With thanks to R
K Hanna Korossy
"I think that's her," Sam said, pointing to the old green Pontiac parked along the curb in front of them. A woman's head was just visible above the driver's seat.
"Got it," Dean answered, angling the car to pull up behind. Several houses back, though, he stopped, hands still on the steering wheel, eyes locked straight ahead. "Sam…"
Dean could feel his brother's infamous stubborn streak kick in, and wondered for the nine-thousandth time how Dad had put up with it for so many years. He always came up with the same answer: not so well. Stanford—'nuff said. Dean just wasn't ready to risk the same.
He turned toward his brother and dropped his voice, departing from the script he knew Sam was expecting. "I need to know you're up for this, dude. I need to know you're all right."
Sam's eyes widened, the set jaw loosening. "I'm still sore, but I'm all right. And Missouri—"
"I know, Missouri asked us to look into this one. But it can wait if you're not ready."
Sam's expression was doing that softening thing that often made Dean think of their mom even though he couldn't actually remember Mom ever doing that. He kinda thought she would have, though. "I'm good." A small spark, the kind he'd been so relieved to see several times the last few days. "Pinned you last night, didn't I?"
Dean snorted, reaching for the door handle. "In your dreams, bro. I let you win."
"No, no, no, man, don't give me that. I took you down fair and square." Sam was also reaching for the handle, and he moved now mostly without any visible sign of pain. Dean knew because he still watched out for it even as he laughingly answered.
"I was trying to take it easy on you. Didn't want to put any pressure on your bruises or anything." He got out, immediately catching Sam's eyes over the roof of the car.
It was good to see color in his face again. Just a week before, he'd lain white-faced and gasping in Dean's arms after just having shot himself full of rock salt to keep from turning the gun on Dean. They'd holed up to heal afterward—both of them—and Dean had watched intently as Sam moved a little easier each day, grew a little less pale, acted a little less skittish, even as his chest blossomed into a rainbow of bruises. He'd been down to yellows and pale greens that morning when Dean had caught a glimpse of him after his shower, healing scabs dotting his pecs, but he rarely hesitated or winced now as he moved. And he had taken Dean in their sparring match the night before. Dean hadn't even been holding back that much.
Still, he wouldn't have minded another day or two of downtime. That had been the plan until Missouri had called out of the blue asking for a favor. They owed her, and Sam had agreed. That evening, they'd packed the car and set off for the Oklahoma panhandle.
"Yeah, whatever lets you sleep, dude," Sam was answering back with a grin. Dean just gave him a ha-ha smirk, because the lady in the rust bucket Pontiac had gotten out and was walking toward them. Dean turned the charm that was wasted on his brother on her instead.
"Dean and Sam?" she asked as preamble, sounding a little uncertain. They got that a lot. Dean dialed the grin up a notch, even if she did look about forty and pretty much as mousy librarian as they got, complete with brown suit, sensible shoes, and, oh, Lord, her hair in a bun in the back. He did love a woman with her hair up in a bun. Sam had once teased him he had a Princess Leia fixation, and Dean hadn't denied it. That metal slave-girl costume? Hot.
"Annabel Church?" he asked in return, and tried not to preen when she blushed. Oh, yeah, he had the touch.
Sam had moved around the front of the car, and oh-so-subtly slipped between the woman and Dean, rolling his eyes at his brother before turning all his attention to their client. "Miss Church?" he said quietly. "Missouri said you thought a friend of yours was possessed?"
Right to the point; that was his Sam. Actually, it gave Dean a chance to hang back and watch the two of them, the client for any signs of deceit, Sam for any signs of pain or weakness. Dean still wasn't one-hundred percent sure about this job.
Annabel Church—who'd started with asking them to call her Annabel, another point in her favor—was already telling her story, the same one they'd gotten in short from Missouri. "…fairly certain it's a possession. She's just…so changed now, cruel and coarse, you know?" Sam nodded sympathetically. "Like she enjoys upsetting people. And….and, there have been a few strange deaths around town since… I don't want to think she had anything to do with them, but she's so not like herself."
