Still a Superhero
K Hanna Korossy

"Dean, we've been out here for two hours and we haven't seen a thing. This is a wild goose chase."

His brother had been ignoring Sam's increasingly frustrated complaints for the second half of those two hours, but this time he looked back at Sam. "We've got three witnesses, all respectable people, all probably not high or drunk, Sam. They saw something out here."

"Yeah," he shifted the shotgun from one hand to the next, "a bear or a big dog or something."

"There aren't any bears in this area, and dogs don't maul other dogs like that," Dean answered absently, still scanning the trees and terrain around them.

Sam was doing the same, although with decreasing hope of any luck. The snowy Connecticut countryside was still and quiet, and sound carried long distances even amongst the trees. They hadn't heard anything unusual since they'd gotten out there, however, nor seen tracks in the fresh snow, and Sam, for one, was cold and hungry and more than a little ready to write this off as a product of imagination and hysteria.

Dean motioned silently to the left with his own gun, and Sam swallowed a sigh and obeyed, splitting off to check a copse of closely grown trees. He jumped, startled, when a small flock of some sort of ground bird broke cover and fluttered past him, but otherwise there was no bigfoot, apeman, or even the infamous Winsted Wildman, although they were a little too far south for that one.

"Dean," he complained, shotgun sagging. "There's nothing here. Why did you get to pick this one, anyway?"

Dean's arm dropped and he turned in exasperation. "Because I'm the older brother, okay? Now can we can the whining and get down to business here?"

"What business? The only thing we're going to hunt here is squirrels and birds, Dean. Just because you're the older one doesn't mean you're the boss—we pick jobs together, remember?"

He had finally kindled something in his brother's eyes. "Yeah, and that means paying attention to each other's instincts, Sam. I told you, this one feels right to me. There's something out here."

"Yeah," Sam muttered, "trees and maple syrup."

The devil-may-care casualness was back in a hitch of Dean's shoulders. "'Least we'll have a good pancake breakfast before we go."

Sam almost smiled before he caught himself.

They went on, searching for any trace of their quarry, or even that their quarry existed. Dean wasn't looking at him when he spoke up again. "Used to be a time when whatever I said was law."

"Used to be a time when I wore Batman pajamas with feet, Dean," Sam shot back easily, although the impatience that crawled along his back had eased a little. He forgot sometimes, in the drive to find Dad and the thing that killed Jess and their mother, that he actually enjoyed just hanging out with his brother. That hunts could be enjoyable whether they bagged something or not, because of the company. That once… Sam's mouth quirked. "Of course your word was law—I used to think you were a superhero."

Dean grinned back at him. "Still am, Sammy."

"Oh, right—Captain Suave. Hey, didn't you strike out with that—"

"Hunting here, Sam," came the quick rejoinder.

Sam smiled again, and returned to scanning the trees.

Another half-hour, and he could no longer feel his toes. Dean was wearing boots, but all Sam had were sneakers—there hadn't been much call for boots in Cali—and while the snow wasn't deep, the cold had soaked through. Sam had just opened his mouth to make another plea for going back, invoking, if necessary, the right of little brothers everywhere to pout, when a scraping sound to one side had both his and Dean's head swiveling to find the source.

It was on them almost before Sam knew it.

The creamy fur blended into the scenery, and he only caught a flash of the tall, sinewy creature as it attacked, hurtling toward Dean. Which instantly put it on Sam's list of least favorite things, and he raised the shotgun, aimed, and fired in one smooth motion. Dean had already done the same.

The creature moved fast. Sam's shot missed it completely, Dean's only winging it. With a howl of rage, it changed course, heading for Sam. Even as Sam reaimed, one hairy paw slammed into him and sent him tumbling, while Dean yelled something in the distance. Sam tucked into the fall as he heard Dean's shotgun go off again.

He hadn't even realized they'd been at the edge of an incline until he was rolling down it. The snow cushioned his path, and Sam had just enough time to think this wasn't so bad, before he smacked into something unyielding, and pain flared across a dozen points on his body. He lurched to a stop, and lay panting, trying to figure out what had happened.

The line of black across his vision, stark against the colorless sky, gave him his first clue.

Sam groaned, lifting one hand to brush away the branch or whatever it was, only to find his arm could barely move. Worse, the motion caused what he was tangled in to tighten in coils around his torso and arms, and more sharp little stabs of pain came to life. Something pulled snug against his throat, and blood trickled down the exposed skin from a gouge next to his Adam's apple. Sam swallowed gingerly, and tried not to be sick at the realization of what he'd gotten himself into. An old fence, its snarl of barb wire now twisted around his body.

