K Hanna Korossy
"We could wait until tomorrow to go after the rawhead, Dean." Unlike many of the things they hunted, rawheads weren't any less active during the day than at night—unfortunately for the string of victims this raw had left behind—the dark only giving the hunters a disadvantage.
Dean was throwing equipment, clothes, and weapons into their bags without any appearance of order, but Sam knew better. "Two kids just disappeared from a park outside town," he said tersely.
Sam stared at him a moment, at Dean's set jaw and clipped motions, and started packing, himself.
That was the end of the discussion.
"We're going," Sam announced, trying to be encouraging but coming across as desperate to his own ears. Nebraska was all he had, the only chance he could offer Dean. It had to work.
Dean shook his head with a soft snort, less denial and more resignation. Maybe normally it was the dying that got their last wish, but Winchesters knew better. In their world, it was the one being left behind who really suffered.
He had slipped down even further in the chair from his original slump, and Sam shook himself out of wishes and desperate prayers. He slid off the bed, crouching by Dean instead of looming over him. "Hey, man, you look wiped. Let's get some sleep, huh?"
Dean didn't push his hands away. Sam was as matter-of-fact in his touch as he could be when everything inside him screamed to hold on to his brother and keep him from slipping away. He relocated Dean to the edge of the bed, bent to pull his boots off. They were going into the trash; the electricity had popped half the seams and they were barely on his feet. Sam would've brought Dean his other pair if he'd known his brother was coming back, not left him wearing an amalgam of burnt-smelling clothes and the hoodie Sam had forgotten in his room one day. His forehead creased as he moved up to help Dean out of his jeans.
"Dean? Why didn't you call? I would've come pick you up."
The hoodie came off last, revealing the burn Dean's amulet had left from the high voltage, the chest muscles that still spasmed randomly and had to hurt. And beneath them, a damaged heart, hanging on to life.
Dean was exhausted and in pain; Sam could hear it in every controlled breath and feel it in the tremors of his brother's body. How he'd gotten himself back to the motel at all was a mystery, and Sam finally glanced up, the question still on his lips.
Dean looked away. "I wasn't sure you were still here."
Sam blinked. "What?"
"You hadn't come by in three days, Sam—thought you took me up on leaving town. I didn't know until I saw the car in the lot. Not like there's anything here to stay for."
Sam had been hovering near tears all the time those last days, and it took a lot less than this quiet statement of fact to make his eyes hot and prickly. He'd gotten so immersed in researching a way to help Dean; Sam had called the hospital every day for updates, but it had never occurred to him what his brother would make of his absence. "Dean," he murmured helplessly. "I'm not—" losing you again, saying goodbye, ready to be alone "—leaving you, all right? You're stuck with me." No promises for the moment that he would fix this, nothing but what he was rock-solid he could deliver. No matter what, he would be there.
Dean stared at him a moment, dark-eyed, then nodded. Sam drew a shaky breath and helped him lie on his side, tucked him in under two layers to still the shivering.
He sat on the edge of his brother's bed a long time after Dean had drifted off, trying to hang on to his promise but hearing only I wasn't sure you were still here.
"You never should have brought me here," Dean said darkly.
"Dean, I was just trying to save your life."
"But, Sam, some guy is dead now because of me."
"I didn't know,"Sam said with wrenching earnestness. Maybe there had been a whisper in his mind that something wasn't right here, but ignorance was salvation this time. He hadn't known La Grange was trading a life for a life, and so had been able to save Dean without making that choice.
Dean's anger died at Sam's words; he saw it fade. Neither of them had known, and Dean was a fair man; he wouldn't have the heart to blame Sam for acting in ignorance. It wouldn't stop him from feeling guilt for the life that had been taken from another and given to him, however, and this, if Sam was honest, was the only point he felt true regret about.
"Dean. Say something," he quietly begged.
Dean met his eyes for a moment. Putting his game face on right in front of Sam. "Okay," he said. "Okay, what else have you got?"
Dean looked pale and drained as he dropped into the driver's seat, and Sam watched him with a lump in his throat. Déjà vu could be nasty, and right now Sam was just an eye-blink away from a hospital room and I'm gonna die. And you can't stop it.
"What happened out there?" he whispered.
Dean's head rolled against the seat back. "Uh-uh, you first."
Sam swallowed, nodded. "We were right, there was an altar in the basement—black candles, blood, the usual dark arts spread. And a picture of you."
Dean huffed. "Hope she caught my good side."
"I thought knocking it down would be enough, but the amulet was the real source of her power. Took me a while to get out of the basement, but when I found her and broke the necklace…" Sam hadn't exactly seen what had happened, but Sue Ann's expression of horror gave him a clue. He shrugged. "I guess the reaper wasn't too happy about being on a leash."
"She's dead?" Dean asked flatly.
"She's dead," Sam affirmed.
"Good." The hardness in Dean's voice poked at the hole in Sam's relief.
But he was still there, alive, heart as strong as ever. Sam would have waded through any moral morass for that.
He looked at his brother more closely, saw the faint sheen of sweat on his face, and took a guess. "You saw it again. The reaper."
For an answer, Dean silently unstrapped his watch, tossed it into Sam's lap. It wasn't working, frozen at a few minutes before.
Sam rubbed a thumb over the glass face, feeling the belated twist of the gut for a close call he hadn't even been aware of. "You didn't run from it, did you."
Dean sat motionless, staring at the tent. "Layla's in there now, wondering why she hasn't been healed."
Sam wrinkled his nose. "I'm sorry," he said, only partly meaning it.
People were starting to stir at the doorway of the tent. Someone would find Sue Ann soon. Dean had to be thinking the same thing, and he turned the key in the ignition.
His brother didn't look over, but he paused, waiting for Sam.
"If it would've been possible. I mean, to run away from a reaper. Would you have tried?"
A second passed, then another. Dean finally moved, throwing the car out of park. "Let's get out of here."
An answer Sam already knew shouldn't have hurt that much.
Leaning against the soda machine, he watched as Layla left, returning her wave. Sam gave it another minute, sipping cold caffeine and sugar, before heading back to their room.
Dean sat much as Sam had left him, on the edge of the bed, looking preoccupied and weary. A glance up acknowledged Sam's return, then there was silence. Sam set an unopened soda beside his brother and returned to his packing.
Another minute passed before Dean cleared his throat and spoke, glancing sideways at Sam. "She knows what we did. I mean, not the details, but she has to know. And she's okay with it."
Sam nodded slowly. He'd been hoping Layla could ease some of Dean's pain, but his brother's expression was more puzzled than peaceful.
"I don't get it, Sam. Why isn't she mad—at me, at God, something?"
He paused in the middle of rolling up a t-shirt and met Dean's gaze. "I don't know, man, maybe she's more about giving than getting, too."
Dean just looked at him blankly. It wasn't an answer he could understand. His family, the innocents they fought for, everyone was crammed into his heart, leaving no room for himself. Sam couldn't help but wish Roy had been able to heal that, too.
Or maybe that was Sam's job. Dean had always learned best by example.
Sam nodded at his brother's half-packed bag, spoke gently. "Let's go, huh? I'm ready to get out of this place."