Impact
K Hanna Korossy

Dean inhaled the aroma deeply, eyes closed in bliss, before taking a sip. It was the look he usually reserved for a particularly favorite guitar riff, or satisfying hunt, or beautiful woman, and Sam couldn't help but grin at seeing it on his brother's face for something as common as coffee.

"Dean."

Sam gave him a half-amused, half-annoyed look as Dean's eyes snapped open. "What? Can't you tell I'm savoring here?"

"It's coffee, Dean, not fine wine."

"Speak for yourself." He grinned and took another sip. Sam stared at him expectantly. "What?" Sam's gaze moved on to exasperation, and the second cup by Dean's wrist. "Oh, sorry." He handed it over.

Sam took a healthy drag, his eyes already back on the laptop screen. "Okay, here's what I've come up with so far. A possible possession in northern Minnesota, uh, a guy who burned to death in a room in Arizona with no other sign of fire, and…a supposedly haunted hotel where three people have killed themselves in the last month in Virginia." He rubbed his forehead as he read.

"Yeah, okay, those all sound good." Dean swallowed more coffee, watching Sam. "So, what about you?"

It took a second before that sunk in and his gaze swung back to meet Dean's, puzzled. "What about me?"

"Uh-uh, I asked you first."

"Dean, what're you—?"

He put the coffee cup down with a sigh. "Look, Sam, it's been, what, four days now? You're still having those headaches. I don't know, man, maybe we should get you checked out—just because Mary didn't kill you doesn't mean she didn't do some kind of damage."

Sam's jaw jutted a little. "I'm fine, Dean. It's just a normal headache—I haven't exactly been sleeping great recently."

"Actually, seems to me you've been sleeping better since Mary messed with your head. And if it's just a normal headache, why are you trying to drill through your forehead, huh?"

Sam guiltily peeled his digging fingers from his temple. "Your eyes bled, too," he grumbled.

"Yeah, well, I got the Mary Lite version. You almost got the full treatment." Dean looked like he was swallowing a smile with his coffee, and Sam got the irritating impression his brother was suddenly picturing him a lot younger. He could whine just fine as an adult, too, thank you very much.

"I'm fine," Sam repeated stubbornly. "Can we just get back to business here?"

Dean stared at him a moment longer, long enough to make Sam fidget, just short enough to avoid the snapped "What?" that was on the tip of his tongue when Dean finally spoke up. "The Virginia case."

"The hotel? Why?" Sam asked, honestly curious.

Dean shrugged, took another sip of his coffee. "I've got an old friend in DC I wanna look up while we're out there."

Well, it ended up mostly the truth.

00000

Sam fidgeted in the seat, trying to find a comfortable position. Or just any kind of comfort. Between cracking the windows and playing with the heater, they'd finally managed to make the car feel both too hot and too cold, and the window was just chilly enough to make his headache even worse when he leaned his forehead against it. The seatback put a crick in his neck, the sun hurt his eyes when he sat up, and Dean kept giving him glances that all but said, dude, what's your problem?

But what he said out loud was a slightly sympathetic, "You want to stretch out in the back for a while?"

Sam snorted softly, casting a half-glance at the packed seat in question. "Where?" When everything they owned had to fit in one car, space was a premium.

"We can make room."

"No, I'm okay." Then, quietly, "Thanks," because it still felt good to be worried about.

Dean half shrugged. "Offer's open," he said, and left it at that.

Sam took a deep breath, finally conceding there was no such thing as a comfortable position just then, and sat up a little straighter. "How far out are we?"

"About two hundred miles. I thought we'd hit DC first, spend the night there, then swing down to Virginia tomorrow to check out the hotel."

"We're not staying with your friend?" Sam asked, not really surprised. Dean's "friends" tended to be either beautiful women for whom three was a crowd—unless three was just fine, in which case Sam made a quick exit—or people like the two of them: transient, borderline criminal, living out of their cars or bikes or trucks. Neither tended to offer them a place to stay. Sam wondered sometimes about Dean's lack of social life beyond bars and one-night stands, but like anything that smacked of getting personal, the issue was hands-off as a topic of conversation.

"Naw," Dean said with a grin and a tilt of the head toward Sam. "Not that kind of a friend."

Sam's mouth pulled up despite itself. "Blonde or brunette?"

"Blond. His wife's a brunette, if that makes a difference."

"His wife?" Sam asked stupidly.

"Yeah. They had a ceremony, she wears a ring, they live together—it's a whole thing normal people do, Sam. You must've heard about it at Stanford."

