Back Here Again
K Hanna Korossy

Dean Winchester never froze.

He could go still when he was tracking something by feel. Pause for a second to evaluate a situation. Obey when his dad—or now Sam—barked at him to not move. Even do a double-take on occasion when the situation warranted it, like the time he'd walked in on a teenage Sam making out with Becky Barrett. But freeze up like a frog in lamplight? No way.

However, when Sam yelled, "Dean, down!" and Dean looked up into the barrel of Sam's gun, Sam's face right behind it, twenty years of hunting instinct went out the window. His mind shut down, his body following suit.

It had been almost a month. A friggin' month. His shoulder barely twinged now, he'd stopped dosing Sam's coffee with holy water, and was almost on the verge of letting his brother go out by himself for lunch—really, he was. Trusting Sam came as easy as breathing—well, trusting Sam with his life—and that had been the first thing to go back to normal. Trusting the rest of the world not to take his brother from him as soon as Dean turned his back, that had slowly but surely followed suit.

So there was no reason at all to think about how Sam, with Meg in the driver's seat, had sneered at him before taking aim and pulling the trigger. About the feel of the bullet punching into Dean's body, and the water that had closed over him as he fell off the pier. The way he'd flailed like a drowning dog to keep his head above the surface as he struggled to reach land. The fading sound of his brother's boots on the pier over his head as Sam walked away and left him there. No reason at all.

Try telling that to his feet, which seemed glued to the ground.

Sam's eyes, over the barrel of the gun, went ridiculously wide. Dean never told him he looked like he was about five when he made that face.

And when Dean felt the burning, sour breath on the back of his neck, he realized he might never get the chance to.

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Dean wasn't moving.

They'd already been hunting for hours, probably getting a little sloppy as they grew tired and started doubting their prey was even out there. It wouldn't be the first or last snipe hunt they'd been on. Sam hadn't been searching the area all that intently when the Hidebehind had melted out of the shadows behind a tree like a nightmare.

It was already too close to Dean when Sam saw it. His mind raced through instant calculations: he wouldn't have but a second to take it down, had to shoot the instant Dean dropped.

But Dean wasn't dropping. He'd heard Sam; he'd turned sharply as soon as Sam had yelled. But then he'd gone still, eyes round in a suddenly bloodless face, gaze glued to Sam.

No, not to Sam's face. To his gun.

Oh, God. He got it now.

The Hidebehind reared up, teeth bared and inches from Dean's neck. They'd run out of time, and Dean still looked like he was stuck a month in the past. Sam cursed under his breath and lunged forward.

His plan was to yank Dean away and shoot, honest. But as his hand closed on Dean's shoulder—making his brother jump, Sam couldn't help notice—the thick jaws were already lunging, closing. They were too close to it, even if they hit the deck.

Sam didn't even think after that. He twisted as he jerked Dean's arm, tucked his brother into himself and curled over him. They slammed to the ground together, Sam on top.

The Hidebehind followed them down, and Sam cried out involuntarily as hot, sharp teeth sank into the muscle of his upper back.

Either the jolt or Sam's yell finally seemed to snap Dean out of his daze. The next thing Sam knew, his brother was rolling them, pulling Sam away from the Hidebehind, putting him on the bottom, while Dean curved an arm back and fired over one shoulder.

The Hidebehind screamed, a death cry. Sam could feel the ground shake a little at the impact of the body, and winced as the shudder ground debris into the open wounds on his back.

And then it was quiet, just him staring up at Dean and Dean staring back down at him.

Sam looked away first.

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He didn't quite freeze this time, although it certainly felt like his joints had locked and the blood had settled in his veins. Sam's face had held such raw hurt for a second, pain that had nothing to do with the blood that was seeping into the dirt from under his back, that Dean was at an utter loss as to what to do next.

Then Sam turned his head away, breath hitching lightly with what Dean recognized from years of experience as his brother's stoicism when in a boatload of pain.

"Sam," Dean murmured, letting go of the upper arm he'd grabbed and reaching for the shoulder.

Sam's body hunched a little more, eyes flinching half-shut. It was as close to backing away as he could manage flat on the ground, pinned there by—

Dean cursed and lifted himself off. "Sorry, man, I—"

"It's okay," Sam was already mumbling over him. "I— It's not that bad." His hand had come up to cradle his shoulder, and he rolled on his side as soon as Dean was clear, away from his brother. The dirt had already made a paste of the blood on his back, but even as Dean reached for him again, Sam pushed himself up with his good arm. "I'm all right," he insisted, eyes everywhere but Dean.

Dean's hand dropped, his gaze now doing the same shying thing Sam's was. Who knew Michigan dirt was so fascinating?

Who knew his mind could so absolutely, spectacularly betray him?

Not that he wasn't over the whole Sam-possessed thing. He was. Really. Entire hours went by now without him dwelling on it. His dreams were still a little bloody, but so what? They'd never exactly been Normal Rockwell. Even half his erotic dreams ended in death, and not the French "little" kind. His subconscious maybe still had a few issues.

