Thanks to R

Cuckoo for Kokopelli
K Hanna Korossy

Dean was hurting.

It wasn't obvious; Sam doubted Bobby saw it. But he knew it from the stiffened way Dean sat, the small fidgets in an elusive search for comfort, the anchoring grip on the steering wheel, the extra crease of pain by his eyes. He knew Dean well enough to recognize the signs…should know Dean well enough, anyway. He hadn't been so good at that the last few days.

They pulled up at the motel behind Bobby's truck, and the older hunter nodded at them.

"I'll be heading back now if you boys are set."

Dean's eyebrow rose. "You sure? We got some beers inside—night's still young."

"He's got a long drive ahead of him, Dean," Sam said quietly. Dean frowned at him.

Bobby didn't seem to think twice about it. "Yeah, Sam's right; I'd better hit the road. You two take care of yourselves. And if you need anything…call Jefferson." His grin said he didn't mean it, and Sam grinned back, seeing Dean do the same out of the corner of his eye. Of course, his brother winced as soon as Bobby turned away.

They watched their friend climb into his truck, raise a hand in good-bye, and pull away.

Dean turned to him. "What's the matter with you—he just did us a favor."

"Did you break anything?"

Dean's irritation shifted into confusion. "What?"

Sam shifted. "When those...illusions were tossing you around. Did you break anything, or is it just bruising?"

Dean raised an eyebrow. "Dude, they were chicks. I'm fine."

He could be stubborn, too. "They were illusions as strong as the trickster wanted them to be, and they threw you against the seats and the bed pretty hard, Dean."

"Sam—"

Huffing in exasperation, Sam reached forward and poked Dean in the side.

Dean promptly folded over on a wheeze.

Bruises, Sam silently decided. He stopped just shy of rolling his eyes and grabbed his brother's arm. "C'mon, man, time for bed."

Dean's glare might have bored a hole through him if it'd had any psychic mojo behind it. As it was, Sam had long built up a brotherly immunity and, with Dean unable to put up much of a struggle without paling, soon had his older brother tucked in.

"You want a soda?" he asked at the door as he turned away.

"What I want is for you to—"

Sam shut the door quickly behind him, imagining the rest just fine. Grinning momentarily at the empty hallway.

He came back with a Coke and a bag of ice, to find Dean's glower had been diminished greatly by sleepiness. Still, sluggish green-amber eyes watched him fix a few ice packs from the bag, then approach the bed.

"Where is it the worst?"

Dean grudgingly gestured to the small of his back and one spot along his left ribs. Sam helped him ease carefully around so the wrapped ice was settled against the burgeoning bruises, ignoring Dean's hisses and curses, paying attention to his slow-released breaths and eventual sighs of relief.

"Better?" Sam couldn't resist asking, pushing his luck and knowing it.

"Actually, I've got this itch—"

"Jerk." He pushed away from the bed. Dean snickered behind his back.

Sam's eyes swept the room, trying to pull his bearings together and figure out what next. He paused at the shine of something metallic from under his mussed blankets. Was that…? Two strides, and he was pulling out the laptop.

"See? Told you I didn't take it," came Dean's petulant mutter from the bed.

"And I told you I didn't mess with your car," Sam shot back over one shoulder. "That would have just been stupid, Dean, screwing with our one way out of town if we needed to book in a hurry."

A pause, then, "Yeah, I know." The admission sounded sincere. In fact, it sounded like an apology.

Sam sighed. "I should've believed you, too."

A beat. "Come here and give me a hug."

Sam scowled, then rethought it. He turned around and eyed his brother, trapped between ice and blankets, held fast with pain. His gaze saddened. "Dean…is that really how you see me?"

Dean's eyes narrowed. "What're you talking about?"

"Just some…pesky little brother who keeps tagging after you and won't shut up and starts crying at the drop of a hat? I mean, yeah, maybe when I was four, but now? Really?" His voice held just the right amount of pathos.

Dean grimaced. "Dude, I was just annoyed, all right? That wasn't me and…that's not you."

"You sure? Because I thought we had this partnership thing down, but if I'm just some kind of sidekick to you that gets in the way…"

Dean was smiling to himself. "Heh. Emo Boy."

"Dean!" he said sharply.

"Sam, what?" Dean pushed himself up a little with a wince. "What do you want me to say? That you're smarter than I am? That the reason the laptop's yours is that you were always a couple hundred times better at that stuff than I was? That, yeah, I might get a little annoyed with you sometimes, but you're the reason I keep going?" He suddenly stalled, flushing.

Sam gaped at him a moment. Felt a moment of warm, unabashed love for his intractable brother. And melted into an emotional smile. "That was beautiful, Dean."

"Oh, God."

Sam moved closer, arms raised for an embrace. "You know what?"

"Get away from me, you freak." Dean was trying to backpedal but had no place to go.

"You're too precious for this world," Sam intoned with dewy-eyed solemnity.

Dean pulled his knife out from under his pillow and brandished it at Sam.

Sam couldn't hold back the laughter any longer, not stopping even when it dropped him weak-kneed onto his own bed and brought tears to his eyes.

Through Dean's curses and threats and bruised flinches, Sam was pretty sure he saw his brother trying not to smile, too.

The End