Inspired by Linda

If Your Brother Can't…
K Hanna Korossy

It wasn't a fire demon. Not an elemental, a burned human's ghost, or even Drew Barrymore. Just a stupid brownie with a penchant for flames. A fatal one.

There had been four fires and three deaths by the time they rolled into town. Sam had been the one to find the job, mutely showing Dean the unusual details of the fires: one started in eight different rooms, another burning from the outside walls in. And one ceiling fire that had left Dean tight-lipped and Sam's eyes dark with memories.

In hindsight, Dean figured he probably should have paid more attention to that.

There were two more fires before they figured out what they were dealing with, and even then it took intercepting a call for Fire & Rescue to lead them to the next site. The brownie was hiding in the bushes, watching its work with glee, and Dean found great pleasure in splattering its head all over the dirt.

That was when he heard Sam's scream.

Dean's head whipped around, searching first for his brother, then for what Sam was looking at with wild eyes. The blonde in the upstairs window, about Jess's age and maybe as pretty if the fire weren't already eating at her, shrieking her death throes, tearing another cry from Sam's throat.

Oh, God, no.

Dean knew what would happen even before he saw Sam's muscles bunch, before his brother took the first step toward the house that was now just an inferno bracketed by walls. Even the woman, blonde hair gone, had collapsed out of sight. Dean was already lunging for Sam before he heard his brother's broken, "Jess," and knew Sam wasn't seeing this house or this victim.

Sam moved with inhuman speed and Dean almost missed him, tackling him at the knees and sending them both crashing down on the neatly mowed lawns. There were sirens in the distance; they needed to get out of there. He needed Sam to be sane.

It just wasn't their day.

With something akin to a growl, Sam twisted upright and turned back to look at what had brought him down. But even as Dean mustered a sympathetic grimace, he caught Sam's gaze. There was no recognition in the frantic eyes, nothing but rage and grief. It was about all Dean had time to register before the first fist slammed into his face.

It sent him sprawling. Cursing his slowness and whatever trance Sam was in, Dean shook his head free and pushed himself up to tell Sam to cut it out.

Another fist got him in the eye. It split the skin above the lid and filling his vision with blood.

"Sam—" he protested as quickly as he could regain coherence. "It's—"

One more blow scrambled his thoughts as well as the world around him.

With a grunt, Dean let instinct take over.

He had the upper hand briefly. Dodging the next fist, Dean went on offense, lunging at Sam to pin him against the ground. He'd done it a thousand times when they'd wrestled, and he always succeeded because the only way to counterattack this maneuver was to potentially damage your opponent, and Sam never risked that no matter how competitive he got.

When he was in his right mind, anyway.

Sam met him halfway, shoulder to Dean's chest, knocking him flat on the ground and suddenly without air. Dean gaped for oxygen liked a hooked fish and blinked stars out of his frame of view. Just in time to see Sam turn back toward the house. With a wordless sound of frustration, Dean grabbed for him again.

He underestimated Sam's desperation. Which was stupid, because he'd seen it enough, the unstoppable fury his brother could become when Dean was in trouble. He really shouldn't have been surprised to see that same force unleashed now for Jessica.

It wasn't Dean's first mistake this hunt.

The slam against his chest nearly made his heart stop. He could actually feel it stutter a beat. Before Dean could even think about how messed up this was becoming or try to breathe, Sam made a keening sound Dean had only heard once before, at another fire, from his kid brother, and laid into Dean in earnest. Not only was Sam fueled by anguish, he also wasn't constrained by Dean's fear of hurting his brother. One fist after another smashed into Dean's face. Fear had turned to ferocity.

The first hit made him sluggish. By the second, he wasn't sure what was happening anymore. After the third, Dean couldn't see, and stopped counting.

It took time to realize it when the pummeling stopped. Dean blinked grey fog out of his eyes and tried to make out what was happening, but the patchy scenery around him wouldn't stop moving. Disobediently weak muscles tightened when hands were suddenly on his shoulders, under his back, helping him up.

"Sammy?" he murmured.

"Son, are you all right?"

Not a familiar voice, at least he didn't think so. Definitely not Sam, and Dean put everything he had left into making the world and his head stop spinning for a moment.

These eyes were blue and had crow's feet at the corners. Sam's looked blue in some light, and glowed with soft concern like these did, but Dean would know his brother's anywhere. Especially when his eyesight cleared enough to reveal the rest of the face: lined, pudgy, thinning black hair on top. "Son?"

"'M fine," he managed. "Sam?"