And for a few seconds, it had been in charge. Just enough time to make Sam doubt everything Dean had been telling him the last weeks about it not being his fault, Dean not holding it against him, not being scared of him.

Terrific. Just…freakin' swell.

"Sam," Dean said gently. "I didn't—"

"I, uh, think I need a hospital," Sam again rushed over his words. His fingers were white where they were crushed around his shoulder, and he looked woozy where he stood.

Dean itched to put a hand out to steady him, but rolled it into a fist instead. He frowned. "What?"

"A hospital. Think I need some stitches and, uh, the bite probably needs cleaning out."

A hospital. Sam wouldn't look at him, and now he didn't even want Dean's help.

Well, it wasn't like Dean had just gotten him hurt by not trusting his only brother. Oh, wait…

"Yeah," Dean said woodenly. "Yeah, okay. I'll take you."

Sam didn't meet his eyes once before he eventually trudged into the ER exam room, alone.

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They were near open country, and Sam was a good liar. It hadn't taken much to convince the small-town hospital staff he'd been bitten by a bear that had lumbered out of the woods in search of a meal, which had then been killed by his brother. A nurse had fussed over Sam while she cut off his clothes and cleaned out the wound, and the doctor regaled him with bear-hunting stories while he stitched up his back. Sam didn't listen to a word, just thought drowsily that Dean had a more deft touch.

Dean hadn't come in with him, however, even though he usually watched Sam's treatments like a hawk. If Sam had had any doubts about what he'd seen in Dean's eyes out there that day, well, that laid them to rest. His opting to go to the hospital and spare Dean from having to help him with the first aid had been the right call. Even if it had hurt more than he wanted to admit.

The nurse rubbed his shoulder and told him not to worry, it would be over soon.

It turned out that the antibiotics had to be administered intravenously, they were still worried about infection and a slight wheeze in his breathing he hadn't even noticed, and they wanted him to stay overnight.

Sam squinted at them. "Is my brother in the waiting room?"

Someone went out to check. No. Even the mom with the dozing, flushed kid who'd sat next to them was gone.

Sam curled up on his side in the bed and closed his eyes. "I'll stay," he mumbled.

He drifted in and out. Startled awake whenever the nurse came in to check on him or something rattled out in the hallway. Hugged an emesis basin to his chest after the second time he was sick, dozing with it. He was exhausted and dizzy and anxious and as miserable as he could ever remember feeling, and all he wanted was a lumpy motel bed and a clanking a/c and soft breathing from the bed next to him.

The door opened again, and Sam shut his eyes. If he had to be there, the least they could do was leave him alone.

Boots crept into the room, their step and creak different from the soft-soled sneakers the staff wore. Sam clutched the basin a little tighter.

The boots hesitated a long time behind him. Then they moved past his bed, over to the window. There was the soft scuff of the blinds being moved aside, rustling, the squeak of what almost sounded like writing. A minute passed, then the boots moved again, pausing in each of the four corners of the room, until they returned to the door. There, they stopped again.

The door opened on its sighing pneumatic hinges.

"Dean?" It slipped out before Sam could even think about it.

A pause. The boots moved back to his side. His brother was close enough that Sam could feel the warmth of him.

He rolled a little, flinching at the pressure on his stitches.

Dean was watching him with an expression shuttered even from Sam. But his eyes were dark with anger. His jaw moved, finally prying open to ask, "You okay?"

He hadn't wanted Sam to know he was there, Sam realized. His eyes tripped over to the window, to the thin line of white crystals on the ledge, the swoops of black grease pencil sigils peeking around the edges of the blind and the black corner tiles. Dean was doing his duty, his Dad-ordained role, but he didn't even want to stay.

Sam's hand wrapped around the basin. He looked away from Dean again. "'M good."

A soft snort. "I'm leaving, don't worry."

The despair made his throat hurt. "Yeah, okay," Sam whispered.

There was a long pause. Then an even softer, "I'm sorry, Sammy."

It took a moment for the words to sink in, Sam's mind doing a slow rebound of wait, what? Then his eyes snapped open and he turned back. "Dean, wha—?"

The door was closing on an otherwise empty room.

Sam's heart picked up speed. Had he heard that right? Dean thought Samwas mad at him? But then why…? Well, didn't matter right now. "Dean!" he snapped. "Wait!"

But no boot steps swung back to his room.

Sam muttered curses as he pushed himself woozily upright, paused to empty what remained of his stomach into the basin, then left the present of the container on the bed behind him as he swung up and off the mattress.

Drugs and blood loss: not a good mix. Sam missed hitting the ground with a quick save on the bed railing.

Dressing went faster if he shut his eyes and grit his teeth. His shirt and jacket were in tatters, and Sam could only pull them around him as best he could. He must've done a decent enough job of it not to look like the living dead as he shuffled unchallenged out the door and down the hall. The taxi driver outside didn't even give him a second glance.

The Impala wasn't at the door of their room. Sam's heart sank. Dean wouldn't just leave town, but if he was feeling guilty and didn't think Sam wanted to see him, who knew where or for how long he could disappear to. And Sam just didn't have the energy to track down his thick-headed brother and make him confess.

