Heartfelt
K Hanna Korossy

Two hours passed before Sam finally spoke.

"Maybe Glen wasn't the source."

Two hours since Dean had done the fastest death-scene clean-up in criminal history, and hauled Sam out of Madison's apartment. A little less than two hours since he'd made his silent brother change out of blood-spattered clothes and packed him into the car. Two hours of watching Sam with furtive glances, trying to think of something to say to make it better and knowing there was nothing. But relief at hearing him talk was quickly eclipsed by confusion. "What?" Dean asked, brow furrowing.

"Glen. Maybe he wasn't the one who bit…her."

Dean closed his eyes, just for a second, because he was doing about 70 down the interstate. No back roads this time; he wanted to get away. "C'mon, Sam, don't do this."

Sam shifted to face him sorta sideways, face sculpted halfway between determination and grief. "We don't know—"

"We do know, all right?" Dean interrupted. "If there'd been another 'wolf in the area, there would've been more victims, or it probably would've killed her. It was lovesick neighbor-boy. Dad was just guessing that killing the source would cure the victim—you know that, right?"

Sam's lips twitched and he looked away, managing the whole interaction without once meeting Dean's eyes.

Dean turned up the radio a little more and tightened his grip on the steering wheel.

00000

"Sam, last night… Uh, when you and she…" He wasn't used to delicacy, but he couldn't seem to get the words out this time. "She didn't bite you, did she?"

It took a moment for startlement to chase the flush across Sam's face, but then he reached up to thumb his ear.

Dean swore and pulled the car over.

Sam jolted to life. "Dean, no, we have to go, she's waiting—"

"She can wait another minute. Did she bite you?" He was already pushing Sam's head down, peering at his ear. It would've been funny in just about any other circumstance.

"I, uh, I don't think she bit through."

It didn't look like it, a few small red indentations the only marks Dean could see on the outer shell of the ear. His heart settled a little. "Did you use protection?" he demanded as he settled back into his seat.

Sam's color deepened and his brows drew together. "Dean—"

"Stuff the modesty crap, Sam—we don't know what…fluids transmit the curse. So, did you?"

"Yes." Humiliation and pain mingled darkly on the face that had been smiling so freely just two days before.

"Good boy," Dean said, trying to balance relief with offhandedness to make this at least a tiny bit better, and suspecting he'd failed. "And your face, that's just claws, right?" He really should have asked before, but everything had happened so fast, and he'd caught Sam's optimism there for a while. Had wanted to believe so badly for his brother's sake that Madison was cured.

Sam nodded, surly. Then his face suddenly changed, realization dawning. "Oh, God, Dean, when she attacked you…I didn't even ask—"

Dean pulled back out into traffic. "Dude, I'm fine, she just knocked me down." He appreciated the thought, even if it was also a few days late.

But they were all right. Everything else was fixable, right?

00000

They'd crossed another state line, halfway into Utah, before Sam's weary voice instantly snagged his attention again. "We should have kept researching."

Dean sighed. "Sam…"

"We didn't look everywhere, Dean—there are a lot of books out there, contacts. We shouldn't have just…given up."

"Whoa, whoa—facing reality is not giving up. Dude, we checked around. Don't you think if there were some cure for this anywhere, we or somebody we know would have heard about it by now?"

He didn't need to see Sam's eyes to know what expression they held. He'd seen the dark desperation already that day back in Madison's apartment. "We found a way to cure you that time you got bit," Sam insisted.

"Okay, first of all, that wasn't a werewolf bite, that was a werecat, and you know as well as I do the rules change from type to type. And second, we tried that ritual, and the ten other 'cures' you dug up back then. Nothing worked. Nothing was gonna work. We clear?"

Sam didn't answer. Dean didn't really expect him to.

He kept driving, the sun setting behind them, and wished his brother would go to sleep and quit staring at everything but Dean.

00000

"Bobby, come on, there has to be another way."

Dean wasn't really trying to look like he wasn't listening in, not that Sam was paying any attention to him. He paced the small room with cell in hand, attention fully fixed on the person at the other end.

"But Dad had this theory—"

Dean really did hope Bobby had something, or knew someone who might have something. He liked Madison, and she deserved better. So did Sam.

But Sam's face was falling, crumpling into that pained look Dean hated. No, the news wouldn't be good.

"You're sure? There's no other place we can—?"

