K Hanna Korossy
It took him a little while to figure out it was a rooster. Didn't help that the thing wavered and shook like it was underwater.
Sam's brow puckered. Maybe he was underwater. The notion troubled him enough to ask.
"Hey, Dean?" Because that was whom he always asked.
Movement behind him, the bow of the bed under weight. It rolled him onto his back in a floppy, loose kind of way that made him snicker.
"Sam? You really awake now, or is this another crazy-talk time?"
Sam peered at him. Dean looked kind of underwater, too, bright and shimmery. "I don't know," he said carefully.
Dean rubbed a hand over his blurry face. "Well, that's more sense than you've made the last two days." His fingers were a cool swipe across Sam's forehead.
He closed his eyes with a sigh.
"Yeah, I think you've still got a ways to go, kiddo."
Right, like out of the water. It was too cold there. Wet and evil-eyed and dangerous. "La llorona," Sam murmured.
A snort. "Who knew you were young enough for bait? Seriously. Ten-foot tall kid…" The muttering tapered off as the fingers disappeared and a warm blanket was pulled over him instead.
The last thing he remembered was blue and wet. Now there were red roosters on the wall. "Where're…?" Sam forgot his question mid-asking and yawned instead. That seemed just as important.
Dean's laugh sounded distant. "Dude, go back to sleep. You trying to make sense with a fever is just sad."
Sam didn't have a better idea, so he obeyed.
The next time he was aware of anything, it was lemon-yellow roses on the wallpaper.
It would have been like waking up, if he'd been asleep.
Dean was talking, rambling in the way Sam knew automatically was just trying to fill the silence. His voice sounded tired and…just tired,like Sam felt.
"Wait, what?" he interjected softly, because somehow it felt important that he listen.
Dean straightened, hand falling away from his chin. Blinked at Sam as if he'd just appeared out of nothing across from him in the diner booth, and Sam felt like it, too. "What?"
"What did you…?" But it wasn't the words that were important, it was the listening. He glanced around, taking in wooden walls and a moose head over a bar and a Winchester rifle mounted above the counter. "Where are we?"
Dean chuckled, a sound of disbelief. "Bandera, Texas. Cowboy capital of the country. 'Least, that's where I am. Don't know about you, man."
There was food in front of Sam, a BLT and onion rings and a root beer he couldn't remember ordering, but as he picked up the sandwich and took a bite, it tasted good. It tasted like he hadn't eaten in a long time.
Dean was watching him, vague hope stirring in his eyes. He looked tired, too, eyes rimmed and face unshaven. "Headache better?" he asked a little too carefully.
Sam had to think for a moment. Oh, yeah. He'd been so nauseated after…after the last one. The one the girl had died in. He'd barely felt Dean bundle him into the car following the exorcism, didn't remember any of the drive after. Not until…
Sam glanced at his watch, shivered at the sight of the date. And Seattle was a long way from Texas. He looked up at Dean again, softening under the knowledge of what the last few days must have been like.
"You sure?" Dean was appraising him now, like he wasn't quite ready to believe Sam was for real. "'Cause I think you said that back in Utah, too."
He took another bite, a big one, followed by a swig of darn good root beer, and gave Dean a pointed look.
Dean's shoulders went down a full inch. "Yeah, you're good," he said, and it was supposed to be teasing but it wasn't.
Sam grinned at him, showing off a mouthful of masticated food, and was inordinately pleased when Dean horked up coffee through his nose.
He roused to darkness and a heartbeat. To cold and aching knees that dug into the ground. To the smell of fresh-turned dirt, and Dean.
Sam turned his head lethargically, swollen eyes brushing flannel and buttons. He was leaning against Dean, and over his brother's shoulder he could see a grave.
Oh. Right. Sam shivered and closed his eyes again, glad he wasn't waking where he must have dozed off.
The arm—the arm and a jacket—tightened around him with the creak of leather as another, unfamiliar voice intruded.
"Everything all right here?"
Cop, Sam identified vaguely, and ceased to care.
"Yes, sir," Dean said, voice respectful, his version of not caring. "Just kinda got rough, visiting a friend."
"I'm sorry, but, well, better start packing up, boys—gates close in fifteen minutes."
"Yes, sir," Dean repeated, then muttered something far less polite under his breath as footsteps retreated. He shifted. "You with me, Sam?"
Sam pushed away from him tiredly, delayed embarrassment flushing his cheeks. "No," he said, looking again at the grave. She smiled back at him. Six months, and he could still hear her, feel her.