The shotgun fired again somewhere to his right, and Sam's head automatically jerked toward the noise. The wire on his neck tightened even further, biting into the soft skin, and he suppressed another moan. Staying still: sounded like a plan. Even an involuntary shiver of reaction dug the barbs deeper into his chest, back, and arms, until he could feel the seeping warmth of blood from his torn skin. Dean would be right there; he'd get it off. Hopefully before the claustrophobia became unbearable.

"Sam!" The call came from the general direction of the last shotgun blast. Only Sam's eyes darted that way now, and he gulped again, trying to figure out if he dared call back.

"Dean." It was less a cry than spoken word, but it was all he could manage, barbs digging cruelly into his chest even from pulling in air to say that much. Sam was counting on the quiet woods to carry the sound.

Either it did or Dean's radar for his little brother was working just fine, because Dean crashed into sight a half-minute later. Sam couldn't help the shiver of relief, winced at the resulting pain, and tried not to look as ridiculously vulnerable as he felt.

"Dean, man." It was hard not to wriggle in his frustration. "Help."

That was probably about the most unnecessary thing he'd said in his life; Dean was already dropping to one knee next to Sam, a furrow of concern on his brow, actual fear lurking deeper in his eyes where he probably didn't think Sam could see it. "Geez, Sammy, leave it to you to find the only fence around for miles." One hand was already tracing a coil of wire, still not daring to lift or pull. "I've heard of getting wrapped up in your work…"

"Dean," he begged, swallowing automatically as the wire at his throat protested his talking.

Even the reflexive humor vanished from his brother's face. "Yeah. Sorry. Okay, I'm gonna try something." And before Sam could even nod, Dean carefully lifted and pulled at a length of wire circling Sam's abdomen.

The wire across his chest constricted, tearing at his chest and biceps. Sam lurched involuntarily, making everything still worse, and choked on a cry.

Dean was cursing. "Sorry, sorry. Take it easy, Sam." There was a cool hand on his suddenly sweaty forehead. "Okay, uh…listen, I'm gonna have to go back to the car to get the bolt cutters, okay? The creature's fried—I'll be back in a few minutes. Try not to move."

Sam tamped down the automatic panic at the thought of being left alone like this, and forced his tearing eyes to open. "All right," he whispered.

Dean's gaze had cleared to an earnest green. "I'll be right back, Sam. Just hang in there." The hand had moved down to his shoulder, squeezing gently. He didn't want to leave any more than Sam wanted him to go.

Which was his cue to put on his brave face and say he'd be okay and that Dean should just go. Instead, he heard himself murmur a desperate, "Hurry," expression crumbling.

Dean nodded, patting his shoulder. He slid something cold and heavy into Sam's hand—the shotgun he'd lost in his fall—and then Dean was gone, flying back the way he came.

Silence fell again, broken only by Sam's ragged breathing.

He tried to figure out how far they were from the car. They'd been working in a loose grid to cover the patch of woods the sightings had been in—and the fact Dean had been right about the creature wasn't something Sam was going to think about just then—so they'd never been more than a half-hour from the Impala. Sam tried to remember if they were currently in a closer or farther section of the grid and couldn't. Or couldn't think clearly enough to work it out. It was hard to concentrate practically hog-tied, with a garrote against your throat. Sam lifted his chin a little, trying to ease the pressure on his throat, but only succeeded in letting the wire slide further up, settling like a noose against his windpipe, the barb tearing his skin as it moved. Snow was melting down his collar, and soon he wouldn't be able to stop the shivers that already threatened. Hurry up, Dean. Then he switched to praying, pleading with someone who could actually hear him.

There was a soft crunch of footsteps in the direction Dean had disappeared in.

Sam had no hope of turning his head now to look, and even as he craned, his eyes could only see so far to one side. "Dean?" he called in a voice little more than a whisper. But no one answered. And the steps were too leisurely to be Dean's.

Sam tried to swallow rising fear, and his fingers curled around the trigger guard of the shotgun.

There was a soft snuffle. Then a growl. And a flash of cream-colored fur.

Dean had killed the creature, which meant either the thing couldn't be killed by regular bullets…or there were two. Mate, sibling; it was bound to be ticked they'd shot the other one. Sam's finger slipped in to rest against the trigger.

The footsteps suddenly sped up, grew louder.

Sam raised the shotgun, heedless of the pain, and propped it against his hip. He fired as soon as fur was in his line of sight, and heard an answering yelp. Sam tried to cock the gun for a second shot, but he didn't have enough room to maneuver, and he was already paying for his actions.