"Missouri said you tried the tests?" Sam prompted.
"Yes. Cheryl did flinch at God's name, although she tried to cover it up. And I was only able to just touch her with the holy water, but she jerked away like I'd hurt her. I don't know, could anything else…?"
Sam had half-turned to meet his eyes, and Dean gave him a solemn look. No, that sounded pretty cut-and-dried, and he saw as much in his brother's face. Dean took a breath, and a step forward. "Sorry to tell you this, Annabel, but yeah, we're pretty sure your friend is possessed."
The woman seemed to cave in a little, and it was only sympathy Dean was feeling for her now. He still saw his father's yellow eyes sometimes in his dreams, heard the cruel lilt of possessed-John Winchester's voice. It sucked to see someone you cared about like that.
"But we can help," Sam was quick to add, and Dean took the cue to head around to the back seat. At least they'd come prepared for this job, and the duffel was already packed with salt, holy water, a devil's trap traced on a sheet, the journal, a lot of thick rope, and as a last resort, a salt-loaded shotgun. Dean had balked at that one, but Sam had fetched and packed it resolutely, his eyes mirrors of empathy and pain, his hand on Dean's shoulder as he passed him the only admission he felt it, too.
Annabel led the way to the house she was parked in front of, a non-descript split-level just like every other house on the street. She explained as they went, "I asked Cheryl's husband to take the children out for the evening. He knows…he knows something's wrong but not what. I told him I needed some time to talk to her. You won't…you won't hurt her, right? I mean, if he comes back with the boys and she's—"
"We'll do our best," Sam soothed. "She should be okay after, but demons, sometimes they mess with their hosts, you know? They don't care if they hurt them. We'll try not to make it worse, though, all right?"
Dean watched as his little brother's tone and his hand on Annabel's arm made the woman relax. He'd never been sure if Sam's empathy was a gift or a curse, but there was no question it made their job a lot easier sometimes. Dean threw the woman a hopefully reassuring smile as she looked his way, then he was opening the duffel, handing Sam the salt and a piece of rope while he claimed the holy water and more rope for himself. He stashed the bag just out of sight to the right of the front door, then took a breath and knocked.
The woman who opened the door was closer to their age than Annabel's, petite and blonde and pretty. Nothing about her screamed possession, but Dean didn't hesitate, knowing better. If Annabel was wrong, well, they could apologize later. "Hi," he said brightly, and splashed the contents of the bottle on her.
Steam instantly sizzled up at contact, and the woman—Cherie, Cheryl, Dean couldn't remember exactly—threw back her head with an unearthly howl.
Sam moved in purposefully, Dean right on his heels.
They worked in tandem without the need for a discussed plan, Sam quickly drawing a circle of salt around the woman while Dean grabbed their bag and shut the door in a startled Annabel's face. He then went to work with the remaining holy water, the sheet, and the rope. Within a minute, they had the woman smack in the middle of their portable devil's trap, limbs tied and a familiar hateful glare Dean knew and loved twisting her otherwise pretty features.
"Winchesters," spat out the unnaturally deep voice from the small lipsticked mouth.
"Hey, Sam, look, we're famous."
Sam's expression was set, all business as he dug out the journal and opened to the marked page. He began reading off the Latin while Dean stood carefully outside the circle, shotgun loose and ready in his hands. He smirked at the black eyes that turned his way.
They blinked at him, then relaxed into a smile. Which made his vanish.
"Winchester pups, I should say. Where's your father?"
Dean didn't look up, staring coldly at the monster they were exorcising, but he heard the minute hitch in Sam's reading. He took a side-step closer to his brother, silent support, even as his gaze never budged from the possessed woman.
The unnatural smile widened. "Oh, that's right. He's not here anymore, is he."