"Tough, dude—we need to go." Dean pulled him to his feet not unkindly. "They kinda frown on people sleeping on graves, man." He steadied Sam, drew his gaze to him with a hand cupping his chin. "Sammy?"
He blinked. "She never called me that."
"Yeah, well…she's not me."
"No." Sam smiled wanly. "Lot better looking."
Dean snorted as he turned Sam toward the car and gently prodded him, one hand between his shoulder blades. "I'm gonna let you have that one because you look so pathetic."
"I want to go home." It did sound pathetic, but he wanted the car and the music and Dean next to him, to fall asleep and wake up someplace far from here even though he'd been the one to ask to come.
Dean's other hand came up to pat his chest. "Almost there, bro."
Sam glanced back at the grave, saw the faint imprint of his knees still in the dirt. Six months today. It didn't seem a fair way to spend a birthday.
The cupcake with a match stuck in it that Dean dug up for him at the Nevada truck stop, however, helped more than Sam would have thought.
Cassie and Jess were conspiring. Something about Matzo balls. Sarah would be mad. She wasn't even Jewish.
That was when Dean walked in, dressed like a clown.
Sam jerked awake, arms and legs splaying against car seat and floorboards in a startle reflex.
Seeing as Sam's arms were long and the Impala wasn't that wide, the back of his hand smacked into Dean's arm. The car didn't even wobble.
"Bad dream?" Dean asked mildly.
Sam blinked a few times, rubbed his eyes. "Yeah," he said, clearing his throat when the words came out froggy.
Dean passed a water bottle over, examining him from the corner of his eye. "Really bad?"
Sam yawned, shaking himself like a dog before realizing with chagrin that was Dean's habit. His brain caught up to the conversation the next moment, and Dean's tone. Oh, well, not like he had a lot pride left. "You were doing a Ronald McDonald impersonation."
That earned a startled laugh. "Me, a clown? No way—I don't do make-up."
"Cassie and Jess seemed to like it."
Dean's eyebrows were as high as Sam had ever seen them as his brother glanced back and forth between car and passenger. "Dude, what kind of messed-up place is the inside of your head?"
Sam sighed. "Tell me about it." But Dean looked entertained, not worried, and that was worth a little ribbing. Sam idly turned his attention outside, and felt his own brows climb as he took in the scenery. "Where are we?"
"You're kidding." Which would explain why there were mountains now instead of the open land they'd been crossing seemingly minutes ago.
"Yeah, Sam, I always pull your leg about where we are. Figure if I get you confused enough, I can lose you at some truck stop in the middle of nowhere."
Sam's lips pressed together. "So says the guy who misplaced the whole state of Connecticut once."
"Hey, those stupid Northeastern states all look the same."
"Uh-huh," he said with the annoying little-brother tone he'd worked hard to perfect over the years.
While Dean had been building his collection of creative curses, of which he pulled out a sample now.
Sam snorted. "Dude, do you know anything about human anatomy?"
He read it somewhere, in an editorial or something in one of the thousands of newspapers he'd flipped through in his life. Hadn't given it much thought then because it was about kids and it was kinda ridiculous. But still. He sort of liked the idea that kids believed anything was possible in a world where they sometimes woke up in a totally different place than they'd fallen asleep.
Of course, that pretty much defined the Winchester way of life. And there wasn't a lot out there that Sam didn't believe in, much of it from personal experience.
Another thing he knew was pain, an intimate, deep acquaintance with the matter. It told him almost right away upon waking that something was wrong, something more than just a few bruises.
Instinct poked him like a sharp stick, shutting him up when his mouth opened to summon his brother, and instead Sam opened his eyes, assessing the room, the situation.
Dean was sprawled on his stomach across the other bed in all his mud-spattered, blood-encrusted glory, head turned toward Sam and mouth open in a soundless snore. He was breathing easily—exhausted, not injured—and there was a little patch of wet on the sheet around his mouth.
Sam grinned at the sight, then focused on his own self-assessment. Jagged pain of ribs and breathing, duller aches in his shoulder and leg and head. His right thigh was bandaged, and stitches pulled somewhere in his hairline. It must've been one heckuva battle they'd fought. Too bad he couldn't remember any of it. Well, it wasn't anything that should keep him from relieving his bladder.
So…getting up without waking his brother. Dean might've been dead to the world, but he had a sixth sense where Sam was concerned, one that didn't sleep. Maternal instinct, Sam had mocked him once, except it was a little too close to the truth. But Dean looked like he needed the sleep, and Sam pushed himself up with weary, panting shoves.