"That the guy who was using you as a punching bag? He just took off. Sorry, we tried to hold him for the cops—"

His mind was sluggish but that cleared it a little and Dean groaned. All they needed now was the police to get involved. Besides the fact of his record, they would never understand why Sam had nearly knocked his own brother unconscious. Dean wasn't completely sure he understood it.

His Good Samaritan was still fussing over him. "Just lie still there, and—"

"I'm okay," Dean said hoarsely, and pushed himself free of the guy's hands. Perhaps not the best idea; the world tilted again, and his stomach with it. Already choking, Dean leaned over and threw up dinner at the stranger's feet.

Well, never let it be said things couldn't get any worse.

"Son—"

"I'm okay," Dean said as forcefully as he could, which was a strong whisper. Considering his nose was inches from the gore-covered ground, it was a miracle if the guy even heard him. But Blue Eyes shut up, or maybe the ringing in Dean's ears just masked his response.

Dean pushed himself up in halting, painful inches, trying very hard not to rechristen the sidewalk or tip face-first onto it. Sam—the guy had said Sam took off. Not into the fire? But as Dean squinted at the flames, chest tight, the ring of awed and silent spectators around the blazing house was reassuring. There would have been more panic if Sam had rushed inside, not to mention having had to get past the audience. No, he'd taken off. After pummeling his brother into a bloody pulp.

A fire truck finally pulled up, firemen immediately jumping off and starting to unload their gear. A paramedic unit would be next, and then the cops, and a lot of questions and delays. He had to get out of there, find Sam, because Dean could only guess what was going through his little brother's mind right now, and none of it was good.

It took three attempts to gain his knees, where he paused, letting the scenery and his guts settle a little. His worried nursemaid, joined now by two women who also watched him anxiously, opened his mouth to say something else, but Dean's glare shut him up. Not now, he had to find Sam, get Sam someplace safe, make sure he was—oh, God, his head hurt. It felt swollen by half and pounded hotly with every heartbeat. Dean tasted blood at the back of his throat and spit into the grass, to the women's horrified fascination.

"Which way did he go?" he growled to Blue Eyes, climbing finally to his feet. He only swayed a little.

The man stared at him as if he weren't human. Which fit the way Dean felt. "Young man, you're in no condition to—"

"Which way?" He used the voice he didn't usually with civilians, the one that promised death and destruction, not necessarily in that order, if not obeyed. It rarely work with the nasties they faced down, but it made this guy blanch. He pointed mutely down the street.

Dean nodded, closed his eyes sickly at the resulting wave of pressure through his head, and stumbled past the guy toward the Impala.

At least his baby hadn't turned on him. The vinyl molded welcomingly to his body, and Dean resisted the urge to just sink into it and rest. Sharp pain beat a rhythm behind his eyes and his vision still hadn't completely cleared, and if he moved too fast, and his stomach threatened an encore show. Dean gave himself a minute, swallowing until it all became manageable, then stuck the key in the ignition. He turned the car and headed down the street the way the man had pointed.

This was getting to be a habit with Sam: at the house the night Dean had come back for him, with a skinwalker in Dean's skin, not long ago in Roosevelt Asylum. If he didn't know better, he would have suspected a serious case of fraternal discord hiding behind those unruly bangs. The thought that Sam had again been the one to escort him into the wonderful world of nausea and blistering headaches, wasn't one Dean wanted to dwell on. But he'd seen Sam's eyes, his expression. That wasn't his brother who'd attacked him, or at least it hadn't been Dean that Sam had attacked. He'd been someplace else entirely, seeing his girl burning to death and knowing only that something was stopping him from getting to her. Dean couldn't find it in himself to blame Sam for that.

But running off after? That troubled him more. Still crazy with loss? Or just overwhelmed by what he'd done? Dean wasn't crazy about either possibility. As much as he wished for a sane Sam, the thought of his brother knowingly leaving him there, bleeding on the sidewalk, wasn't the most comforting thought he'd had. Way to add insult to injury.

He'd just have to find Sam and ask him.

Between the dark and Dean's iffy eyesight, however, the search didn't go well. Dean followed the road down until it T'd into another, where he went first one way, then a few blocks down turned and went the other. On foot, even with those long legs and the spectre of Jessica's death chasing him, Sam still shouldn't have been able to get that far that fast. Had he turned off the street, cutting through yards? Or taken one of the little side roads? Stupid kid brothers, Dean cursed, thumping a fist on the steering wheel.

Oh, that had been a bad idea. With a heartfelt groan, he slammed the car into Park, leaned out the door, and threw up what little was left in his stomach.