Sam made a face. "Ha, ha. Where do you know this guy from?"

"Matt?" Dean's one shoulder rose again, with an eyebrow. "Around."

"Around," Sam repeated flatly.

"Yeah." A quicksilver grin, no humor behind it. "You're not the only who can have secrets, you know."

"Fine." Sam crossed his arms, and gave in to the lure of cold glass. It made his head hurt, but after a while it also numbed it. "If you don't want to talk about it, wake me when we get to DC."

There was a minute of just the growl of the engine and the soft background vocals of Dean's music turned low. Then a squeak of his brother shifting, the vinyl jiggling under Sam's thigh. A moment later, something soft brushed his hand.

Sam jerked away, startled, and winced when his headache ratcheted up another notch. He squinted disgruntledly at Dean.

And the folded blanket his brother held out. "Pillow," Dean said succinctly.

He took it, wedged it between his shoulder and head and the door. It was a lot more comfortable. "Thanks." It was easier to say this time. Especially when Dean started humming a minute later.

He wasn't smiling much those days, but Sam might have managed one as he started to doze.

00000

DC was about eight hours from Toledo, and with their early start, they rolled into the city not long after lunch. It wasn't someplace they often visited, with all the federal agencies in the nation's capitol that would have loved to get their hands on them, and Sam watched the city sites go by with half-hearted interest.

He could feel Dean watching him with a lot more than that, and heard the fond smile in his brother's voice when he spoke. "You wanna do some sightseeing while we're here?"

Sam actually considered it before wriggling a shrug. "Maybe next time."

Dean didn't pursue it. They drove on, through circles and six-way intersections, and Sam wondering yet again how his brother didn't get lost more often. Dean seemed to have some innate sense of direction both on hunts and behind the wheel that eluded Sam. It wasn't the first or last thing about Dean that did.

They turned away from the river and past a large brick building, and into the accompanying garage. Sam pushed himself up with a frown. "This is a hospital."

"Not just any hospital, Sammy—Georgetown. One of the best."

"Your friend's in the hospital?"

"Matt works here." At Sam's continued stare, he elaborated, "He's a neurologist. You know, head-and-brain guy."

"Yeah, I know what a neurologist is. Why are we coming to see him?"

Dean pulled into a parking spot and turned the engine off, then swiveled to face Sam. "Sam, Mary had you on the ground bawling blood. I'm not saying she did anything permanent and it's not like I'm dropping you off and leaving you here. I'm just worried about you, okay? It isn't normal to have blood leaking out of your eyes. Mary killed two people that we know of—the chick had some serious mojo going. It wouldn't hurt to check it out, just in case."

An odd mix of softening and betrayal rose in Sam. "So? You just decided for me that I need to see a specialist? Mary got you, too, Dean, and don't tell me you weren't feeling it when you were down on the ground next to me."

"I'm not the one who's been having headaches for the last five days," Dean said flatly.

"They're not that bad!"

"Right, so, that puking the other night, that was just so you could taste the french fries again."

"Dean—"

"And the way you keep rubbing your forehead and squinting at the light, that's nothing, too?"

"I can decide for—"

"Oh, yeah, and let's not forget the Advil you've been popping like breath mints before a hot date."

It wasn't so much the litany of proof that shut him up as the fact that Dean had noticed and been keeping tabs. Especially of the pills, because Sam had really thought he'd hidden that one pretty well. He subsided into his seat with surly defeat, fresh out of arguments but also not liking feeling like he wasn't in charge of his life. Enough had been out of control those last few months.

He could feel Dean lean a little closer. "Come on, Sam—let Matt check you out. Please." There was suddenly a grin in his voice. "I'll buy you some candy after."

"That's not funny, Dean," Sam complained, but that please softened the ground under his resistance. Dean was trying to ask instead of order, in his own not-budging, stubborn-as-a-mule way.

"Fine, I'll let you pick the music when we go down to Virginia."

"I don't care about the music. I just don't see why you've gotten so pro-modern medicine suddenly." It came out in a sudden rush of frustration. "Usually you're the one who wants to avoid doctors when you're bleeding all over the place and can't even stand up by yourself."

Dean shrugged indifferently. "That's different. That's me."

Sam's jaw dropped. He reeled it back in. Wondered why he was even that surprised, because Dean had always, always worried about Sam more than himself. He just wasn't usually so blunt about it.