The wire was now lines of fire across his chest, and unyielding against this throat. Sam tried to draw in breath, and panicked when it didn't seem to help the spots forming in his vision. Nothing left to lose, he struggled against the wire that held him, trying to loosen the noose around his throat, but the embedded barbs kept the wire from doing anything but digging in deeper. Sam flailed in desperation, no longer feeling the burning pain nor hearing the creature, intent now only on air.

A flash of movement to his side provided a moment's distraction, and even his fogged mind registered that the creature didn't wear brown and denim blue. The shotgun blast sounded distant and tinny. Sam's vision greyed, his frantic motions stilling.

Then something metal and heavy moved at his throat, and the next thing he knew, air was pushing its way in, making him cough as it filled collapsed passages and expanded his tight chest.

A hand pressed his chest with far more gentleness than the wire, keeping him from moving. "Hold still, Sam," came his brother's clipped order, "I'll have you free in a minute." As Sam automatically obeyed, he heard a hard snip, felt the restraint across his chest loosen. One more snip, and Dean was easing barbs free of his clothes and flesh. Sam just concentrated on filling his lungs as Dean cut and gently untangled a few more lengths from his arms, belly, and hair, one he hadn't even felt around his legs, and another that had hung ominously close to his cheek and eye. The barbs left stabs of pain and welling blood in their wake, but Sam was too grateful to have them gone to care much.

Dean slid an arm under his shoulders and lifted Sam to lean against him while he worked free the wire digging into Sam's back. One particularly deep one made Sam hiss as it came loose, and Dean grew even more careful, coaxing barbs out of skin and muscle with a minimum of damage. Sam didn't really start breathing again until the last wire was gone, flung to the side in the only betrayal of Dean's anger, and his brother was rubbing up and down Sam's arms, trying to warm him and stave off shock.

"How you doing—you okay?"

"Getting there," Sam stuttered, closing his eyes and taking stock. He hurt all over, but nothing deep or serious.

"Dude, you look like you were attacked by a porcupine."

Sam huffed a laugh, and reached up to rub his sore neck when it protested.

Dean intercepted his hand halfway up and lightly pushed it back down. "Don't mess with it, Sam—we'll get you cleaned up at the motel. Can you walk?"

"Yeah." But he let Dean pull him to his feet, holding him by the arms while Sam rode out the dizziness. Then it was just a hand under his elbow and forearm as they made their way back to the car. Every step seemed to take unusual effort and the cold air made the open wounds sting. When Dean started talking halfway back about pancakes and the unnaturalness of flavored syrup in a lame and obvious effort to distract him, Sam gratefully latched onto the diversion, listening without really hearing.

He was a little hazy by the time they reached the car and Dean carefully slid him inside. Sam had to focus on the water bottle his brother shoved into his hand and made him drain. "Try not to bleed too much on the seats," came the dry admonition, and Sam did smile at that. He hummed a little to the music when it came on, earning him a hand on the forehead checking for fever, but Sam only felt lightheaded, not ill. At least, not until the car started moving, and his stomach lurched.

"Dean," he gasped, one hand at his abdomen, the other over his mouth.

The Impala screeched to a halt again. Sam leaned out the door and threw up, tasting the blood that dampened his clothes, feeling Dean's arm around his waist alongside his own, not letting him fall out of the car. Not letting him go as Sam's stomach emptied and he subsided with a groan.

"'M okay."

"Yeah, you look great." Dean reeled him back in, handed him a tissue, and wrapped him belatedly in a blanket. It shouldn't have helped, but it made Sam's stomach settle and his head clear a little.

The car started up again, and Sam watched the snowy scenery roll by. He just felt tired and achy now, small lances of pain only coming to life when the car hit a rough patch.

Dean hovered silently during the short walk from the car to their room. He threw the keys on the table, helped Sam shrug out of his jacket, then nodded at the bathroom. "Hit the shower, Sam." It sounded brisk, impatient, but Sam knew better. Dean hadn't stopped watching him since they'd left the woods.

For once, they were in total agreement. Even though the hot water stung and burned against his torn skin, Sam stood willingly under the spray, watching the pink water swirl away and letting the heat seep into his bones. Thinking about close calls and Dean's perfect timing and good instincts. Maybe there was something to the older brother mythos; Sam had certainly once thought so. Growing up and realizing Dean wasn't perfect or immortal or even always right had done more damage than it should have. Sam had grown up a lot since then, too.

A fist banged on the bathroom door. "You fall asleep in there, Sammy?"

Sam snorted softly. "Almost done," he called back.