It took a minute before he could lever himself up enough to drag his body back into the car and shut the door, and then Dean leaned against the cool glass and let himself drift. This was crazy. Sam was crazy. If he was out of his head, he could be anywhere, and Dean's meager strength was running out. He feebly cursed the demon, Sam, Jessica, and every other possible player in this story Dean could imagine, then lifted his unwieldy arm back to the steering wheel. He hated the fact, but Sam would just have to find himself this time. Dean didn't know what else he could do that didn't involve potentially serious traffic accidents or passing out on the street somewhere. Sam's head would clear eventually and he'd come home.

God, Please.

Dean crawled back to the motel with a slowness a ninety-year-old would have scoffed at. Even he wasn't stupid enough to speed when he was seeing double of everything, including the road. It took all his mental energy to make it even that far without drifting off the asphalt or through red lights, and when he finally cut the motor in front of the motel, Dean leaned his forehead against the steering wheel, not sure he had the strength to go any further. Now would have been a good time for Sam to make a belated appearance.

But no little brother showed up to lend him a shoulder, and with a sigh, Dean oozed out of the car.

The door was still locked, and jammed as he tried to stick his key in upside down. Dean slumped against the peeling wood while his bruised brain worked out the solution and finally got the lock open. He almost hit the ground as he swung inside with the door, then traded it out for the wall, heading directly for the bathroom. Already his little walk had upset his stomach again, and he wasn't about to throw up on the floor for the third time that night.

The pitch black of the bathroom at least eased the agonizing throb of his skull a little. Dean found the toilet by feel and, clasping it gratefully, bent over to heave up acid and spit.

Concussion, a swollen and no-doubt soon discolored face, revisiting that night's dinner, and no Sam. In all, it was turning out to be one of his lousier evenings. But as much as he was dying to blame Sam, the thought of what his brother was suffering quelled the resentment. Seeing someone you loved die again? If it had been Dean, watching Sam burn in his mind's eye, he probably would have done a lot more damage.

Still, it would have been nice if his brother's reflexes wouldn't have been quite so lethal. Blood started dripping again into Dean's eye from the cut above the brow, and he moaned queasily and sagged into the ceramic bowl again.

A hand curled around his forehead, supporting the weight of his heavy head, and another flattened warmly against his spasming stomach.

In the midst of heartfelt vomiting, it took a moment to register, and a moment more to realize no threat was going to support him through an incredibly disgusting bout of upchucking. Dean managed a brief smile in the midst of his misery. Sammy had come home.

Dean gave in to the nausea, letting it purge everything left inside him and leave him shaky and spent. It didn't matter now because those long arms drew him back like he knew they would and settled him gently against the bathroom wall. There was an image to keep up, not served well by letting his little brother handle him like a baby, but Dean figured the rules could cut him some slack when said little brother had left him in that shape in the first place. Penance or whatever. His pride was pretty much gone after being laid out by the kid.

Sam moved with quiet purpose in the dark room, running water, yanking the towel off the rack. A stir of air told Dean he was back just a second before a sweating glass was pushed into his hand. Dean was still figuring out what that was for when something cold and wet pressed against his gashed brow, making him hiss a breath in.

"Sorry," Sam whispered contritely.

For which part, Dean wanted to ask, except he didn't want to hurt back, not really. Not when he kept remembering Sam's flame-filled eyes. It was the third time he'd seen the hazel reflect a blaze like that, and hopefully the last. "It's okay," Dean said simply, knowing after all what Sam was really apologizing for. He took a sip of water to swish around his mouth and spit.

"Do we need to go to the hospital?" Sam sounded like it hurt to ask.

"No," Dean said without hesitation. He didn't want to go anywhere else, didn't want to be separated from Sam again. Besides, unfortunately, he already knew what a simple concussion felt like.

He could feel Sam's gaze on him. "Can you hold this here a minute?" his brother finally asked, hesitant, hand oh-so-carefully lifting Dean's up to the wet washcloth. Then Dean traced him by sound and the bare outline in the darkness as Sam strode out of the bathroom, returning not ten seconds later. Dean recognized the metallic clunk of the first aid kit's latch, and leaned back against the wall with resignation.

"Where were you?" he finally rasped, his throat raw from vomiting. He asked less because he felt like talking and more because even half-asleep, Dean knew this would probably be the only time he would get some answers from Sam, while the guilt was still fresh.

