The Bed By the Door
K Hanna Korossy
He startled awake, groaning when his head thunked down just as quickly into what felt like mud and—ow!—maybe blood.
Dean rolled sluggishly onto his side, wet leaves plastering themselves to his face. He ached all over in that vague way he usually did after being knocked around on a difficult hunt. Nothing was threateningly sharp except for the occasional bolt through his head or— He hissed as he pushed himself upright. Okay, right knee wasn't too happy, either. Still, not too bad considering he had no recollection of what he'd been hunting or how he'd gotten there.
Dean reached up to gingerly feel the back of his head. It was wet, but as his fingers brushed over raised flesh, it was warm, thick. He let his eyes drop shut, his head slump forward. "Super." This just got better and better.
He bit back a groan as he climbed to his feet, not knowing what was around to hear him. If he hadn't killed whatever it was, well, it wasn't like he had back-up to do it for him. Dad barely checked in these days, let alone crossed paths with him, and Sam… Sam was off having his normal life. That hurt as much as it made Dean proud, especially since he and Sam had pretty much stopped talking, and he thought as little about his brother as possible now.
Still, some back-up would've been nice.
"So," Dean muttered to himself as he stood and found his balance. Beretta on the leaves by his feet. No shotgun. Holy water in his pocket, but that was always there. Another pocket held a handful of iron rounds. Weapons against a hundred different creatures. "Well, that narrows it down," Dean drawled.
A glance around revealed some footprints: his own. Dean bent over to take a closer look, and nearly took a nosedive into the ground. "Smooth, Dean," he whispered, wiping fresh perspiration off his face. It was definitely his boot impressions in the soft ground, and he grabbed the Beretta and followed the prints with heavily limping steps, leaning against brush for support.
Didn't take long to trace them back to what mattered. A dead bunyip was sprawled behind a nearby oak. Dean peered at it a moment, then prodded it with his toe. Definitely a doornail. Probably had gotten a swipe at him before it died, and as Dean squinted at the oak, he could see a patch of red on it. "Always wanted to leave my mark," and he snorted at his own weak humor. The knock on his head must've been harder than he thought.
He contemplated burning the bunyip for about all of a second before turning disinterestedly away. It wasn't like they could come back to life, and if someone found the body, good for them. Dean was out of there.
As soon as he figured out where he'd left the car.
He had some sort of sense of where his girl was most of the time, and it didn't fail him now. A little wandering, and Dean found the access road he must've come in on, trailing it back a hundred feet or so to the car. He was seriously listing by the time he reached her, and as soon as he climbed in, he leaned his head forward on the steering wheel.
"'Least you never fail me, baby," he murmured, palm sliding briefly along the curve of her wheel as if she were flesh and blood. She was the only one that hadn't let him down, and that included every flesh-and-blood loved one in his life.
Dean tiredly turned the key, relaxing as the purr of the motor vibrated through his tired body, and put her into gear. First motel room he came to was gonna be home for a little while.
The Skyview Motel—and yeah, it did have a nice view of the grey sky—was a few miles down the road, on the outskirts of some town Dean didn't know. Actually, he had no idea what state he was even in, not that it mattered. They'd all run together years before, when he still cared about some things. Now, a bed was a bed, and he paid with a random fake credit card for the privilege of calling the dingy room and moldy bathroom his for the night. Dean gave the shower a longing look, then fell into bed fully clothed. He'd clean up the blood and mud tomorrow.
He slept, or maybe passed out.
The rattle of the door penetrated his foggy brain at some point. Dean screwed up his eyes to see in the light that had grown dim while he slept. Someone was definitely at the door, quietly picking the lock, and with a low growl, he slipped his hand under the pillow to grab his knife. Whoever it was had so picked the wrong room and person to mess with.
The door swung open, backlighting the tall figure, and Dean squinted at it, feeling something familiar tug at his brain.
And then the figure burst out in very recognizable irritation.
"You're a friggin' jerk, Dean! Why'd you leave me out there? If you're still mad…about…"
He cut into the pause, disbelieving. "Sam?"
"Yeah, of… Dean?" The new arrival took a step in and shut the door behind it, flicking the light on.
Dean flinched at the glare, but quickly cleared his vision. And felt utter joy blossom in him at the sight. "Sammy."
An odd look crossed the face that was older than he remembered, on top of a frame that had filled out a lot more since Dean had last seen him. His little brother had become a man, and Dean's heart stammered a little in pride and wonder.
"What are you doing here?" he breathed, pushing himself higher with barely a wince.
"What am I—? Dean." Sam stepped closer, every movement so familiar, it made Dean's chest hurt. "Y'all right, man? Is that…is that blood?" He reached toward Dean's neck.