"Super. Hurry up."

He climbed out of the shower on rubbery legs, unsurprised to see his bloody clothes were gone. Usually Dean left him something to take their place, but today Sam had only his towel; Dean wasn't done with the nursemaiding. Sam couldn't find it in himself to be annoyed when even the cotton skimming over broken skin made him wince and bite his lip.

The first aid kit sat open on Sam's bed. Dean was fiddling with the coffeemaker in one corner, but he ran an assessing gaze over Sam as he came out of the bathroom, eyes hardening a little at the still-seeping rips. Sam sighed, knowing the drill, and lay back on his bed, left arm over his eyes. Dean silently went to work on his neck, stomach, chest, and other arm, disinfecting and bandaging, before gently pulling the left arm down to have its turn. Then he nudged Sam onto his side to get at his back. The antibiotic cream had a topical anesthetic in it, and Sam felt himself relax as the pain numbed.

"Most of them didn't go too deep—I don't think it's gonna scar," Dean finally offered, helping him ease into a shirt, then leaving him to handle the boxers while Dean put supplies away.

"Great," Sam said wearily.

"Good thing you've got your tetanus, though. The fence was pretty rusty."

They never did let their tetanus shots expire, not in their line of work. "I didn't get a look at it."

Dean glanced over at him, sober. "Well, believe me. That thing was nasty—someone should've taken it down a long time ago. You were lucky it didn't get you worse."

"I was lucky you came back before that…thing took a bite out of me."

"Yeah, who knew they traveled in pairs?"

"We don't even know what they were."

"Hey," Dean shrugged, "long as they can be killed, who cares?"

Sam laughed. "Yeah, I guess." He curled wincingly on his side, watched Dean finish with the first aid kit. "You were right, by the way."

"I'm always right," Dean said without hesitation, then gave him a curious look. "About what this time?"

"There being something out there. I thought we were snipe hunting."

Another shrug. "Maybe. I don't know, it just felt like it was our kind of job."

"Instincts," Sam said.

"Probably. I've been hunting a few years longer than you." Only a sideways slide of the eyes accompanied that statement. He wasn't trying to rub in the three years Sam had spent at Stanford and Sam knew it. It was just a fact.

He gave Dean a wan smile. "Big brother's always right, huh?"

Dean pointed a roll of gauze at him. "Don't you forget it." He closed the kit and stuffed it into one of the duffels, then went into the bathroom for a glass of water. "Drink up. Gotta replace those fluids."

"Yeah, I know." Sam pushed himself up carefully on one elbow to take the glass, Dean watching him like a mother bird with a particularly wobbly chick. He couldn't exactly argue the analogy, easing back down to the mattress with painful lurches.

Dean refilled the glass and left it on the nightstand, then puttered around the room, keeping an eye on Sam without looking like it. The attention might have amused him if he hadn't been so busy trying uselessly to find a comfortable position. He barely noticed when Dean cleared his throat. "You want some pancakes?"

"Uh, not right now," Sam answered distractedly. Man, that barb wire had gotten him everywhere. He couldn't lie in any way that didn't press on fresh injuries. Sam finally gave up and pushed himself up, leaning gingerly forward against his half-bent legs. It wasn't very comfortable but at least it wasn't painful.

"Painkillers?" Dean offered, gravitating a little closer.

"No, my stomach's still kinda upset."

Dean chewed on that, tilted his head to one side. "When I was cleaning out the trunk the other day, I found that box of pictures Jenny gave us from the house. You want to see them?"

Sam looked up at him in surprise. "I forgot about those." It had taken him a few days to recover from the poltergeist attack in their old house, and the one or two times the pictures had come up, Dean had been evasive and uncomfortable. Sam had finally let the matter drop and hadn't thought about it since.

"So…is that a yes, or Sam-speak for 'shut up and let me rest'?"

He grinned. "Yeah, that would be cool."

Dean nodded, and grabbed his keys on the way out the door.

The pictures wouldn't mean much without explanation from Dean, and Sam knew the offer of one meant an offer of the other. And how huge an offer it was. Their mom was still a painful topic for Dean and one he didn't often broach, not even for his little brother. But his little brother in pain…

Sam smiled fondly as Dean came back inside, box in hand. For all the competitiveness and disagreements and practical jokes, Dean still usually was his hero.

Dean sat on the edge of the bed, pushing Sam over to make room for him. "Okay, here. But you start getting all sappy on me or wanna hug or something and, recovering or not, you're getting shoved off the bed."

Sam started laughing, wincing as he did.

Well, a hero more or less, anyway.

The End