Not Easy to Leave
K Hanna Korossy
For an extrovert whose behavior usually fell squarely in the "larger than life" category, Dean Winchester was surprisingly uncomfortable with attention.
It made sense in their line of work to keep their heads down and not draw notice, especially from those wearing badges and uniforms. Not that that had ever stopped Dean, who seemed to take an almost masochistic delight in teasing small-town law enforcement. And considering how many women in how many bars, and diners, and libraries, and hospitals fell for that sly Winchester grin, it probably made sense to keep a low profile from jealous boyfriends, too. No husbands, at least—Dean did have standards—for which Sam was profoundly grateful. Then there were all the people they sweet-talked in their day-to-day work: homeowners, secretaries, librarians, recordkeepers. Dean claimed Sam was better at that part, and he really was whenever anything resembling tact was required, but Dean had a charmed tongue that got them inside places without people even remembering they'd opened the door. Dean was the face on their team, the PR guy for a job that demanded secrecy.
None of which explained why he deflected Sam's interest in him whenever possible.
Their job usually wasn't subtle, however, and sharing the same room and car all the time limited just how much they could hide from each other. Sam also prided himself on having learned the full range of Dean Winchester grimaces, from the "oh, geez, a rat," to "okay, that hurt," to "yeah, I can't breathe, but no rush to the hospital, bro." It wasn't often Dean slipped something past him, and for both their sakes, he didn't often try.
Which was the sum of the reasons why Sam was so thoroughly ticked off now.
"Did it occur to youever," was pressed out through gritted teeth, "that your fellow hunter and roommate and, oh, yeah, brother might need to know you've been fighting an infection for the last three days?"
Dean sat shirtless and self-righteous on the closed toilet seat in front of Sam. "Dude, I don't know why you're making such a big deal out of this—it was under control."
"Right." Sam couldn't have been more careful as he dabbed at the back of Dean's shoulder, even as he stared daggers into his skull. "A fever of a hundred and one and puss seeping from a wound from a thunderbird's dirty nails is just another day at the office for you."
"I'm not in the mood, Dean." Dean's body jolted slightly each time Sam pressed the inflamed skin, and Sam had heard at least one sick swallow already. But he was being as gentle as possible, and it had to be done, they both knew that. Usually.
The slight whatever tilt of the dark blond head did not make him feel any better. The softened tone did, a little. "I said it was under control—the yellow stuff only started this morning."
"Which I still wouldn't even know about if I hadn't caught you favoring that shoulder."
"I was taking antibiotics, Sam—what more do you want?"
It was an absurd enough question that it warranted stepping around one jean-clad leg to stare its owner in the eye. "What do I want? How about you telling me if something's wrong, Dean? How about telling me when my brother has a fever and is producing a whole new set of body fluids?"
"Okay, man, that's just gross."
Sam jarred the leg, just to see Dean flinch. "How about being honest with the guy whose back you're watching, that you're not a hundred percent?"
The happy-go-lucky act slid away from one heartbeat to the next…after a small flinch. And that was what made the difference, because it was all the confirmation Sam needed he was right. Dean's frown didn't change a thing. "Cut the melodrama, Sam—you knew I was playing hurt—"
"This isn't about what I already knew, Dean," Sam softened, because he'd won his point and wasn't looking for a crushing victory. "Not the ankle and the bad arm. But when something else happens, you have to tell me." Softened nearly to the point of whisper.
Which did nothing to dull the hard edges of Dean's face. Those verbal keep-outs were thickening into the Wall of China, but knowing how to read his brother and heeding the signs were two different things. Sam had never been very good at toeing the family line. "Why, Sam? So you can kiss it and make it better?" It sounded cold, almost indecent, the way Dean sneered it.
Sam winced, retreating. He'd never been good at fencing, that skill more his brother's territory, but verbal sparring he knew his way around. Sometimes you had to give ground to gain ground. He pulled back again to stand behind his brother, tested the swollen skin to make sure all the puss had drained, and took up cotton and alcohol. "Because you matter to me," he said as matter-of-factly as possible. Dean sometimes let the deep truths slip by—I love you, I worry about you—if Sam was careful not to make them sound as such.
Dean hissed through his teeth at the touch of the alcohol, shoulders rippling to keep from pulling away. Sam curled a hand around his other shoulder, not wanting all their contact to be painful. "Fine," his brother finally said curtly.
"Yeah?" Sam questioned, wary, not trusting such an easy capitulation.
"Sure. Next time I stub my toe or get a splinter, you'll be the first to know."
He gritted his teeth and resisted sliding his thumb over that small inch to a particularly nasty pressure point. "Funny, Dean. Why are you making such a big deal out of this?"
"Why are you?"
"I'm not the one keeping a potentially serious injury from you!"
"Yeah, because you don't have any secrets, Sam."
His thumb slipped a half-inch. Then rubbed gentle circles as better sense prevailed. "I'm not going to argue this with you when you know I'm right. This isn't the kind of thing we can afford to lie about, Dean. First you go out hunting alone, then you keep downplaying how bad you're hurt when, dude, I talked to your doctor! Then you don't tell me about this—it's almost like…" The lightbulb clicked on, and Sam winced. His voice dropped sorrowfully. "Dean, man…"
His brother's shoulders hunched against another kind of assault. "Whatever you're thinking, you're wrong."
"I don't think so." A short, disbelieving bark of laughter. "I can't believe you're doing it again." Sam didn't bother skirting Dean's leg this time, shoving it aside as he planted himself in front of the man.