And reality came crashing down with all the grace of an anvil. Sam was at Stanford, busy turning himself into a respectable lawyer. No way was he out in the middle of nowhere, breaking into a third class motel room. If Dean had been thinking a little more clearly, he wouldn't have believed it for a second.
Dean slid his knife free, cursing himself a gullible fool as he pressed himself back against the wall to avoid the reach of this thing pretending to be Sam. He held up the blade defensively in front of him as he started flipping through his mental journal of everything that could read a mind and mimic a man. Or maybe a heart's deepest longing.
It felt like the sun had just gone out, especially when his fake brother's face dropped and he jerked back. "Dean."
Dean gulped convulsively, stealing himself against that murmur of his name he only heard in memory and dreams now. He'd almost managed to forget how much he'd missed his brother; the sudden homesickness stole his breath.
A step closer. "It's me—it's Sam." The knife was a pathetic barrier between him and those dewy hazel eyes. They were even half-strewn with bangs like he remembered, the smell of earth and gunpowder clinging to the tan jacket Dean had given him before he'd left.
"Sam's gone," he argued with it, he wasn't sure why. Should probably just bury his knife in the thing, except…he couldn't. Not while it looked at him like that. "He's off doing the white picket fences thing. Try again, you son of—"
"No." The brow had crinkled under the damp fringe of too-long hair. "No, Dean, I'm right here. You came and got me from school, remember? When Dad disappeared?" Hands placatingly held out to either side, that enormous wingspan half-encompassed the room. He was shifting closer to Dean, moving in with stealth, and Dean knew he was stupid to let it, knew it. And still couldn't manage to do something to stop it. Under the mud and sharp woods odors, it smelled like Sammy.
"Cut it out," he growled, brandishing the knife. "I'm not buyin' it." Dad had disappeared? His head was spinning with the lies edged with truth.
But Sam was shaking his head, looking worried but clearly not about the weapon waving at him. "Dean, you hit your head—I think you've lost some time, man. It's 2006—I turned 23 a few weeks ago, remember? We spent the day at that big book fair in Hadleysburg, and you got me—"
The room had started doing this weird slide. Dean tried to keep the fake Sam in focus, but next thing he knew, he was falling. Even when solid arms caught him, he wasn't sure for a moment which way was up, not until he buried his nose in a waiting shoulder and closed his eyes. If this wasn't Sam, and Dean really wasn't sure anymore, it was the strangest attack Dean had ever been under. A large palm came up to steady the side of his head, and he kinda wished it would stay.
"I've got you. It's really me, Dean, I swear, just trust me a minute."
His grip on the knife loosened, all the fight going out of him. The blade was gently tugged from his grasp and dropped on the nightstand instead of plunged into his body, which was always a good sign. Bent in half against Sam, hands weakly clutching his kid brother's shirt, wasn't exactly the best defense Dean had ever put up, but… God, he was just so tired, wanted this to be Sam so badly. And if it wasn't, Dean wasn't sure he cared enough to fight it.
"You're all right. Let's get you cleaned up, huh?"
Broad, capable hands eased him flat. He resisted for a moment, but Sam had always been stubborn and Dean finally gave in, stretching out prone on the bed. Even with a light touch, the probing of the back of his head hurt, and Dean smothered a groan. On his stomach with a potential enemy at his back: his dad would've killed him. It wasn't supposed to be this way. But then, he wasn't supposed to be hunting solo, either, or not talking to Sam, or feeling old at twenty-…whatever he was.
The bed shifted and there was movement about the room, then the mattress's edge sank again. Cold and wet touched the broken skin on the back of Dean's head, and he tensed and hissed.
"Sorry, sorry." The hand on the back of his neck was a counterpoint of warmth, fingertips scratching lightly through Dean's hair. "I have to clean the wound out."
He reached up and back blindly. "I can do it." His voice sounded weak to his own ears, even though he'd tried to make it a bark.
His hand was effortlessly moved down to his side. "Dude, it's on the back of your head—don't be an idiot. You really think I'd bother doing all this if I wanted to kill you?"
Well, that did make a perverse kind of sense. Dean finally grunted acquiescence and tried to relax and pay attention, not wanting to miss a moment of this Sam's presence.
"I was starting my fourth year," Sam started talking, voice soft but casual as he sponged the wound clean. "You showed up one night—broke into my apartment, actually—said Dad had been missing for a few weeks and you wanted me to come help you find him. Remember?"
Dean gripped the pillow, the blankets, hard. That sounded like him, but… "Dad all right?" he asked, strained.
