Linger
K Hanna Korossy

For once, they stopped for the night just to get out of the car and away from each other.

At least, that was Dean's reason for turning perhaps a little too sharply into the next motel parking lot he saw. He had no idea what was on his brother's mind, and he didn't care. Sam had been brooding ever since they'd parted from Bobby in Nebraska, and if he wanted to keep wallowing in his little temper tantrum, that was fine by Dean…as long as he did it by himself back in the room. Dean…Dean had plans.

Sam didn't even ask if Dean wanted to sign them in, just threw himself out the door with a clenched jaw as soon as the car stopped, and stalked inside. Dean watched him talk to the proprietor, a little-past-her-prime lady who first smiled at Sam, then turned sour. Huh, Dean smirked, looked like Sammy was charming everyone today. Figured.

Sam received the key with what Dean could tell even without volume was a curt acknowledgement, and strode back out. Dean received another glare—he rolled his eyes, feigning a yawn—and then Snitface opened the door.

"Twelve."

"Get your stuff out and walk, I'm going out," Dean shot back. Ticked-off was a two-player game.

Sam stared at him a moment as if Dean had spoken Chinese—which Sam probably understood, the big geek—then stiffly reached into the back for his duffel. There was a flicker in his expression, one Dean could read just as easily as the irritation: Sam wanted to ask him where he was going and if he'd be long, only that stubborn Sam Winchester pride holding him back. But, you know, considering he wasn't the one who'd recently watched his brother die and was trying to make the best of a year left to live, Dean wasn't inclined to cut him a lot of slack.

But maybe a little. "I'll be at the bar up the street, if you wanna ditch the PMS and join me." Okay, not that much. But…he had a year to live. And Sam had been dead not long ago.

Sam's brow furrowed even harder. Dean was pretty sure there was going to be a permanent line there soon. "Don't wake me up when you come back drunk," he said coolly, and shut the door.

"And miss seeing that smiling face?" Dean muttered to the empty car. With a twist of the lips, he reversed into a smooth u-turn, pointing back the way he'd come in, and rested his foot on the gas. And his eyes on the rear view mirror.

Some of the starch had gone out of Sam's back without an audience to be angry for, and his head hung as he plodded toward the row of white-trimmed doors. Dean's eyes flicked from the forlorn figure to a small knot of young people congregating a few doors down, narrowing a little as he watched Sam approach them. But his brother passed the kids with barely a glance and stopped in front of number twelve, turning the key in the door. He disappeared inside without a backward glance.

Whatever, Dean shook himself. It wasn't like his staying in tonight would've improved Sam's mood any, just led to more fighting. High emotions and low rest and a constant red alert over all the demons that had escaped from Hell had worn them down to exposed nerves. Some time apart would be good, especially if Sam got some sleep and shed the attitude. As for Dean, he was in need of a different kind of company. Too much longer and even Sammy would start to look good. Dean shuddered at the thought and threw the car into Drive, smiling. With any luck, maybe he could find another set of twins…

The old bar was a shade too eighties for Dean's taste, Air Supply pulsing from the jukebox, pastel tints everywhere, and women with too much hair and make-up looking fashionably bored. Still, he could work with that. Dean cozied up to the bar, ordering a pint of whatever was on tap, then turning with mug in hand to survey the pickings.

A pool table in the back was promising, but it wasn't that sort of entertainment he was looking for just now. Dean's eyes skipped over likely candidates, finally snagging on her. By far the best the place had to offer, the young twentysomething sat with a lady friend at a table, dark eyes sparking with laughter. Just what the doctor ordered. Dean slid a grin onto his face and ambled over.

"Hi."

Both women looked up, the friend brightening, the hot girl cooling.

No problem, Dean just poured on the charm a little more, indicating the third chair at the table. "Mind if I sit?" He helped himself before either could answer. "I'm Dean."

"Beth," the friend provided with a glowing smile, then nudged her companion.

"Not interested," the girl said flatly.

"Don't even know what I'm offering," Dean pointed out, taking a swallow of beer.

"Oh, I know." The girl rolled her eyes and turned back to Beth, who was looking between the two of them in consternation.