Dean was eyeing him with that look one gave to a dog that might be rabid. "Doing what again?"
"I'm used to the macho what, me, injured? routine, but the let's pretend the job isn't dangerous act? I haven't seen that one in a few years. Right before I went to Stanford, actually." It had confused him then, four years before. But with the clarity that came with maturity and a second crime scene over his bed, Sam thought he got it now.
Dean's gaze slammed to the floor, and he was already rising from the toilet seat. "I think the alcohol fumes are getting to your head, Sam. Go get some air—we're done."
Sam stepped in front of the door and didn't bother trying to soften the snick of the lock as he turned it behind his back.
"What're you doing?" Dean's voice was level and neutral and about as dangerous as it got.
"I'm not done wrapping your shoulder."
"I can do it."
"Sit. Down." Because not only Dean could do dangerous.
Dean didn't relinquish the older brother hat easily, even less so when he was injured. But something in his eyes smoldered, then relented. He managed to sit without any hint of surrender.
The infected discharge was cleaned out, and the wound was too old to be closeable. Sam opened a fresh tube of antibiotic cream—they went through them like alcoholics went through bottles—and very lightly squeezed some into the gash. Dean's back tightened, and this time Sam's hand flattened soothingly against his spine. It had to feel cool on the fever-flushed skin, but the muscles underneath relaxed instead of seizing up even more. Dean responded to him even when he didn't want to.
Sam pitched his voice low, trying to slip under his brother's defenses, because it got tiring and bruising always running into that wall. "I'm not leaving, Dean. Not yet, maybe not for a long time."
"I know. We've had this conversation before, remember?" And those weren't walls, those were ruins in his voice.
Yeah, Sam did remember the conversation, and the one before it in Chicago that had prompted it. He'd thought they'd finally reached a fragile sort of peace on the matter, until Dean's behavior had started ringing memory bells. Sam's eyes scrunched, collecting crow's feet in the mirror that lined the wall opposite them. It didn't reveal any of Dean's downturned face. "If I go back to school, Dean, either you're coming with me, or I'm going to be tracking you down every break and alternate weekends."
"Gee, I'm touched," Dean said dryly. "We're not getting divorced, Sammy."
Sam loved that nickname. Yeah, he'd fought it that first weekend of jockeying to reestablish his footing with Dean. But it was only ever used in affection and had all their history behind it, which pretty much made it Dean and their dad's exclusive property. It hadn't taken Sam long to realize that not only would he always be Sammy to his family, but that from them—from Dean—it made him feel loved.
"At least you've got that right," Sam conceded with a nod. He picked up a square of gauze and spread some ointment on it, then pressed it gently against Dean's shoulder. Dean was watching him work now in the mirror, and his face didn't even flicker at the touch. "I'm just saying, you don't have to be on good behavior here or worry about giving me more reasons to go."
"That's not what I'm doing."
Sam was used to denial and obfuscation and even the complex Dean Winchester con game, but there was only dead seriousness in Dean's voice this time. Sam stopped in the middle of wrestling with the roll of tape and met his eyes quizzically in the mirror. Okay, so much for the wise younger brother routine. "But, that's what…"
"I just get tired of defending what I do, Sam. It is what it is."
I do, not we."I didn't ask you to," Sam protested helplessly, because he could see ahead to Dean's next argument and wasn't sure he had an answer for it.
"No, you just keep bitching about being on the road and hunting things that aren't the demon and us getting hurt and not being a real person."
Sam silently tore off a strip of tape with his teeth and smoothed it over one edge of the bandage. He knew the best way to wrap just about any injury, just one of the many lessons of the Winchester life. One of the many reasons he'd rebelled against it.
"Are we done now?"
"No," he answered, to two separate questions. Both hands free, he tore the next strip of tape off with a twist of the fingers. "Is that what I make you do?" he asked quietly. "Defend your choice to follow in Dad's steps?"
The hazel eyes had gone an opaque brown. "Sometimes," Dean said warily.
Shoulder finished, Sam not, he maneuvered in the small bathroom to face his brother again, because he'd had enough of mirrors and everything else that stood between them. "Even if I hate this life and patching you up on a regular basis, that doesn't make me think less of you. Nothingwill make me think less of you, Dean. You don't have to act with me—if and when I leave, it won't be because of something you did or didn't do. Okay?"
Dean stared back impassively at him for a beat of three. "Not even karaoke?"
Sam spluttered. "What?"
"Or kicking you out for a few hours 'cause I brought a hot chick back with me?" Utterly deadpan. Hold me, Sam. That was beautiful. Dean's way of dealing when things got too heavy.
Sam smiled even as he was shaking his head. "You're an ass."
"But that's okay, 'cause I can be myself with you, right, Sammy?"
He threw up his hands. "Fine, make fun of it. Just don't forget it."
"Maybe you should embroider it on a pillow for me."
"Maybe you should…" He could play this game, but it wasn't him. Sam's voice dropped. "…take a shower to get your temperature down a little. I'll get you some aspirin. Just try not to get your shoulder wet again."
Dean's eyes had lightened, hinting at gold now. "You'll fix it," he said almost offhandedly.
There was a lot to say: I'm not leaving anytime soon, I won't just walk out on you, you can count on me. But some things you could just declare, while others needed to be shown to be believed. Dean had always learned best by demonstration rather than lecture. And no matter how much he diverted and denied, sometimes he did need his brother's attention. So all Sam said quietly was, "Yeah. I will."
Dean proceeded to throw him out of the bathroom, but from the look he gave Sam as he did, he got the message.