There was a long pause. "I don't know. I just…ran." Dean heard him stop moving. "I thought—"

Here it came. "I know, Sam," Dean said without hesitation. "I figured you weren't that mad at me for short-sheeting you the other day," he added whimsically, knowing it probably wouldn't be enough. Still, there was a tiny relief in him that Sam hadn't knowingly left him there half-conscious.

"Dean." A pained murmur from a man for whom that seemed to be the status quo these days, and didn't he realize Dean would have done anything to change that? Forgiven anything?

"Sam—" Dean began uneasily, not knowing what to say to ease the burden.

"I didn't…I didn't realize until later…It took me a while to find my way back, and by then you were gone and this guy was yelling at me that I'd almost killed you, and I couldn't…"

Bear another loss—yeah, Dean thought. He knew. Every time Sam was in danger, hurt, or even out of sight for too long, he knew that feeling well. At least Sam had come back, and that made up for a lot. Even Blue Eyes had been all right, Dean's mouth curled involuntarily, besides the fact he'd scared Sam even more. "Sammy, don't," he said instead, because it seemed to be what Sam needed to hear. They could joke about the guy later when the damage wasn't fresh. "I get it. It's okay."

Sam started moving again. "Close your eyes," he said softly, his broad hand covering Dean's forehead and eyelids. Dean could still see the bright light of the bathroom leak in around the edges as Sam flicked it on, and squeezed his eyes shut against it. Sam let him go and peeled the washcloth away, pressing dry gauze in its place. "I think butterfly bandages will be enough," he said.

Dean didn't answer, resting there as Sam doctored him, tending to the gash, then going out for some ice that he wrapped in the washcloth and settled against Dean's swelling eye. Careful fingers felt his scalp for any other damage. Then slipped down to his chest to rest there a moment, where he'd shot Dean just a few weeks before. Dean let him take what he needed, knowing all about the rituals of self-reassurance. Of apology and remorse.

And forgiveness. Dean shifted, feeling Sam's hand drop away, but he found his brother's knee instead and patted it.

"You could clean my car."

A beat. Then a confused, "What?"

"My car. Hasn't been vacuumed in a while. You know, since I'm gonna be laid up for a day or two."

"Are you serious?" Sam laughed disbelievingly. "I beat you to a pulp and you want me to make it up to you by vacuuming your car?"

"Who said anything about making it up to me?" Dean said with just a touch of outrage. "I just said you could clean my car. You know, if you wanted to."

Sam groaned, laughed again, weakly. "Oh, God. You're a piece of work, man, you know that?"

"Well,yeah." His head was about to split open, but Dean somehow felt better.

Sam moved around him again, and was soon folding some pills into his hand. He waited until Dean swallowed, then hooked an arm under his to ease him to his feet. "I'm not cleaning the car, Dean."

"Sa-am."

The light went out again, bathing Dean in the relief of darkness, and he pried his eyes open as Sam helped him out of the bathroom. They traversed the obstacle course of clothing on the floor with the sure step of seasoned hunters. "Forget it. You're never satisfied with how I do it, anyway."

Dean snorted softly, unable to argue that. He only leaned a little on Sam, but let him lead. "Laundry?" he asked.

"As your brother, I'd take a bullet for you, but I'm not doing your laundry."

Sam's hands gently eased him down on the bed, then back. Dean breathed out long and slow as his boots were loosened and pulled off. He heard thethunk of each as it hit the ground. "Let it go?" he asked in the same light, if winded, tone.

Sam paused again, staring at him in the darkness for a few seconds before wrestling covers over him. "Maybe," he said more mutedly.

"Or get me a date with that waitress at the lunch counter who likes you. That would go a long way." Being horizontal immediately seemed to short-circuit something in his brain, making thinking, let alone talking, suddenly a serious challenge, but Dean tenaciously hung on a little longer.

He hadn't heard Sam leave this time, just startled at the washcloth on his forehead. It wasn't as cold as the icepack, but between the two they soothed the sharp throb of his head to a merely aching one. "Dude, I'm not gonna pimp for you," Sam said, and this time Dean could hear his smile.

No, just stay up with him that night in case the headache got worse or the nausea returned, and keep a closer eye than usual on him the next few days. That was besides the standard fraternal services of watching his back, keeping him entertained, and maintaining a sharp eye on his health. And he thought Dean was protective.

The other bed creaked under Sam's weight. "Seriously, man…I'm sorry."

Dean was losing the fight to sleep, darn it, because Sam still sounded a little unsteady. "Get us some pancakes for breakfast," he slurred, a final offer. It elicited a soft laugh, like permission for him to drift off, and Dean barely heard the acceptance that followed.

"Okay, Dean."

The End