Sam's voice rose, and Dean took decided satisfaction in seeing the demon flinch. It matched the tightening in his own gut at the mention of their dad.
"I bet you'd like to know where he is, wouldn't you? You humans worry so much about each other."
Sam didn't falter, but Dean's gaze flickered. He suddenly felt very alone and wanted to look away, check on Sam just…just because.
"We could make a trade."
"Not interested," Dean talked over Sam's chant. He knew he spoke for both of them.
"Oh, I think you would be. And afterward, I'll even depart peacefully, leave the host intact."
Dean put up a hand, and Sam trailed off uncertainly at the end of a line, waiting.
"What kind of a trade?"
The blonde head canted. "Information for information. That's all."
Dean crouched down to eye-level with the woman, stare hard and assessing. Demons lied all the time, but they were also bound in deals by rules even older than they. His very life was proof of that. "What kind of information?" he asked, ignoring Sam's murmured Dean behind him.
"Where your father is, for anything we'd like to know."
"We?" Dean questioned tightly.
"I'll be gone, right?" That unholy grin again. "Don't worry, it won't be anything you can't reveal."
Sam pulled at his arm, and Dean stood, thoughts whirling. The only secret he had worth keeping was one he was keeping from Sam, not the demon world. He kind of suspected they knew it already. What else could they possibly ask that wouldn't be worth finding out about their dad?
"What are you doing?" Sam was hissing at him, inches from his face.
Dean refocused on him, daring to pull his eyes away from the woman for a minute. She had them where she wanted them right now, anyway, and the idea was disturbing.
Sam's hot gaze didn't help. "Don't tell me you're seriously considering its offer."
He blanked his thoughts from his face. "Why not? It's just information, Sam—I'd think that would set your geek heart all a-flutter."
"It's not telling us everything—we don't make deals with demons, remember?"
And suddenly they were back to a week ago, Dean dodging Sam's gaze, Sam looked hurt and afraid. "It's not like that," Dean said mutedly.
"Yes, it is. Demons twist things around—who knows what it wants from us? Maybe it's something we don't even know that's the key to stopping the Yellow-Eyed Demon. I don't know, Dean, I just know this is a bad idea."
But Sam didn't know. Not what Dad had told Dean, what weight he carried around, how he would've given almost anything to talk to his dad just one more time, ask him for more information…tell him he was sorry. How the not knowing where his dad had gone because of him was slowly killing Dean. He met Sam's eyes again. "Would the trap bind it to its deal?" he asked.
Sam paused, startled. "Yeah, probably," he answered, rushing to add, "That's not the—"
"Sammy, it knows where Dad is," Dean said with quiet emphasis.
"Dean." Sam was shaking his head, eyes sympathetic but firm. "No."
"I have to," he whispered, and turned away. Addressed the demon before Sam could stop him. "Okay, information for information—nothing else."
The blonde head nodded formally. "Done." A small smile this time, private and cunning. "And you're right, your father is in Hell. But he's not suffering yet. He's in…well, let's just call it the waiting room. Quite safe…for now."
Oh, God. Dean hadn't realized how tight the pressure had been wound around his gut until it eased. That small comfort was worth anything. "Until when?"
"Until decisions are made, stories played out. Until the battle's finished." The smile suddenly grew. "My turn. Break the circle and let me leave."
"Dean." Sam's voice was a painful croak.
He knew it was a risk, but it was one he was willing to take. It wasn't like he was offering his life this time. This was different than what had gone down at the crossroads. Dean nodded, scuffing the circle of salt as he stepped forward. He bent down, grasped the sheet in both hands, and tore.
"Thanks," the demon said, and pulled her arms free of the ropes. Then she glanced casually over at Sam.
Sudden dread flooded Dean. His eyes also flew to his brother.
A split-second before Sam vanished, the air shimmering in his wake.
