The trickster was left behind by two hundred miles and three days, but Sam still wasn't Sam. Dean kept waiting for it, waiting for any glimpse of the little brother he knew had to be somewhere under that hair and brain. He waited for Sam to growl at his music, or snap at him for not letting him have a turn at driving, or make a face at what he ordered to eat.
Sam, however, did none of those things; in fact, he did the opposite. If Dean didn't immediately turn the music on, Sam would, blindly picking a cassette from the box and popping it in. He was always first out to the car, always waiting in the passenger seat. And no matter what Dean ordered, no matter how greasy or sloppy it was (and he knew they'd been greasy and sloppy, he'd done it on purpose to get some sort of a reaction out of Sam), he merely ordered his own thing and let Dean order his.
Dean was a little freaked out, to say the least.
Even more freaked out about the hunting. Sam had gone wading in first just yesterday to deal with a possessed bear of all things. He'd simply taken the machete and headed straight for it. If Dean hadn't grabbed him and yanked him back to fire the rock salt, Sam would probably be in a wooden box six feet down now.
Dean repressed the urge to shudder and glanced over at Sam again. His eyes were aimed out the window, but the glazed look on his face told Dean that Sam was only looking inward.
Dean cleared his throat, and Sam instantly sat upright, as if surprised at the sound. "Think we got another possession on our hands with the next job," Dean said. "Human, though, so don't go in there with the whole kill first, ask questions later deal like you did last time, all right?"
"It was a bear, Dean; animal possessions can't be exorcised as easily as humans can," Sam said, sounding hurt. "You know that. Besides, it was just rampaging through people. They were planning on putting it down anyways."
Dean turned to his brother briefly, incredulous. "One, they can too be exorcised; you just have to contain 'em, which is easier than you think. And two, the only reason they wanted to kill it was because they thought it had rabies. Then it would've been a mercy to the bear along with the people."
"Sorry I woke up the animal rights activist," Sam muttered and turned away. Dean stared at him, mouth open in shock, before he closed it firmly and turned back to driving.
That wasn't his little brother at all. He didn't know who the hell was riding with him, but it wasn't the baby brother he'd practically raised.
"Just promise me you'll let me lead this one," Dean said. When Sam didn't answer, his fingers tightened on the steering wheel, but he said nothing more.
Dean cursed as they slammed into the parking spot outside their room. "We'll get you cleaned up, don't worry about it," he reassured, before hurrying out of the car and around to the passenger door, which was already open. Sam was stepping out like it wasn't a big deal, like he didn't have a bullet lodged somewhere in his gut.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, easy," Dean said, putting an arm around his brother's waist as gently as he dared. "You're gonna be fine."
She'd been possessed, all right. And armed. Sam hadn't even done the talking; he'd simply stepped into her apartment and started reciting an exorcism, and when the hell had Sam had time to memorize exorcisms?
He guided Sam into the room, surprised that Sam wasn't putting his full weight on Dean to carry in. He sat him down on the nearest bed, before Dean hurried into the bathroom to grab their first aid kit. Where the hell was it? They'd unpacked it, hadn't they? It was the first thing they did, besides the salt in front of the windows and doors.
Maybe it was still in the duffel bag out in the room. Dean closed up the bathroom bag and headed back out into the room, but froze in the doorway.
Sam had found the first aid kit, and had already cut his shirt away. He had the tweezers now, the bottle of peroxide on the bed. It was only when he began to lower the tips towards the bleeding wound did Dean finally move. "What the hell are you doing?"
Sam glanced up at him, blinked twice, before he looked down at the wound. He almost looked as if he were waking up, and had no clue what he was doing. "You can't do that on your own," Dean said, already kneeling in front of him. "Gimme the tweezers. I'll get it out. You wanna lay down, or-"
"No, I'm...I'm fine," Sam said, sounding surprised. Dean looked up, but Sam was glancing away. "I'm fine," he said again quietly.
Dean pursed his lips but said nothing, instead taking the tweezers from Sam's hand. As gentle as he could he delved beneath his brother's skin, and was rewarded for his efforts several moments later. The bullet was pulled out, and thankfully brought nothing more than blood with it. It hadn't been too low a hit, so Dean was hoping it had avoided the stomach all together. His brother in the hospital was not something he needed right then.