A few weeks before he'd left for Stanford, a particularly brutal hunt had led to Sam being slammed into a tree, borderline concussed, wrist and hand sprained, two ribs cracked. Dean had gone to help their father kill the quarry, but had returned to Sam's side within seconds afterward, fussing over him, checking his eyes, the pulse in his injured arm, arguing with John and Sam that they needed to swing by a hospital for x-rays. It had been one more nail in the coffin of Sam's life in the family business, that feeling of being overridden and having no control over his own life. He'd thrown a few angry accusations at Dean on the way to the hospital: he didn't listen, he was bossy, he was needy. Dean had swallowed it all silently. Maybe it was all true, but Sam had left out the most important one. Dean worried about him because he loved him.

It had taken maturing and time apart and being the sole one responsible for his brother for Sam to finally get it. And realize that that really made him the one in control, after all. He straightened in his seat. "All right, then the next time I want you to see a doctor, you go without fighting me on it."

Dean's brow drew together. "What?"

Sam looked at him steadily, not completely mollified but understanding, just a little. "If I go now. Next time I ask you to do the same thing, you do it."

"Sam, that's—"

"My condition, Dean. You're not the only one here who gets to worry."

Dean's jaw shifted. "You're a stubborn SOB, you know that?"

Sam smiled faintly. "Same gene pool as you, man, remember?"

"Yeah, yeah," Dean muttered. "Fine. Doctor of your choice. Are you done now?"

Sam nodded and reached for the door. "A friend of yours? This I have to see."

"Very funny," Dean said sourly behind him, but hurried to join him.

They navigated the hospital corridors with far less ease than they did dark and unfamiliar forests. The signs seemed contradictory or simply incomprehensible, and Sam smiled to himself as he heard his brother murmured diatribe about "normal people." Still, after stopping to ask every pretty nurse they came across, they finally made it to neurology.

Dean patted him down into a seat while he went to charm the receptionist, then, to Sam's surprise, was ushered into the back. Sam picked up an issue of Boating and stared at pictures of a life that was foreign to him now. He looked up again as the door opened, and the nurse beckoned him inside. No Dean in sight.

Sam sighed, stood, and went.

Dean was in the office already, dropped casually in a chair across from the doctor's desk. Sam eyed him uncertainly a minute. He could count on one hand the people he'd seen Dean so unguarded with those past few months, even the women he flirted with getting the same opaque grin and eyes. This guy knew who and what they were, Sam realized with surprise, and curiously turned his attention to the other person in the room.

Matt Harper was younger than Sam had expected, not much older than Dean, with sandy hair almost as long as Sam's and a distractingly colorful tie. He wore the pleasant smile of doctors everywhere, but there was something deeper there when he looked at Dean, and Sam tilted his head a little as introductions were made and hands were shaken, trying to figure it out.

"So," Dean stood, "I'll let you two do your thing. He gives you any trouble, Matt, let me know."

Sam glared at him.

Dean, of course, only grinned. "Take care of my baby brother," he admonished, and leaned over to ruffle Sam's hair and stage-whisper to him, "Be a good boy, Sam," before he walked out.

Oh, yeah, revenge would be sweet.

"So, Sam—Sam?"

He turned his attention reluctantly back to Harper and nodded.

"Dean says you've been having headaches after this…ghost did something to you?"

"Uh, right, Bloody Mary. She wasn't a ghost exactly, more like some sort of manifestation." There was something surreal about having a conversation like this in a brightly lit medical office, but it wasn't the first time Sam had found himself straddling two worlds.

"And have the headaches gotten better since then? Worse?"

"Better," Sam answered honestly. "Look, Dr. Harper, this was really Dean's idea, and I appreciate the time, but I'm okay. I don't sleep well and that's probably at least as much to blame for the headaches."

"Very possibly," the doctor nodded, "but wouldn't it be good to check, just to be on the safe side? I can request the autopsy results on the other victims if necessary, but let's see what we can find out ourselves, okay? I'd like to give you a CAT scan and an MRI, see if we can find anything. If not, and if the headaches really are getting better, I'll give you a clean bill of health and Dean'll leave you alone for at least a minute or two."

Sam found himself chuckling. "Yeah, probably something like that." He licked his lips, glanced at Harper's face. "Have you known him a long time? Dean didn't say how you two met."

Another look passed across the man's face, and Sam didn't have to know him well to read this one: pain. "Dean saved my sister's life three years ago."

Sam tried not to show his surprise, because, really, he shouldn't have been. The guy knew who they were, and they did save a lot of lives in their business.