Dean lunged to his feet, casting a wild glance around the room. "Sam!" he yelled frantically, but it was an automatic gesture. Sam wasn't there, he already knew it, wasn't anywhere nearby. "Sam!"
His heart feeling like it would pound right of his chest, Dean spun and grabbed the demon, not caring for once if he was hurting the host, too.
"Where is he!"
"You said information for information. You didn't say from who or how we could get it."
He growled low in his throat and shook her hard enough to make her head bounce, feeling nausea rise. "I made the deal," he gritted at her. "It was supposed to be me."
"Don't worry." He was really starting to loathe that smile. "He'll be returned to you alive. After."
Her head suddenly snapped back, dark smoke pouring from her mouth. Dean flinched from the unexpectedness, staring wide-eyed as the demon left its host, funneling out through an open window in the back.
The woman he had a bruising grip on hiccupped, then with a mewling cry and fear in her eyes, started to struggle to free herself of him.
Dean let her go, stumbling back onto his rear. Oh, God. What had he done? Had he just…given Sam to the very enemy he was supposed to protect him from? It wasn't possible, was it, not even with Dean's history of screw-ups and the twisted mess their lives had become. It couldn't be.
But remembering Sam's shocked expression just before he'd disappeared, the demon's satisfied smile, it was impossible to believe anything else.
Dean ran a shaking hand over his face. It couldn't…he couldn't…
The woman's crying was degenerating into hysteria, and the sound snapped Dean back. Dazed, he barely cast her a glance, just dragged at the devil's trap, stuffing it into the duffel along with the journal Sam had dropped when he… Dean blinked. The salt and ropes didn't matter. Nothing really mattered. He stumbled to his feet, opened the door.
Annabel anxiously craned past him.
"It's done. Go help your friend," Dean said numbly, and stumbled down the steps.
At the bottom, it hit anew, and Dean gripped the railing tight. Sam's plea for him not to make the deal, his silent disappearance. He'll be returned to you alive. After. No promise of what shape he'd be in. Because demons lied, twisted and tortured and took pleasure inflicting pain, especially on the Winchesters. And he'd just handed them Sammy.
Dean lurched around the railing and threw up breakfast in the bushes by the front walk.
He wanted to cry, or scream, or do…do something. But nothing would help, not this. Nothing could make this feel better.
He pushed himself up on weak legs and stumbled back to the car. All he could do now was wait.
Minutes became hours. Hours became Hell on Earth.
Dean paced the room, panic mounting at each tick of the wall clock. The longer it went, the more chance Sam was…was hurt. But there'd been no guarantee of when he'd be returned. It could be in the next minute, it could be in a year.
Dean was pretty sure he would be insane by then.
He'd splurged on a tiny cabin instead of a room this time, needing the space, afraid Sam would need the space. Dean had unpacked everything: weapons, first aid kit, Sam's clothes. He'd bought pancakes in a fit of needing to do something to make this better, even if the food was cold by now. And then he'd just paced.
There was no one to call anymore. Oh, there were friends who would do everything they could to help, but there was no one who needed to know that Sam was missing—betrayed—that he might be hurt, that Dean was losing his mind. No one to even pretend would eventually get the message and care about the outcome. He'd never been this alone, this orphaned before. Had he ever told Sam that he was the only anchor Dean had left? Before, you know, Dean had tossed him away.
He chewed on his knuckles, not even noticing they were already bloody.
What if Sam wasn't sent back here? Just because the demon had said he'd be returned to Dean didn't mean that was literal. He could show up in Shannon or Sharon or whatever her name was's house, and Dean wouldn't be there. If the powers of darkness were feeling particularly mulish, they could drop Sam in the middle of the frickin' desert, and God only knew when or even if Dean would ever find out.
There were a few…options. He could find a crossroad and summon a demon. Or there was that binding spell in Dad's journal they'd never tried, Sam's face always so serious when he warned of possible consequences of that kind of magic. Dean could make another deal; Sam intact, safe, returned, for whatever they wanted. There was nothing Dean wouldn't offer in a heartbeat.