Dean would be the one to do it, he decided. Sammy was getting attached to her, and he didn't need to see that. Why put that on him, too?

Sam was swallowing, nodding. He'd finally stopped, eyes finding Dean unerringly, and gave him an anguished look.

Dean's heart contracted a little. Yeah, he would fix this for Sam. He had to.

00000

They were in some motel room outside Duchesne, neither of them even pretending to sleep as they lay in their beds and stared up at an empty ceiling.

"We could have gotten her a cage or something."

Dean closed his eyes. "It's not that simple, man—this isn't Buffy."

There was a rustle of blankets as Sam turned on his side to face him. "We could have tried, Dean. She didn't want to hurt anyone—she could have locked herself in every night. If a closet could hold her, a steel cage could have."

He mirrored his brother, propping himself up on an elbow and a thin sense of certainty. "You heard her—she didn't want to live like that, Sammy. All it would take is one slip. Dude, you were ready to off yourself, you were so scared of hurting people. How do you think she felt?"

Sam pulled in a breath, as if drawing strength. "If it would have been you, I would have found a way." It was still the only time since…well, since, that his voice trembled.

Dean swallowed, believing that was true and not having an answer to it except, "We can't save everybody, Sammy."

The next day, he turned them around and headed back to California. He'd get no answer anywhere else.

00000

"There she is." Sam was pointing, and Dean smoothly pulled up to the curb next to the phone booth.

There she was, all right, huddled frightenedly in the booth wearing nothing but Sam's shirt. A sight which any other day would have made Dean leer and smack his brother approvingly on the shoulder, but now just made him wince.

But he hadn't gotten it even then. Not until Sam jumped out of the car and went to her. Not until he somehow jammed his six-foot-four into the small glass box with her, wrapping his arms around her, talking into her hair. Not until Dean saw that fierce look on his face, protective curl of his body.

He watched Sam put her in the back seat and slide in with her. And had begged in silence all the way back to her place, God, please, not this, not again.

00000

"We could have given her more time to prepare."

Sam's voice was hoarse from disuse. He'd spent the last two days taking long walks alone—or at least with Dean trailing a block behind—until he'd finally, finally settled on the concrete steps outside their room and let Dean at least offer the comfort of his presence.

And maybe, at long last, something more.

"It wouldn't've helped," Dean said with quiet authority. "It would've just drawn things out, made it harder." Made Sam fall even more for her. It might have helped them, shooting her out someplace far from people and the evidence of their presence, but she'd written a suicide note, she'd held the gun, too—she'd done all she could to protect Sam, and Dean respected her for that.

Sam's laugh was a painful thing. "Right, because this was so easy."

Dean looked over at him, steady, offering everything he had. "Dad knew what was coming, had time to prepare. That make it any easier?"

For the first time in three days, glittering eyes met his. Accepting. Sam shook his head. "No."

Dean tweaked an eyebrow, half-lighthearted and half-not. "What can I say, man, sometimes the choices just suck."

Sam huffed a mirthless laugh, and didn't resist when Dean slung an arm around his shoulder.

00000

He'd taken the picture of her with his phone when she and Sam had both been too preoccupied to notice.

It was the only thing he took of hers for Sam, in hopes one day it would bring comfort instead of pain.

00000

The funeral was being surveilled, of course, as was SOP in suspicious death cases. Going to Ronald's had been practically a military exercise for Dean, requiring his brother keeping watch, a disguise, and several avenues of exit. This time, he was the one keeping watch.

Sam was in his suit and Dean's sunglasses, as befitting the bright SoCal day. They'd stood shoulder-to-shoulder through the ceremony that was more celebratory of life than mourning a death, as befitting Madison. Then Dean had given his brother a nudge, keeping an eye on him and on the two poorly-hidden cops as Sam went up to pay his respects.

An older woman walked over to him—Madison's mom, Dean gathered—and Sam exchanged a few earnest words with her. Dean's eyebrows climbed only a little when the woman proceeded to hug Sam, and Sam first tentatively, then more certainly hugged back. That wasn't the man who'd killed Madison. It was the one who'd cared about and saved her, and it showed.

A few more words, then Sam turned away, headed back to Dean. Dean waited on him, then matched his pace out of the sunny graveyard to the car.

"You ready to hit the road again?" he finally asked over the hood of the Impala, just as Sam was about to duck in.

It made him pause, just for a second. "Let's get back to work," was Sam's only answer before he slid inside.

Dean would take it.

The End