Precedence
K Hanna Korossy

His Campbell's was going cold. Not like the microwave inside the little gas station convenience store had heated the soup-in-a-can to anything near appetizing, but still, cold soup. The root beer was going flat, too, and the wrapped sandwiches on the seat beside him weren't getting any fresher.

Dean checked his watch again, chagrined to find it was two minutes later than when he'd last checked. He swore, sometimes it was like he had a sister instead of a brother. No self-respecting guy spent half the time Sam did in the john. What was he doing in there, anyway, combing that shag rug he called his hair so it flopped in his face even more? Getting all those layers he wore to hang just right? Or just trying to see how much he could annoy Dean?

He drummed his fingers on the back of the seat. Sam knew he wanted to reach 278 before rush hour, Atlanta before dark. There was a job waiting, maybe, and Dean was itching for a nice, straightforward, demanding hunt.

So, was Sam moving into the bathroom, or what? Aw, this was ridiculous. Huffing an aggrieved sigh, Dean swung out of the car and stomped toward the back of the station.

The door was unlocked, which was, okay, no big deal when it was just the two of them, but Sam was usually a little more modest than that. Not that it mattered; Dean would have just picked the lock anyway if Sam ignored his knock.

He swung the door in. "Sam, come on, zip it up. Let's hit…the…road."

The posture registered first: Sam was hunched over the sink, one hand covering his face, frame taut with tension. Then the shaking legs and locked knees.

"What?" Dean asked, bewildered.

Sam finally dropped his hand and stared at the mirror, water pearling on his lashes and nose, and Dean saw the haunted, pained expression he was starting to become a little too familiar with.

Food and his early rush completely forgotten, Dean's heart sank. Vision.

Sam's knees buckled.

Dean was at his side in one step, hands under his brother's elbows, setting his own frame to take on six-foot-four of limp muscle and bone. "Sammy…" he said helplessly, trying to see into the face that was curtained off with damp hair now.

"Just…get me to the car," Sam murmured, hands moving vaguely over Dean's upper arm before clinging to his shoulder. A gleam of muddy green caught Dean's eye as his brother's head rolled. "Dean. Please."

"Huh…yeah." His memories of Sam as kid and preteen and gangly high-schooler merged into the man leaning heavily against him. Still needing him, even if Dean didn't know how to help these days. But he kept trying.

Dean turned, every motion sure and efficient now, and tucked a shoulder under Sam's. He worked a thumb through his brother's belt loop, flattened his other hand against Sam's chest, feeling the frantic beat of the heart within.

"C'mon, dude, just take it slow."

Sam staggered more than walked, but there was determination there. And in the fingers that had bunched a handful of Dean's jacket and scrabbled for more. And in the set of his jaw.

But the hand that tentatively found his jacket pocket and hooked two fingers into it, like that might keep him connected to Dean if he suddenly let go, that was all his little brother. The five-year-old who'd nestled up against Dean after nightmares and twisted the same two fingers in the hem of his pajamas.

Dean tossed the now-unwanted food from the front seat into a nearby trashcan without a second glance at the congealed soup, and settled Sam inside. His face was still creased with pain, one hand coming up to cradle his forehead.

Dean's own hand hovered over the tousled hair, then a shoulder, finally coming to rest on the edge of the seat. He crouched in the open door, eyes flicking past Sam to the map that lay on the driver's seat. So much for Atlanta. "What did you see?" he asked quietly, gaze returning to Sam and fixing there.

His brother's breath hitched and the words started to tumble out. Dean listened.

That much, at least, he still knew how to do.

00000

His car. His baby. The only thing his dad had left him besides Sam.

He'd just given it away.

Dean kicked at the loose gravel by the side of the road. "Son of a…" It wasn't nearly satisfying enough, and he grabbed a low-hanging branch as he passed, stripping off dead leaves and flinging them hard to the ground. Just given it away because the guy had asked, his car along with the weapons, his bag, dad's journal…

Dean cringed. Everything they had. Everything.Gone, just like that. How could he have…?

The ambulance shrieked by him before he'd even realized he'd been hearing the siren approach. Dean jumped back and stared after it, brow creasing. An ambulance, going the same direction he was. The same direction in which Sam was waiting on him.

The car suddenly didn't seem all that important. Dean broke into a run.

The bus was the first thing he saw, stopped diagonally across the road as if it had braked too hard and skid. The knot of people collecting in front of it made Dean's stomach lurch, and he hurried that direction.

He'd almost pushed his way through when a seated familiar figure and mop of dark hair to the left caught his eye. Dean took a breath, feeling his pulse settle as he detoured that way instead, giving the main attraction only a passing glance as he went.

It was a body. A body Sam was staring at.

Dean slipped in behind Sam, knowing his brother knew he was there when something indefinable relaxed in Sam's taut body. It was the same with Dean, whenever he bothered to think about it, as if he could stand down a little bit once he wasn't alone.

