No One Else
K Hanna Korossy

He took the stairs three at a time, calling his brother's name but not getting any answer, his mind as much of a blur as his feet except for one crystallized thought: help Sam. Because Dean was as certain his brother needed him as he was that the knives embedded in the kitchen table downstairs would have skewered him if he'd been just a little slower. The house wanted them dead, but Dean had sworn no one else was dying in that house. Especially not Sam.

Four corners of the house. They'd agreed to do them in the same order, which meant—Dean swung around the banister to the right, toward the east bedroom.

Missouri. He probably should have gone to check Missouri first in the basement. Sam was almost as good as Dean was at the physical part of their job, and a little better at the mental, even though Dean wouldn't have admitted that. Sam had probably fought off the poltergeist's attacks, too, and would just roll his eyes at his big brother rushing to the rescue for nothing. If the ward wasn't finished, Missouri was the logical weak link… but something in him was screaming to get to Sam.

Dean almost skidded by the door, catching himself on the doorjamb. And saw in that flicker of a second that Sam hadn't even seen the poltergeist's attack coming.

"Sam!" The few steps to his brother's side were enough to take in the cord wrapped around Sam's neck, the red face, and the increasingly feeble efforts to free himself. He was fading fast, and Dean would be damned, literally, before he'd let the house have his brother.

He fell to his knees beside Sam, calling to him again even though he didn't think he'd be heard. Dean had nearly been strangled with a ligature once, by a rope-wielding, way-too-solid ghost, before his dad and Sam had come to the rescue. Dean hadn't forgotten the rush of blood in his ears, the fading colors, and the utter terror of not being able to breathe. The same thing Sam would be feeling now.

Dean managed to hook three of his fingers under the cord, knowing he was scratching Sam's neck in the process but there was no helping that. He pulled with all his might and then some, adrenalin boosting him until he probably could have lifted that proverbial car to save his brother trapped underneath…but the cord wasn't moving.

Neither was Sam.

He was out of time. Dean's gaze shot around the room, landing on the dropped ward. Letting go of Sam was hard, but watching him die was immeasurably worse, so Dean lunged away, grabbing up the ward and kicking the wall where Sam had already started chopping, making the hole bigger. He shoved the small bag inside, and prayed Missouri had done her part.

The rush of white light and sound made him cringe against the wall, but it was also the sweetest thing he'd seen in a long time. It faded as fast as it came, like a train roaring past.

And then the only sound left in the room was Sam's thin wheeze.

Dean dove back to his brother's side, grabbing the cord again. It was looser now, tangled instead of tightened by invisible hands. "Come on," he grunted, and lifted Sam to get to it, leaning his brother forward against him as he untied the garrote. Sam's head lolled on his shoulder as he worked, heartbeat pounding against Dean's ribs but his chest barely moving.

The knot unraveled in his frantic fingers, and Dean unwrapped one length before tilting Sam away from him to lift the remaining noose over his head. Strengthless and on the verge of passing out, Sam kept on going, collapsing back toward the floor. Dean quickly reached out a hand and caught him as he fell, pulling him back against himself. Sam's head dropped forward into the crook of his neck and shoulder, and Dean held on, fiercely gentle.

Sam had gasped at the jolt, and, as if his body suddenly realized he could inhale, Dean finally, finally heard him drag in a breath. He sounded like a beached fish, gulping and coughing and struggling weakly against Dean in an effort to expand his starving lungs even more. But it was breathing, and Dean found himself smiling as he rubbed the heaving back. "It's okay. Take it easy—plenty of air to go around. Try to breathe slow, Sam." At least he was also too out of it to hear the tremor in Dean's voice, or feel the way Dean's other arm was locked around his waist, making sure Sam wasn't going anywhere for the moment.

Just like he had for the greater part of twenty years, Sam listened to him and obeyed. And the choking wheeze slowly quieted into soft, painful gasps.

Dean winced. If his experience was anything to go by, breathing would hurt for a few days, let alone talking. There was no blood; he'd already felt for that, but the bruising would be spectacular and the inside of Sam's throat would feel like a sander had gone over it. But he'd be alive, and Dean would take that in trade any day.

The automatic flailing for air was gone, Sam's chin resting on his shoulder as he slumped heavily against Dean. But the rising and falling chest was a definite improvement, as was the whistle of breath by Dean's ear…and the fingers weakly clasping the edge of his jacket.

There were times Dean wondered about the wisdom of dragging Sam back on the road, of the trade-off of a more dangerous life, but one in which he could keep an eye on his little brother. And then there were times like this when he couldn't imagine anything else.

Sam seemed content where he was, and Dean took a deep breath as he held him and, just for a moment, savored.

But worry about Missouri lingered, especially as the house remained silent, and Jenny and the kids would be home soon, too. Their job wasn't done yet.

"Sam?" Dean asked quietly, squeezing the back of his brother's neck lightly and feeling the grooves the cord had left behind. He got a small nod in return. Yeah, probably a good idea, waiting on the talking a little bit longer. "I have to go check on Missouri—you gonna be okay here?"

Sam's response, because he'd inherited the extra-stubborn Winchester gene, was to start pushing himself up.

"Whoa—okay, look." Dean grabbed his brother's arms and pulled back to look at him. "I know this is hard for you to believe, but I can actually go down into the basement by myself, especially with the house not being all homicidal anymore. Stay here and practice breathing."

Sam's face was a healthier pink, but his eyes were bloodshot and Dean deliberately didn't look at the lines crossing his neck. By the next day they'd be impossible to ignore, anyway. What grabbed Dean now, though, was the aware gaze that met his eyes pointedly, then tipped down to the harmless cord lying now on the floor beside them.

Oh. Dean grimaced. Yeah, he could see why Sam wouldn't want to stay there, fully inanimate surroundings or not. "Okay, fine, quit whining," was all he huffed, and hooked an arm under his brother's to drag him up onto his feet, as slowly and carefully as if Sam were a ninety-year-old. If Sam thought they were going from near-dead to normal in sixty seconds, he could just stay there with his new friend the electrical cord, instead of Dean dragging his sorry body all over the house. But Sam didn't complain, just leaned unsteadily against him and let him lead.

They went down to the kitchen together, Sam's strength coming back a little with each step, until he could stand at the counter alone, surveying the mess, while Dean continued on to the basement.

Missouri was just squirming painfully out from behind a chest of drawers.

"You okay?" Dean asked her, helping push the heavy piece of furniture aside and guiding her around it by one arm.

"I will be. I told you they wouldn't like what we were doing, but we showed them," and she grinned at him for a moment before suddenly frowning. "How's Sam?"

"He's okay—he's upstairs." Dean nodded toward the basement steps, and found with surprise there was a lump in his throat. He'd be revisiting that scene for a while: Sam lying choking on the floor. The proximity of "okay" to "dead" still took him by surprise sometimes.

Missouri's unexpected touch of his arm yanked him back to the basement. "It didn't get anyone else," she said quietly, and patted him before making her way slowly up the stairs.

He stared after her for a moment, then once around the basement, vague memories stirrings. No one else carried its secrets but his dad, missing almost a half-year now, and Sam, waiting for him upstairs. There was no way Dean was going to lose him, too, here or anywhere else.

Dean set his jaw, turned his back on his silent former home, and followed Missouri back up to his family.

The End