder, the sarcasm to handle the fact his brother was holding a gun on him, or the open concern? Sam had known right away the skinwalker wasn't him; what about Dean now had made him think the reverse? It wasn't a comfortable thought.
Or, Dean ran his fingers through his hair, maybe he was taking too seriously the ravings of the delirious. Sam could have just as easily declared he was wearing a polka-dot bikini, and if he hadn't had access to lethal weapons – no guilt there – this wouldn't have been anything but a footnote in the textbook Dean could write about the way his brother's mind worked.
Dean moved around the room with silent purpose, gathering all the weapons and taking them back out to the trunk, before going into the small bathroom for a fresh cup of water. He coaxed Sam awake to drink half of it, had him wash down a few Tylenol while he was at it, and wetted a compress for the hot forehead. Then he grabbed his novel and settled in the chair close by to read and watch. At least if Sam got hold of that, the worst he could do was lob it at Dean, or threaten to read to him.
In the morning, Sam remembered even less of what had happened than his brother did of the book.
And the next town they hit, Dean sold the Glock at a pawn shop.