Harper seemed to read his silence. "Not the way you guys usually save people. Marnie was having some…problems. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend and was struggling with depression. We knew it but sometimes you just can't help somebody you love, no matter how hard you try."

Something inside Sam squeezed tight.

"Anyway, she went out to this abandoned farmhouse to take some pills. I guess she figured nobody would find her there in time. But your brother happened to be there on an exorcism and…" Harper suddenly smiled. "You know, this story doesn't sound any less weird no matter how many times I repeat it."

Sam snorted a laugh, understanding completely.

"I usually leave the exorcism part out, but the fact is, your brother called for help, then kept Marnie awake until the paramedics came by telling her what he did. It got her interested enough that it turned some kind of corner for her after that. Then Marnie told me—we're the only ones in the family who know that part about Dean—and after I got over thinking some nut had found my sister…well, somebody saving your sibling's life tends to make you believe in them. Turned out the house wasn't even haunted, but the fact that Dean was there at the right time—it makes me believe something, you know?"

Sam nodded silently. He understood that one, too.

"Anyway, seems only fair I help out his brother. I'm sure you already know he's pretty worried about you. So," Harper slapped a hand on his leg, "you ready for a little poking and prodding, Sam?"

He gave the doctor a half-smile. "Yeah, I guess so." He stood and followed Harper's lead out of the office.

Because he did know Dean worried about him, when Sam's own pride didn't get in the way. It wasn't about his ability to take care of himself, or make choices for himself, or his rights. It was about his big brother always being his big brother, and the bottom line was, Sam wouldn't have changed that if he could.

But it wouldn't stop him from giving Dean a hard time about it and holding him to his deal.

Little brothers? They became somewhat wiser, but they didn't change all that much, either.

00000

"So, you're sure, all the tests were negative?"

"Yes, Dean," Sam said patiently for the sixth time, and pulled the t-shirt over his head. "There were some signs of trauma, but you heard Matt, it's almost healed."

"Yeah, well," his brother grumbled, "patient privacy rules today and everything, just want to make sure he wasn't telling you something else."

"I think you can trust the guy whose sister you saved to tell you the truth." Sam shed his jeans and dropped on his bed, one leg bent under him. He'd nearly fallen asleep during the MRI despite the noise, and had come out afterward to find Dean sprawled in a chair in the waiting room with Boating draped over his chest, sawing logs. Between Sam's dreams and Bloody Mary—and he really hated how her name always reminded him of his mom—they hadn't been getting much sleep, and Sam was determined to turn in early.

Dean's laundry-sorting slowed and he cast a half-glance back over his shoulder at Sam. "He told you that, huh?"

"I asked." Sam hesitated, watching his brother's back. "You never really talk about it, what you guys did while I was at Stanford."

Dean shrugged. "Lot of it's in the journal."

"I don't mean the monster of the week, I mean…the people you met. The stuff that happened that wasn't part of the job. How things changed after I left."

Dean was silent and still so long, Sam didn't think he'd answer. Not even the glib remark Sam had half-expected in response to his plucking at painful memories. He had some inkling how much he'd hurt Dean with his departure, but would probably never know the full extent, and it wasn't something he liked to dwell on often, anyway. Little brothers could be selfish like that. They could afford to be, because big brothers always shielded them from the worst.

Dean finally tossed the laundry aside and, still without turning around, said quietly, "It stopped being fun." Without further comment or glance, he climbed into bed and snapped the light off.

But it was enough. Sam didn't ask if his return had changed anything. He'd seen the bounce in Dean's step, heard it in his voice, and until that moment had resented more than understood.

Sam breathed out and crawled into his own bed. Dean was always Dean, but somehow he still managed to keep surprising Sam, and he felt sometimes like he was just getting to know his brother.

He laid back on the pillow, eyes tightly shut, then pried them open deliberately to stare at the ceiling because he knew it was empty no matter what his nightmares kept telling him. One of those days, he'd even believe it.

Luke Skywalker stared back at him.

Sam blinked.

Leia, too, actually—the two were in the center in the Star Wars poster plastered on the ceiling above Sam's bed.

"I wanted to get a band poster, something good for you, but that was the best they had," Dean murmured drowsily from next to him, his head turned away and buried in bedding.

Sam's mouth curled unstoppably into a full grin. "Good-night, Dean."

"'Night, Sammy."

It didn't surprise him at all that he slept without nightmares and woke without a headache, only a lingering dream of Dean speeding along in theMillennium Falcon.

The End