But that was how he'd gotten here in the first place. If he had any standards left at all, they were Sam's, and Sam would tell him not to do it, that he'd just be making things worse. Dean didn't know how they could be any worse than they were, but he listened. For once, he listened.
Waited. Paced. Shattered the lamp against the wall. And went a little more crazy each minute.
Eight hours and forty-three minutes after Sam disappeared, there was that same silent shimmer in the middle of the room. When it faded, Sam was sprawled on the floor.
Dean's heart stuttered and he crashed to his knees beside Sam. His brother's shirt and shoes were gone, and rivulets of blood ran from the previously healing rock salt wounds. It was the only sign of injury Dean saw, but Sam's muscles quivered as if they'd been straining for hours, and his wild eyes were bloodshot.
And the hoarse screams went on.
Lightheaded and impossibly more scared than before, Dean gathered him up without further hesitation, worried about hidden physical damage but unable to bear the awful sounds his brother was making any longer. He pressed Sam's head against his chest above his own heart, wrapped arms and legs around him, cocooned him, and started rocking. His voice cracked against the violence of Sam's cries.
"You're okay, Sammy, you're okay. Please stop, oh, God, please stop. It's over. It's over. Don't do this, please…"
The screaming wavered, faded into whimpering that almost ached worse than the shrieks. Whimpering meant broken and hurt and, God, if Dean's chest got any tighter, it would burst.
"I've got you," he whispered desperately into hair dripping with sweat. "I've got you, Sammy, you're safe with me." The irony choked him. "Don't be scared, I've got you. I'll take care of everything—it's all gonna be okay."
Sam still trembled and shook, but he was mostly silent now. Dean had expected tears, maybe, or clutching, but it didn't seem like Sam had any energy left for it. He just lay heavily against Dean, body running through aftershocks but mind somewhere else, the half-open eyes dull and unseeing.
Dean swallowed, moving carefully. They were on the floor in front of the beds, and from there he could reach the first aid kit, Sam's clothes. He pulled the kit closer, dabbing at the blood on Sam's chest until he was satisfied the wounds were clean and no longer hemorrhaging. He did a quick triage, but there really didn't seem to be any more injuries, at least not bodily ones. Dean wrestled the sweat-damp clothes off, replacing them with clean ones, then pulled the blanket from the nearest bed and wrapped it around the unresisting body. "I'm gonna move you, okay?" he said softly, expecting and getting no answer. "Just…hang on."
Dean heaved his brother up onto the bed, easing his head onto the pillow, pulling up a second blanket over him. Sam's face was pale, his skin cool, and Dean grabbed a duffel and stuffed it in under his feet, raising them.
Sam's eyes slowly crept shut.
Dean sat on the edge of the bed a long time, just watching him. He breathed fractionally easier when Sam finally slipped fully into sleep, exhalations long and slow, and the last tremors faded from his body. Dean ran a towel over the damp face and hair, his own hands still shaking as he swept limp bangs off Sam's forehead like he had when they were kids. When they'd still had some innocence left.
Dean sat there, watching, still waiting, and having no clue what he was going to do when Sam woke up.
It was less climactic than Dean had expected.
His head rose when Sam's breathing changed, speeding up a little. It was mid-morning, sun streaming through the seams of the closed blinds, and Sam looked grey in the light. His eyes were just as washed out when they opened, blinked.
"Sammy?" he breathed.
It took a moment, but they slid over to look at him. Or in his direction, anyway; Sam still didn't seem to be really focusing. The fear returned from the night before that he'd somehow been invisibly damaged, relentless.
Dean leaned forward, hand a light weight on Sam's stomach, offering a touchpoint. "Sammy, can you hear me?"
Another moment, another blink. Then Sam nodded once and his eyes dropped back down to look at nothing.
Dean swallowed, his throat feeling tight and sharp. "I need you to say it, okay? Please."