"Chrissy, come on," she coaxed.

"Yeah," Dean pushed, eyes narrowing, "Chrissy, come on."

"Look, we were just having a little girl's night out, okay? So if you wouldn't mind—"

"Chrissy," Beth hedged. She glanced at Dean uncertainly.

"Beth, if you want to dance with him, that's fine. I just don't want to do this tonight, okay?"

Beth gave Dean a hopeful look. Dean ignored the mousy girl, leaning in close to Chrissy. "Women don't usually turn me down," he said, and his smile grew hard.

Her condescension extinguished in an instant. Dean watched with satisfaction as Chrissy went a shade paler, something that looked like fear rising in her eyes.

Beth spoke up, the earlier excitement gone from her voice. "Okay, you should leave. Now."

Startled, Dean glanced over at the mouse, brows drawing together.

He could see her swallow, but her eyes, her voice, were hard, unrelenting. "What kind of a creep are you? You don't get what you want so you threaten people?"

"What? No." But his mouth was suddenly dry despite the beer, and something unfamiliar and rank curdled his stomach. "Chrissy," Dean said uncertainly and turned back to the dark-haired girl, only to find her shrinking from him, revulsion and nervousness vying with anger.

"You've got two seconds to leave before I call the bouncer," she said tightly, her eyes darting past him to find help.

Protection. From him.

Dean rose to his feet so fast, the chair swayed in his wake. It was suddenly too hot, too loud, and the press of warm bodies, the promise of alcohol and sex he'd found so intoxicating minutes before, abruptly nauseated him. Dean reeled back, stumbled through the crowd to the door, leaving the upset women and his beer behind.

Outside, he sagged against the brick and board wall, bile rising in his throat. Had he just…seriously, he was the guy? The one he'd thrown out into back alleys more than a few times over the years for making women uncomfortable, the one who didn't know when to quit and jumped right over boundaries into creepy and inappropriate and pressuring. That was him? What was wrong with him?

Dean wiped a shaky hand over his mouth and pulled himself together enough to walk over to the Impala, where he leaned forward against the shiny black hood, drawing in deep breaths. The cool evening air cleared his thoughts and the haze of lust from his vision, playing back with crystal clarity as he not only got rejected for a lame come-on, but then menaced two women for it. Another night, he would've taken Beth up on her interest and made it a good night for them both. Another night, he would've taken a no with a regretful smile and moved on. Another night, he would've been the hunter, not the monster. It was almost as if…

Oh, God. Dean lunged around the car to the driver's side and jumped in, revving the engine before he peeled out of the parking lot.

He should've realized sooner, but things had been so royally screwed the past two weeks, it was hard sometimes to even catch a glimpse of normal. But they'd known, they'd known the Seven Deadly Sins infected through touch, and Bobby hadn't said anything about the effect fading with their deaths or exorcisms. How had Dean expected to get up-close-and-very-personal with Lust and come away unaffected?

Even more importantly, what had Sam gotten cozy with? Wrath? Pride? Envy? Any one of them could have led to the harsh words they'd exchanged before. Dean cursed blue as he raced back to the motel.

Maybe Lust wasn't even just about sex. Maybe it was also about…who knows, seizing the day, or, or not caring what others thought. Because, really, Sam hadn't exactly had a corner on uncharacteristically stupid arguments that morning. After everything I've done for this family, I think I'm entitled? Where the heck had that come from? Even if it had crossed Dean's mind a few times—briefly—over the years, it wasn't as if he'd been thinking about abandoning Sam when he'd kissed that red-eyed bitch. And he never, ever would have told Sam if he had.

Or maybe it wasn't anything supernatural. Maybe he'd just come back different from Sam's death, too.

Dean clenched his jaw as he swung into the parking lot and veered the car into the spot in front of twelve.

The motel had quieted while he was gone. The gang of kids had disappeared, only crickets and distant traffic breaking the silence as Dean got out of the car and slammed the door shut. The window to twelve was lit, and he jogged up the porch to the door, belatedly realizing Sam hadn't given him a key. Knock or break in? Dean hesitated, wishing he knew what lay on the other side, then reached into his jacket for his lock-pick set.