Right, like he had room to talk. He'd been so sure Dean still saw him as a monster, he hadn't even been able to look his brother in the eye to see the truth.

He threw some money over the seat to the driver, then stumbled inside.

The furniture was knocked over and the bedding was on the floor, like someone had taken major offense to the decor, but Sam no longer cared. He was swaying by the time he reached his bed, barely had the energy to mourn the AWOL blankets. Clutching his bad arm to himself, he eased himself down on his side. The good side. The one facing the door.

Sam fell asleep waiting.

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Hell of a day. Literally.

Dean rubbed at the tired burn of his eyes as he fumbled to unlock the door. He probably should have called it a night a few hours before, but the thought of returning to the empty room, the one he'd half-trashed earlier in a fit of impotent rage, wasn't one he could face without a lot more alcohol in him. Not the way things were now, not even being sure where Sam would go when he got out of the hospital. Crap, could he have screwed this up any more?

The door opened, and Dean gave his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dimness of the room. The light from the parking lot sifted in, almost making it look like Sam's bed was occupied, and Dean grunted in annoyance at his untrustworthy eyes. He gave them a rub, stepped inside the dark room.

The heap on Sam's bed moved, uttering a sleepy sigh.

Dean's hand started toward the gun in the back of his jeans, but his instincts knew who the intruder was even if his brain was having a little trouble accepting it.

Sam. Not an intruder in any sense of the word.

Dean eased the door shut behind him, then moved to one side to disbelievingly flick the bathroom light on, all the while not taking his eyes off the sleeper. The light made the angular face burrow a little deeper into the mattress as it had even when it was a lot smaller and rounder, the brown mop tousled above it. His pantlegs were shoved up around his untied boots, and the ribbons of blood-crusted shirt and jacket had slipped off his bandaged shoulder, leaving him to curl up against the cold.

It really was Sam. And Dean kinda doubted he'd come back because the mattresses were so much better here than in the hospital.

"Sammy," he whispered to himself, talking to now instead of wishing for. And it was weird and totally not pathetic how it suddenly seemed a lot easier to breathe, to move, to even think.

How had he even gotten there? Dean shook himself out of his mesmer long enough to move over to the window and tilt the shade up. No car outside he didn't remember being there before, and the hospital was too far to walk. Cab, probably. Dean shook his head. Stupid, stubborn little brothers. Didn't he know Dean would've—?

Yeah, okay, maybe not. Wasn't like Dean had stuck around at all in the hospital once he'd made sure Sam was safe. Come to think of it, that slump that had rounded Sam's shoulders could have been for Dean's absence, not his presence. And damned if that didn't make him feel about five kinds of low.

But Sammy was back. Dean could fix the rest.

He eased down on the edge of Sam's bed near his head. Dean was reluctant to wake him, but his bandages were spotted with blood, and his ruined clothes couldn't be comfortable. He laid a hand on Sam's back, tapping it slightly, then quickly raised it to the nape of his neck as Sam startled and began to roll onto his injured back.

"Don't move, Sam."

And suddenly it was a twisted, tables-turned kind of version of them on the hunt that afternoon, Dean telling him not to move, and Sam…

Freezing.

"Dean?"

He sounded tired and in pain and surprisingly uncertain for someone who'd just crossed town to be there in that room and bed. "Yeah," Dean said warmly. "You okay?"

Sam's breath caught in a half-strangled laugh.

Dean hesitated. "Gotta check your bandages, dude. Looks like you pulled some stitches on the way."

"Okay," Sam said quietly, starting to push himself up.

"No, just…let me do the work, all right?"

Sam didn't say anything, only watched him with weary eyes as Dean unwrapped the injury, examined it carefully—he'd quizzed the doctor, but it wasn't the same as seeing—stopped the seeping, then rewrapped it. Dean sliced the rest of the shirt and jacket off Sam with his boot knife, lifting him carefully to pull the remnants out from underneath and sliding a pillow under his head at the same time. Then he tugged Sam's loose boots off and tossed the blankets from the floor over him. Dean fetched a glass of water finally, supporting Sam's head while he drank.

"Thanks," Sam whispered as he settled again.

"Sure," Dean said quietly back.

Then they just sat, Sam's long blinks never quite succumbing to sleep.

Dean breathed out low and long. "Sam, I'm sor—"

"Shut up." Softness over steel. Sam's eyes full on his now.

Dean studied him a long moment. Then his mouth twitched. "You sure? Last call, man."

"Shut up, Dean," Sam repeated, more fondly this time. His eyes were sliding shut, then snapping open again. He'd always fought sleep, even as a kid.

Dean sat back on the bed a little more, and Sam leaned into him, propping his bad shoulder against Dean's back. Then he sighed and went to sleep.

Forgiving, forgiven: Dean wasn't really sure what had just happened, only, they were good, Sam would be fine, and they were both exhausted. He'd just sit there a few minutes more, then roll Sam over onto his stomach and go flop into his own bed.

But for now…they were fine right where they were.

The End