Sam just stared as pale lips worked. "I'm all right, Dean." It would have carried more weight if his tone hadn't sounded so utterly dead.
Dean's vision blurred. "Sammy, I…" What? He was sorry? Because that would do so much to help. He'd betrayed his brother—sent him to Hell, for God's sake. No apology would help this. Dean cleared his throat. "You have to drink something, okay?" He stood, needing to do something, or at least to get away from this still, silent imitation of his brother. "I picked up some—"
The unwelcome rock strains of his phone interrupted, and Dean noticed Sam didn't react at all. He kept a scared, worried eye on him as he dug his phone out of his jacket pocket. Missouri blinked on it.
Dean groaned, considered letting it go to voice mail, except that would just make things harder later. He flipped it open instead as he rooted around in the bag on the table for the carton of OJ he'd bought.
"Dean Winchester, why didn't you call? I heard from Annabel that—"
"Something came up," he said tightly. "I can't talk now, Missouri." Where was that—?
A sudden sucked-in breath reminded him who he was talking to. "Oh, Dean, you didn't. Boy, didn't your daddy raise you with more sense than to be making deals with demons? I thought Sam meant more to you—"
Maybe his face showed his feelings, or maybe Sam was getting better at the whole psychic thing, because even as Dean froze, blood draining into his feet, his brother finally stirred. Studied him a moment, then wormed an arm out from the blankets, every movement shaded with exhaustion, and lifted it, silently demanding the phone.
At that point, Dean would have given him the Impala if he'd asked. Numbly, he reached out the cell, fingers just brushing Sam's at the hand-off. Sam's eyes met his for a moment, still expressionless but actually seeing him. Then they slid to the wall past him as Sam wedged the phone between the pillow and his ear.
"Don't," he said, weak but clear. "He didn't know." He listened for a moment, then his voice fell to a whisper. "Don't ever say that again." He folded the phone shut, let it sag.
Dean gently reclaimed it, then stared at him while sinking down onto the opposite bed. Sam's weary eyes followed him down, darting away sometimes but always returning. Emotion was starting to bleed into them, all bad: wariness, grief, pain. Dean swallowed the lump in his throat, wishing more than anything, even more than getting Dad back, that he could live the last twenty-four hours over again. "Sammy…," he murmured helplessly. "I'm sorry." Because maybe it wouldn't help anything, but it still needed to be said.
"I know," Sam whispered. His eyes closed, pushed open again.
"What can I do? Anything you want, man, just tell me, I'll do it."
Sam stunned him by smiling at that. Not much, barely a lift of the lips, but still. "Anything?" he mumbled.
Dean wasn't in the mood. "Anything," he repeated with total honesty, nodding. Nothing Sam came up with could be harder than seeing him lying screaming on the floor.
Sam's momentary amusement faded and his head rolled in a slight shake. "Just…no more deals, okay?"
Dean gave a disbelieving laugh. "What, are you kidding me? God, Sam, I think I figured that one out on my own. Never again, dude, I mean it. Never."
"Good." Sam swallowed, nodded. "Good. And just…uh, don't go anywhere, all right?" His eyes flicked away like he was embarrassed, and Dean would have swatted him for that if he hadn't been through more than enough already.
"Yeah, sure," Dean said immediately. Like he had anywhere else he wanted to be. He reached up to hesitantly rub the inside of Sam's wrist with the ball of his thumb, tension inside him snapping like twigs when Sam dragged his hand down so he could wrap it around Dean's palm and wrist instead. Dean found comfort in the simple presence of his loved ones, but Sam had always been tactile. He exhaled now in relief at the contact and let his eyes sink shut.
Dean curled his fingers over the top of Sam's hand, then slid off the bed into the space between them so his arm wasn't stretched out across the divide. Sam was already asleep, still looking exhausted and careworn but not as…dead anymore. His hand stirred against Dean's in small motions of sleep but didn't let go.