"I'm here," came Sam's unexpected and muted voice from Dean's left.

His hand dropped, head swiveling as he sought a tall, shaggy-haired figure in the shadows. "Sam?"

"Here, Dean," Sam repeated, apparently disinclined to say more. Dean could hear the rest just fine, though, like the fatigue rimming his speech, and maybe…pain?

He slipped forward, instinctively keeping the motel wall at his back, staying out of the light. Until he caught sight of his brother propped against one of the porch pillars a dozen feet away. Dean rushed the last few steps, dividing his attention between brother and potential threat.

Sam hadn't collapsed, however, nor was he in any great distress Dean could see as he got closer. He was sitting on the wooden floor of the porch, back against the pillar, hands loose on his bent knees. Dean had a flashback to finding Sam on various motel steps and entrances like this in the first few months after Jess's death, sometimes the remnants of tears on his face, just…sitting.

Sam's face was in profile, but he tilted his head a tiny bit Dean's way as he crept close, then, gingerly, eased himself down to the wooden floor next to Sam. His brother's calling out to him had to be some sort of invitation, after all, right?

"So, uh… Room smell like cat pee or something?" he opened tentatively.

"You get kicked out of the bar?" Sam returned, although his voice sounded so lifeless, Dean was tempted to check his vitals.

Then what Sam said caught up with him. Dean turned to his brother, eyes widening. "You knew?"
A small smile that didn't seem to be meant for him. "Lust, right? Bet that went over well. You get thrown out by an angry boyfriend, or just slapped?"

Dean cursed. "You could've given me a little warning, dude—two women are gonna be looking over their shoulders tonight because of me, not to mention my making a total ass of myself back there…" His eyes narrowed, something about the way Sam held himself just starting to click. "Sam? You okay?" Dean realized belatedly he should've opened with that considering the real fear in which he'd rushed back to the motel.

"I just figured it out, too." Sam rolled his head to look at Dean straight on. A swelling left eye and a blood-matted temple came into view.

Dean swore much more quietly and vehemently this time, clambering to his knees and reaching out to Sam, who quickly turned away from him again. "Let me see," he ordered impatiently.

"Why? I need to get used to looking after myself, right? I'm on my own after this year, Dean." But there was no stridency in Sam's voice, only despair.

It scored deep, like it was meant to. Dean took the hit, knowing he deserved it and not liking the feeling, but self-recriminations could wait until Sam wasn't leaking blood. He stared into the one eye turned toward him. "I'm still here, Sam. You really want to cut me out already?"

Sam blinked. Then, to Dean's dismay, his eye grew wet. "No," he murmured, and slowly turned his head back. Baring his weak side.

Dean had always hated metaphors.

He angled Sam's chin gently to catch the meager light from the bulb hanging off the post. There was a cut under all the hair, albeit not too bad of one. "You hurt anywhere else?" he asked as he examined the injury, then checked out Sam's cheekbone, eye socket, and pupil reaction.

"Just my pride," Sam said with grim humor.

Dean's gaze shifted momentarily to meet his. "That what got you?"

"That, and a beer bottle."

"The partying kids?" He knew he should have kept an eye on those punks.

"Yeah," Sam said. "Came out to get a soda and stupidly reacted to some comments they made." He hissed as Dean's fingers got too close to someplace that hurt. Which right now was probably the whole left side of his face.

Dean pulled back, satisfied for the moment Sam wasn't going to bleed out on him. "So, you think it's over?"

Sam looked at him assessingly. "You still feeling horny?"

"God, no." The look on the women's faces had killed that one dead.

"Yeah, well, I'm feeling kinda humbled, myself."

They had both acted on their vice, after all, even if they'd both been shot down. Dean took a breath of relief and shot Sam a grin. "You know what they say about pride and falls, dude."

Sam glared at him.

It only made Dean smile more this time, and he dusted his jeans as he stood, then slid a hand under Sam's arm. "Come on, Captain Blood, let's get you cleaned up."