"You okay?" he said softly enough that no one but Sam would have heard.

Sam dragged in an unsteady breath.

Dean took that for the uncertain answer it was and glanced over at the knot of human vultures, taking in the position of the bus and the body. Then he returned his attention to Sam. "That the guy?"

Sam sucked in a breath, nodded. "Yeah." Unseen weight bowed the broad shoulders.

He should have guessed, when Sam had cut off their phone conversation so suddenly. Dean had been too ticked about the car to parse the sudden roughness in Sam's voice then, but he started listening to his instincts again. He reached out his hand, the flats of his fingers against the plane of Sam's shoulder blade, feeling the quiver of restrained emotion running through his brother. "He walked in front of the bus?" Dean prodded, gentle.

Sam nodded, face twitching. "He didn't even slow down, Dean."

Dean nodded back, even though his brother couldn't see.

They watched as the paramedics covered the body. That wasn't SOP, Dean knew, despite what a million TV shows said. But for the sake of all the gawkers, and Sam, whose gaze had never broken once from the body, he was grateful. He dropped his hand but stayed close.

Sam's voice was low and pained, pulling Dean's gaze to him again. "I kept him out of the gun shop. I thought he was okay. Thought he was past it, at least…" He took an unsteady breath. "I should have stayed with him."

Dean sidled a step closer so that his knee was brushing Sam's back. "You changed what was going to happen—you thought he was safe."

"He wasn't."

"And you saved the other dude's life, right? The gun shop owner he would've shot?"

Sam didn't answer. He was never as quick to accept absolution as he was guilt.

The nearby body wasn't helping anything. Dean took one more glance around the scene and decided they were done there. He leaned forward to nudge Sam with his knee. "Come on, we need to go find the car." For a few minutes there, he'd actually forgotten about it.

Sam nodded slowly, let Dean pull him to his feet. He managed to meet Dean's eyes, and smile only a little miserably. "I thought you gave it away."

"Shut up," Dean grumbled. But he held on to Sam's arm until he was sure the younger Winchester was steady.

The car could wait a little longer.

00000

He'd nearly shot himself. With his own rifle. Splattered his brains across grass and dirt the way he'd more than once pictured himself doing, but then it would have been his choice, his way. This…

Dean pitched the rifle aside with sudden revulsion, swallowing the bile that crawled up his throat.

He balanced a hand on the ground, took a deep breath. Okay, that wasn't the first time he'd faced death and pretty likely wouldn't be the last. Even if it wasn't usually death by his own hand, but…God, Dean fisted a hand in his hair, how screwed up was his life that it made him more sick that someone had messed with his head again than that he'd nearly died because of it?

Dean blinked, refocused at the scene below. Anson was down, possibly dead. Andy was helping the girl—Tracy?—off the ledge of the dam. And Sam was just starting to push himself up from the ground. Seeing him go down was what had sent Dean sprinting up onto the hill anyway, ready to take out Anson himself. Instead, Anson's brother had had to kill him.

Dean tasted bile again, but there was no time for that. He rose fluidly, tight control where there had been none before, and retrieved the discarded rifle before he jogged down the hill to the others.

Tracy was crying into Andy's shoulder as they sat by the railing, but Dean barely spared them a glance. Anson he took a longer look at, but the kid's eyes were open and fixed in death. Dean didn't even bother checking his pulse, just turned to Sam.

His brother was up on his knees, also looking a little green. When Dean grabbed his upper arm, Sam clasped Dean's forearm just as quickly and held on while he swayed once. Dean set the rifle down and took hold of his other arm.

"Sam? You with me?"

He looked a little shell-shocked, his eyes swimming. Dean couldn't tell if it was from pain or grief. But Sam nodded slowly.

"Can you stand?" Dean pressed, and was already urging him up. He turned the casted arm gently, checking it for damage, noting a crack.

"Dean, Anson…"

"Andy took him out. He's gone, Sam."

Sam's breath panted irregularly, faint white puffs in the night air. "No, man, listen. Anson, he was talking about a man with yellow eyes. He came to Anson in his dreams, told him he had plans for him."

Okay, just when he thought this night or this case couldn't get any crappier. Dean maneuvered Sam around without the kid even seeming to notice, tugging him over to the curb a dozen feet away from Obi-wan and his girlfriend. Sam's gaze was still locked on him as Dean sat him down, and Dean stared back at him. "So?"

"So?" Sam repeated disbelievingly. "Dean, it was the demon. I was right, it wants…something from us."

"Sam, Anson was messed up. The dude was either crazy or evil—honestly, I don't even care which one." Dean's brow drew together. "He was not like you. Or Andy. Hey, for all we know, the demon came to him because Anson wanted it to. You're not him,Sam."