It was absolution he didn't deserve but that he was too desperate not to take. He'd make it up to Sam, somehow, sometime. But for now, knowing his brother didn't hate him, that Sam even wanted him there, was priceless. Dean rubbed his eyes, then shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere, Sammy," he said huskily.
Sam slept on. And Dean, leaning against a nightstand, his arm stretched above him, finally did, too.
"So," Dean said hesitantly, "that was the info they wanted? What 'abilities' you have?"
They were sitting crosslegged on opposite ends of the bed, both nursing mugs of motel-brew coffee, imperfect mirror images of each other. Sam still looked like, well, like he'd been to Hell and back, shoulders drooping with a weight even Dean couldn't imagine. But he was sitting up and clear-eyed and not screaming, and right now Dean was desperately counting every small plus.
"They didn't ask me anything—it was more like…I don't know, tests or something. But yeah."
Right, because having demons running tests on his brother like some friggin' little grey aliens was so much better. Sam hadn't given him any details, either, had carefully avoided any explanation for the bleeding and the screaming, and Dean wasn't asking.
"What did they find out?"
Sam shrugged one-shouldered. "Visions. No TK or mind-control or anything. Just…visions." His eyes darkened, the gold becoming a maple brown. Dean knew what he'd seen would be looping indefinitely in Sam's dreams, and he could wait until then for the highlights.
"We could've told them that," Dean said, frowning. "Actually, I kinda figured they already knew."
"I don't think this was the Yellow-Eyed Demon," Sam said, shaking his head tiredly. A small, humorless smile. "I guess I haven't made theDemon Quarterly, yet, after all."
He looked so worn, in ways that were far more than physical. Dean hurt just looking at him. It apparently showed from the way Sam suddenly softened.
"Dean, I'm all right."
"Sure, Sammy," he said bitterly. "You just took a little vacation yesterday, thanks to me."
"And I took off once and almost got you killed by a fertility god. We didn't know—let it go, man."
Dean drank more of the coffee, rubbed his forehead. He wished so badly it were that easy.
"At least we know about Dad," Sam said softly.
His head came up at that, and he stared disbelievingly at his brother. What, was he actually saying—?
"Not that I'd jump at the chance to do it again just for that," Sam wryly added, answering the unspoken, "but at least we got that much."
Dean's face twisted. It was huge, actually, having some assurance their dad wasn't suffering, but he hadn't allowed himself think about it much, unwilling to let himself off the hook that easily or find comfort in anything. This wasn't supposed to be about making him feel better.
Sam stretched out one long leg to give his knee a shove. "Dude, quit being the drama queen. It's all right."
Dean shook his head, unable to stop the laugh. They were so messed up.
He tilted his head enough that he could look up at Sam. "I'm just thinking, this is from the same guy who wouldn't talk to me, like, for a week when I borrowed one of his books and didn't give it back."
Sam stared at him. "Dean, I was, what, nine or ten? And you used my book—myschoolbook—for first base."
"Third base," Dean corrected absently.
"Mrs. Reever made me pay for it. I had to cut the Applebees' grass for the next two months."
Sam sputtered, then…laughed. Honest-to-God, heartfelt laughed. "You're still a jerk. And…I guess I've grown up a little since then."
The giddiness drained away. "Yeah," Dean said quietly. "You have." Somewhere along the way, his little brother had turned into a man who could take on a hell hound by himself, and hold his own in a police interrogation, and be majorly let down by his not-so-heroic big brother and still look at him like…that. That dewy-eyed gaze that trusted Dean to make it all better. And he would, if it was the last thing he did, Dad and his promise and Sam's purpose be damned.
Sam leaned back against the headboard and curled his hands around his mug, eyeing Dean soberly. "When I'm feeling better, though, I'm so dyeing all your underwear pink, dude."
Dean cracked up, spilling his coffee and utterly not caring. "Fair enough."