Sam was steady on his feet—well, as much as six-foot-four of weary klutz ever got—passing another test. Still, Dean treated him with care as he escorted his brother into the room, then the bathroom, shoving him lightly down onto the toilet seat before going for the first aid kit.

Sam's brief bout with pride seemed to have died as sudden a death as Dean's with lust. His brother was on his feet, studying his busted face in the mirror when Dean returned, but quickly retook his seat without a word. Dean eyed him as Sam swallowed the painkillers Dean offered, then as he spread a towel around his brother's shoulders, but Sam's gaze was turned downward, or maybe inward. Pride, huh? Dean liked to think the artificial influence had rung in words like, I don't care anymore, and, what you did was selfish. He'd never ask Sam to be grateful for his deal, but hating him for it wasn't something he could live with easily, either.

Sam sat unflinching as Dean cleaned the cut, then applied pressure until the last bit of oozing stopped. "Stitches would be best for this, man," Dean apologized.

"Okay," Sam said quietly.

Dean sighed to himself. He wasn't sure despondent-Sam was any better than irritated-Sam. "It'll be easier on the bed."

Silently, Sam rose and went out into the room, curling up on his side on the far bed.

Dean collected their supplies and followed him out, settling on the edge of the mattress next to Sam. The kid was so stiff, he practically bounced as the bed shifted under him, and Dean didn't think it was because of the coming stitches. He parted the waves of dark hair, assessing if he needed to shave any, and decided against it. The worst of the slice was really just under the hairline, and stitching that would be enough. Dean wiped the area again with alcohol, then a topical anesthetic, and threaded the needle as he waited for the skin to numb.

"Hey, uh…" He was talking before he'd really approved the message on his tongue, but it was too late now, Sam's whole body canting toward him to listen. "About what I said this morning… I didn't mean I don't…"

"I know," Sam whispered. "Me, too."

Dean filled his lungs heavily and leaned over the cut, needing something to do. His hands steadied the moment needle touched flesh. "Just, what's done is done. You know?" Not that he could take it back if he wanted to, but that was a different argument. He was pretty sure.

Sam's hands had curled into the worn green bedspread. Even if the stitches didn't hurt, having your skin tugged on like that was disconcerting no matter how many times you experienced it, and his head still had to be aching. "You can't ask me to stop looking, Dean," Sam said with soft determination. "I won't." It was the same voice he'd used when he insisted he could tie his own shoes, when he'd announced to Dean he could walk to school alone, when he said he wanted to go to college. It was the tone Dean had known for twenty-some years that he couldn't fight.

He sewed his brother up in silence, trying not to think about Sam not having anyone to do this for him a year from now. He had a feeling Sam would be running into a lot more beer bottles then, too. Dean finally cleared his throat. "I don't want to hear it, Sam," he said roughly.

Sam shifted restlessly under his hands. "Dean—"

"Sammy." He bent down to stare Sam square in the eye. "I don't want to hear it."

The swollen eye was almost shut now, but the other flitted back and forth across Dean's face as if trying to take in all his features and every meaning all at once. Then, Sam's body relaxed like someone had stuck a pin in it and let out all the tension. A tiny smile, the first Dean had seen since they'd killed Yellow Eyes, tugged at his lips. "All right."

Dean nodded, then went back to finishing his sewing project.

Sam was half-asleep by the time Dean was done, murmured protests dying into yawns as Dean helped him out of stained clothes and into bed. He left the bathroom light on but turned the main room light off, the skin around Sam's eyes losing a few of its creases in the comforting darkness. Dean sat on the other bed and watched him slide toward sleep, mind unwillingly comparing the sight to that of nine days before, Sam stretched out on another bed.

He shook the thought free. "Leaving you is the only part I'm not okay with," he said quietly.

Sam's breath hitched before resettling into its slow rhythm. But if he heard, well, they could both pretend differently. Wasn't like they weren't both carrying secrets already.

After a few minutes, Dean rose and dragged a chair over next to the open bathroom doorway. He settled into it, pulling a notebook out of the bottom of his nearby duffel. And with one more glance up at Sam, he began to write.

The End