Sam didn't look convinced. In fact, Dean was pretty sure the only reason he didn't argue was that he was too weary. His hand strayed up to the back of Sam's neck and came away wet.

Grimacing, Dean tilted the shaggy head forward with gentle hands, checking out the damage. Not too bad, just a small gash bleeding sluggishly, but he pulled a handkerchief out and pressed it against the wound. The doc could check it out when they stopped to get Sam's hand looked at.

Sam hissed but reached up to take over the pressure. Dean let go and sat down beside him, arms hanging over his knees. From here, he could see where he'd been crouched up on the hill, ready to take out Anson. He still didn't know how the guy had known he was there, or whammied Dean from that distance. The feel of the barrel underneath his chin…

Dean shrugged it off; he had more pressing concerns right now. He leaned against Sam, feeling his brother tiredly return the gesture. They had to call the cops, for Andy's and Tracy's sake if nothing else, and get Sam cleaned up. Dean had to put the rifle away, and find Sam's gun. And sometime before they left town, they'd have to check out Anson's place, see if they could find out anything else about the guy and his link to the demon.

But right now, sitting there, feeling Sam warm and breathing next to him, this was all Dean needed.

00000

Guthrie was just a bad memory behind them when Sam finally spoke up.

"Dean?"

His voice was soft, uncertain. Dean had been waiting for this ever since the search of Anson's house had turned up nothing, but he still had to work not to cringe. He braced himself for more questions he couldn't answer. "Yeah?"

"You said Andy was a hero because he saved Tracy and you." Sam glanced over at him. "When were you talking about?"

Dean cursed silently. He'd thought Sam had known, had seen or at least guessed what had gone down between him and Anson. He'd never have brought it up otherwise. Shouldn't have brought it up anyway.

"Dean?"

"Uh, you know, with the whole…thing."

Sam leaned his head forward in a tacit urge for him to keep going.Thing…?

Dean shifted impatiently. "You know. You were down, Tracy was about to go over—if Andy wouldn't've stopped Anson, I was probably next." Hey, it sounded plausible.

Sam shifted in his seat so he was facing Dean. "You know, I don't get how you can be so good at hustling cops and card players and blondes in low-cut tops, and be such a bad liar."

He didn't let the irony flicker across his face because, yeah, he was that good. You have no idea, Sammy. But he only raised his eyebrows.

Samhmphed. "You might as well tell me. You know I'm not going to leave you alone until you do."

Dean tilted his head in exasperation. "It's no big deal, okay? Somehow, Evil Twin saw me up there with the rifle before Andy killed him."

Sam stilled. "Dean…he could control people even if they couldn't hear him."

Dean smiled humorlessly. "Yeah, I kinda figured that one out."

"He tried to—?"

"Tried,Sam," Dean said firmly, driving the point home with a glare. "Nothing happened."

"With the rifle?" Sam said hoarsely.

"Do you really need to hear the details?" Dean ground out. "Because I'm not really up for the instant replay."

"I didn't know. I should've—"

"Sammy, you could barely sit up when I got down there. And I figured you didn't know." Well, until his little slip. This: being just the two of them, the shift in their relationship to Sam sometimes taking the lead now, it sometimes made Dean say more than he used to, and he wasn't sure yet if that was a good thing or not.

"It was close." Statement of fact, steady voiced.

Dean looked away, chewed his lip for a beat. "Yeah. It was close."

A whole song went by before Sam spoke again, although for the life of him, Dean couldn't have said which song or even which album it was. "I'm sorry I dragged you into this."

Dean gave him an exasperated look. "You see me kicking and screaming? You didn't drag me into anything, Sam."

Sam shook his head as he stared stubbornly straight ahead, out the windshield. "It's just…if something happened to you…"

"Don't talk like that," Dean cut him off. "Nothing's gonna happen to me, all right? And nothing's gonna happen to you, either," he added pointedly. "Not from the outside, and no way from the inside. You hear me?"

"Yeah." Sam shot him a sidelong glance. "I'm just glad you're all right, man."

"Geez, Sam…" Dean muttered. But an hour before, Sam had been freaking over maybe being evil incarnate. Now, his attention was all on Dean, and there was a glow of grateful concern in his eyes that made Dean both squirm and feel good. As much as he didn't like being fussed over, if that was what it took to distract Sam, so be it. He knew what his brother was feeling, very well. "Fine. Whatever. Same here." Dean glared at Sam. "Especially after the way you were waving that cast around. You know we're gonna have to stop at a hospital again—dude, are you trying to break that hand again?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "Right. Next time I'll just break the window with my good hand."

"And this is like, what, the second time in two weeks you let a girl take you down?"

"She was mind-controlled,Dean," Sam threw Dean's defense back at him incredulously.

"I'm just saying, I'm seeing a pattern here, Sammy…" And he really did.

Sam had always come first for him, before everything.

It was kind of nice to know it went both ways.

The End