A card by the bed welcomed them to LaCrosse, Indiana. The last state Sam could recall was Arkansas.
He made it to the bathroom and back like an old man, tottering and bent, just wheezing down on the bed when Dean mumbled, "Fever, bleeding, dizziness?"
"No, no, and…a little." He felt like an old geezer, too. One that had just run a marathon. Up a mountain. "I'm okay, man—go back to sleep."
Dean hadn't moved an inch, hadn't even cracked an eye. "Not too long," he slurred. "Raised some red flags on this one."
"Mmm." Sam eased himself down, holding his breath. He was too tired to even pull the blankets over himself again, but grimaced when Dean grunted and rose, shuffling over to do it while sticking a water bottle in Sam's hand. He took a sip, swished it around. "Red flags?"
"Yeah. Witnesses, that cop, remember?" Dean flopped back down on his bed with a happy groan and was asleep before Sam could assemble an answer.
He didn't, actually, but whatever. Sam just figured next time he woke, there'd be desert outside the window.
There just wasn't enough air in the car sometimes.
The walls, life, destiny closing in on him.
"Hey, Hair Bear."
Sam's head shot up to stare at Dean. Dean, who was standing beside his open door. Sam hadn't even realized they'd stopped moving.
The corner of his brother's mouth lifted, oddly gentle. "You back?"
"Back?" Sam peered around, frowning in confusion when he realized they were parked in a strip mall parking lot. "What…?"
"Here." An arm hooked under his and towed him to his feet before Sam could shrug away. Dean shoved the door shut behind him. "You used to love doing this as a kid."
Sam's bewilderment grew as Dean nudged him toward the stores. One in particular, a small pet shop. The place was straight out of Norman Rockwell, down to the retriever puppies in the front window. "Dean, wha—"
But Dean ignored him completely as they went inside, finding a girl in a smock and cornering her with a smile. Sam rolled his eyes, glancing around the store with little interest.
Next thing he knew, the girl was piling something in his hands. Something warm and squirmy and soft, and determined to lick his chin.
Sam sputtered, maybe said his brother's name. But Dean didn't look to be in a hurry to come to the rescue. He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed, looking as satisfied as if the girl had dropped something warm and soft in his lap.
Sam opened his mouth to protest again, and found the puppy licking at the corners, trying to reach his nose, his cheek. Sam pulled the small, wriggling body farther from his face, but the dog only whined its disappointment at the lack of contact.
He melted. Chocolate in the sun, just as he knew Dean knew he would. Smug jerk.
The puppy explored the insides of Sam's jacket, under his bangs, the shell of his ear. He couldn't help smile at the antics. "Hey, there," Sam whispered. "You're pretty fearless, huh?"
A sandpaper tongue licked at his neck, followed by a damp nose, and Sam laughed. When he crouched to put the animal down, it attacked his shoes with relish, tumbling over his sneakers and tangling in the laces.
He remembered this now, the impromptu stops at the local pet store when he was a kid. Dean would always solemnly warn him beforehand that they couldn't take one home, and it did hurt to leave those playful balls of fur behind. But Sam could never remember walking out of the store unhappy. Puppy therapy had always worked.
Until, as an angry teen, he'd flat-out refused to go and play and feel better anymore.
Sam corralled the puppy on the floor, plucking chewables out of its way, rubbing its tummy whenever it fell over. Its energy eventually ran down, and with a yawn, it settled against his shoe and began to doze. Sam picked it up again, cradling it in one hand. It gave a sleepy whimper of protest as Sam lowered it back into the pen with its siblings.
"Sorry, fella," he stroked its head with two fingers, "you're going home with someone else."
Dean was checking out leashes when Sam tracked him down in the back of the store.
"For anyone you know?"
"I've got this little brother who keeps wandering off into trouble…," Dean mused.
Sam smacked him. Dean just laughed and led them outside.
On the way back to the car, Sam rubbed the back of his head and tried to think of how to say thank you without embarrassing them both.
"Don't give up, Sam."
He stopped dead. The sky pressed down a little on him again, the air thinning.
Dean was turned away from him, examining his keys. "All right? Just…we'll figure this out," he promised softly. "We will."
Sam swallowed, nodding. The pressure eased, the sun returning. He rubbed his hand, still damp from puppy licks, absently against his jeans and started moving again, pulling up alongside Dean, their shoulders brushing. Sam took a deep breath, noticing the smell of salt tang in the air for the first time. He looked around.
"Dean…where are we?"
Dean just grinned at him like he'd pulled off the best trick ever.
But then, Sam thought, his brother always had been able to do anything.