Sam's ministrations paused. "I don't know," he said softly. "He called once, but we haven't…" Dean could hear him swallow.
This was Sam. It had to be.
"I was just gonna go with you for the weekend, but then… there was a fire when we got back. You pulled me out of it, but Jess…my girlfriend…she, well, it was like Mom all over again. You know?" His grip on Dean's neck had gotten tight.
Anger and grief burned through Dean, and he squeezed his eyes shut. "God, I'm sorry, Sammy."
A pause, then a huffed inhale. Fingers carefully pulled the broken skin apart to rinse it out, and Dean heard the rest through the buzzing in his head. "I left school a week later. We've been hunting together ever since. You really don't remember any of this?"
Dean shoved his forehead more deeply into the pillow and rolled his head.
Thankfully, Sam had finished cleaning, and it was probably too late for stitches. Dean only felt him spread some wound sealant over the gash, then gently squeeze the nape of his neck before moving down his body. "You got two beds," Sam noted. He reached under to unsnap the muddy jeans.
A moment of panicked instinct had Dean rolling over with a curse and pushing the helping hands away. He hesitated, then eased the denim down himself. His knee felt twice its normal size and needed treatment, but still, Dean watched through slitted, wary eyes as Sam palpated down his right leg. Dean turned his head and bit the pillow when the injured joint was slowly manipulated, waiting until the haze of red cleared to respond. "What?"
There was a crack, then something cloth and cool was wrapped gently around his knee, growing colder by the moment. Dean sucked in a breath: chemical ice pack. "You thought you were hunting alone, but you got two beds."
He'd never consciously made the choice, but some part of him knew a double was the closest he could come to leaving the light on, making sure Sam always had a home to come back to. All Dean said once he could speak again, however, was, "Habit."
"Uh-huh. And you always took the bed farthest from the door?"
Sam drew two layers of blankets over him, and Dean breathed a little easier. "So?" He wasn't about to say it out loud that with Sam's departure, he'd had no one to protect, or that with his dad gone, there was no one to stay by the door and watch his back, either. His knee was starting to go pleasantly numb, and with the retreat of pain and adrenaline came crushing fatigue.
"Nothing." Sam moved back up to beside his shoulder, and Dean blinked drowsily at him. This would've been the perfect time to take him down; he was sluggish, flat on his back, unarmed. If this wasn't Sam, he'd find out now.
But all that happened was two painkillers were shoved at his lips, then Sam lifted his head, careful not to press on the gash, so he could drink.
"Get some sleep, Dean," his brother said quietly as he laid him back down.
Dean looked at him, cataloguing the world-weariness in his eyes, the fine lines around his eyes, the more filled-out, harder face. His brother nonetheless, known and beloved in any form.
The stiff lines loosened even as he watched. "I'll still be here when you wake up, I promise."
Dean's eyes slowly shut, reopened. "Sucks to be alone, Sam," he murmured.
"Yeah." A hand flexed on his shoulder. "I know."
He let himself drift, half-asleep. Hearing Sam move around the room, the laptop chime as it turned on.
He opened his eyes, seeing Sam bent over the computer at the far table, a prick of déjà vu at the sight. Closed his eyes again.
Sam was on the other bed, watching TV with the volume turned way down, face scrunched up as if in deep thought. It was dark out. Dean blinked.
Sam was sitting on the edge of the second bed, watching him. But there was no cold calculation or malice in his eyes, just compassion. He got up while Dean eyed him blearily, and shoved Dean over on the bed with little effort. Sam then sat up against the headboard next to him and settled the laptop on his legs. The warmth of his brother flowed over Dean.
Dean slept, deep and dreamless.
He woke slowly to the throb of his head, and stared blankly at the empty bed a few feet away. It took a minute before he realized what was wrong with that picture and lurched upright.
Oh, God, bad idea. His head spun, brain sloshing up against his skull, and Dean pinched his eyes shut, waiting for everything to settle. Peeking once at the other bed: still empty, neatly made.
He climbed unsteadily to his feet. Sam had been there. Sam had been with him for months now, ever since Jessica. They'd faced wendigos and spirits and even a demon and urban legend or two. Dean couldn't have dreamed it. He remembered Sam's blood on his hands from Mary, untying the cord around his little brother's neck in their old house, the overpowering relief when Sam showed up in the orchard.
The heart-stopping joy when he'd arrived before, when Dean had been so sure he was damned to be alone.
He groaned, bent his head to grind the heel of his hand into his aching forehead.
The bathroom door swung open, a towel-clad Sam stepping out. "Dean?"
Dean sucked in a breath, feeling his legs go weak. Even as Sam reached out for him, though, he stepped back and dropped onto the edge of his bed, grimacing at the double pain of head and knee.
"Dean?" Sam crouched in front of him, wet hair brushed aside now to give full view of his worried eyes. "Hey, you with me?"
"Yeah." He gave a tiny nod. "I'm good."
"Right. So, I don't need to get the trash can?"
Dean swallowed a twinge of queasiness, shook his head tightly. "'M okay. Just thought…"
Sam gave him a small smile. "You remember what year it is?"
"Yeah. You're getting old, bro."
"Uh, youngerbrother, remember?"
He did, all of it. "Yeah, yeah." God, his head hurt. That was the easiest thing to focus on.
A soft grip on his shoulder. "Why don't you lie down again, man? You're looking kinda green."
He started a slow side back on his rear, pushing tiredly until he hit the headboard. Sam watched him with what looked like equal parts amusement and concern, only shaking his head and turning away when Dean muttered, "You wanna stare at something, go to a museum."
Dean watched him disappear into the bathroom, then watched the bathroom door until Sam reappeared in jeans, pulling a t-shirt on. Which reminded Dean, a shower sounded awesome. But considering he wasn't sure he could stand without falling on his face, he was content to just stay put and observe. His eyes followed Sam to the coffeepot, involuntarily salivating as his brother poured a mug of the stuff.
When Sam then brought it over to him, Dean instantly perked up. "Breakfast in bed—knew there was some reason I kept you around," he said as he gratefully took the mug.
Sam settled on the bed across from him, amusement evaporating into something more serious, and Dean winced. Here it came.
He gulped some coffee and quickly started before Sam did. "So, where were you yesterday?"
Sam started. "Uh, you mean when you disappeared on me out there?"
"Whatever." Dean shrugged.
"We were hunting bunyips. Remember?"
A glance up told Dean it was a serious question, and he nodded.
Sam did, too. "There were two of them, so we split up. I got the runaround for a while, but I finally cornered and killed it, then headed back. You were already gone. So was the car, so I figured you'd headed toward town and I followed, saw the car in the parking lot. Actually," he huffed a laugh and rubbed at the back of his neck, "I thought you were doing some kind of payback for me losing that knife last week."
"I wouldn't…" Dean paused. "Okay, yeah, maybe I would, but I think that thing knocked me into the tree or something before I killed it. I must've passed out—next thing I know, I'm waking up near a dead bunyip and I figured, hunt's over, time to head out. Dude, it was like it was two years ago—didn't even cross my mind you were around somewhere. I thought you were still at school."
"Yeah." Sam got quiet, ducked his head, and looked way too mushy when he lifted it up again. "You looked happy to see me. You know, before you decided I had to be a shapeshifter or something and started waving your knife at me."
He'd almost been braced for a lecture about letting his guard down, but Dean realized that was their dad, not Sam. As it was, he just rolled his eyes. "I was bleeding all over the bed—of course I was glad to see you."
"That's the only reason, huh?" Sam asked with a small smile.
"Well, that and the ten bucks you still owe me from cribbage the other day."
Sam chuckled. "Yeah, figures you'd remember that." He reached forward to snag Dean's coffee, Dean relinquishing it only to avoid a game of tug-of-war that would have inevitably ended up with hot coffee all over him. Sam took a big sip, then rotated the cup thoughtfully in his hands. "That happen a lot while I was gone, you getting hurt and having to patch yourself up?"
Dean leaned forward just enough to snake his coffee back before the bottomless pit drained it. "No," he said, staring straight into Sam's eyes over the mug's rim.
He only lied to Sam when there wasn't any point in saying the truth out loud. It was water under the bridge now, and they weren't girls, needing to rehash every bad moment of their lives in endless drama. And he only lied when Sam knew the truth anyway.
His brother swallowed, looked away, nodding. Then he determinedly found a grin. "So, you wanna sit around in those muddy clothes all day?"
"You offering to give me a sponge bath?" Dean grinned back, feeling a melting of pure love deep inside where he didn't have to acknowledge or say it, and thus it was perfectly acceptable.
"I'm offering to get you to the bathroom without you falling on your face, but you're on your own from there, man." Sam was already standing, checking Dean's knee briefly before sliding his legs carefully off the edge of the bed. Dean gulped down the rest of the coffee, then reached up to drape an arm around his brother's shoulders to lever himself up.
It was at the bathroom door, after Sam turned the water on for him in the shower and then left him leaning against the tile wall with a promise of fresh clothes, that he paused, turned back to give Dean a warm smile.
"Thanks for the second bed." Then he disappeared before Dean could even glare at him.
Dean left the wet towel on the bloody, muddy bed by the wall—Sam's bed now—in reply.