"I'll stitch it up, and then you can sleep," Dean told him, wincing as he popped his back and moved to the kit once more.
"Go take a shower," Sam said in a firm and steady voice, the surprise of earlier gone. "I can stitch it up."
Dean slowly turned back to regard his brother. "You can what?"
"Stitch it up," Sam said again, raising his eyebrow. "Needle, thread, easy. Your back's hurting you from when she threw you; go take a hot shower, and leave the sewing to me."
His hand was already stretched out towards the kit, and Dean grabbed it and shoved back into Sam's lap. "I'll take a shower when I know you're fine," Dean replied. "Now shut the hell up."
Sam turned and looked away. Dean clenched his fists until his knuckles were white. This had to stop. What the hell had happened to his brother? Sam always let Dean stitch him up and take care of him, usually biting his lip to keep pain filled cries inside. Here, he was almost dead. No response besides a surly one, like he hadn't been frickin' shot.
What the hell had happened back during those Tuesdays?
He was pretty certain he knew everything about the Tuesdays, though. Same thing, every day, with Dean dead sometime during the Tuesday's course. That was when Sam would wake up again, and it'd be Tuesday once more.
Dean felt like he was missing something, something important, and he didn't like it.
"You don't look so good. Somethin' else happen?"
"Just had a really weird dream."
Yeah, right. Dean should've pressed then, but Sam had just looked so breakable. He'd figured that Sam would eventually want to talk about things, and it'd come out.
Except it hadn't, and his brother was turning into someone he didn't even know.
He turned his attention to the black sterile thread and needle, then to his brother. He'd figure it out, or beat it out of Sam. The way things were going, Dean was pretty sure he'd have to do the beating way of things.
"You sure you're okay with the job?" Dean asked as they climbed out of the car. It wasn't Sam's competence he was worried about; Sam would get the job done. He sure as hell wasn't slacking these days.
If anything, though, he was more reckless, more ruthless, more like their dad had been, and that was what both worried and scared Dean.
He opened the trunk and started digging through it to find the shotgun. When Sam's hands didn't dig into their treasure trove of weapons, Dean turned back to see what the matter was.
Sam was staring at the trunk like he was afraid to touch it. "Sam?" Dean asked, slowly standing upright. "You do know you can jump in and take stuff out, right? It's not gonna bite you or anything." Too late did his mind supply him with a possible death scenario, with the trunk lid falling and decapitating Dean, and he winced. He seriously hoped he hadn't touched on a Tuesday, and he sure as hell hoped that his baby wouldn't turn on him like that.
Sam, fortunately, didn't wince back, but merely shook himself. "Right. Sorry," he said, stepping forward. "Did you, uh, move stuff?"
Dean stared at his brother incredulously. "No," he said, dragging the word out. "Stuff's where it always is. Why? You don't like my interior decorating?" he joked, attempting a smile in the hopes that Sam would try one, too.
Sam said nothing, but reached in for a handgun. "Right," he murmured, Dean straining to hear the words. "Where it's always been."
Then he stood, weapons in hand, before moving through the darkness of night to the house. Dean found himself scrambling to close the trunk lid and catch up with Sam before his brother entered the house alone.
Sam had just put a foot inside when Dean caught up with him, grabbing his arm and jerking him back. Sam's surprise was ignored. "Dude, what the hell?" Dean hissed. "We go in together, flank each other. Remember? What we always do?"
"Right. Sorry," Sam said once more, shaking his head sharply. "I, uh, forgot."
Forgot? Forgot the pattern they'd lived by for the last three years, and years before that? Sam cleared his throat, ignoring Dean and moving to the side of the door, waiting for Dean to enter. Dean finally moved to his position, but he didn't take his eyes off of his little brother. Sam's own eyes were cast towards the ground.
What the hell had happened?
They entered at last, one right after the other, with Sam closing the door behind them. "Where do you think it's centered?" Sam whispered.
A chair suddenly came hurtling out of the room to their right, and Sam grabbed Dean and tugged him down to avoid it. "I'd say the living room," Dean said sarcastically, before hurrying in, Sam right behind him.
Another chair was sent their way, with Dean pushing Sam out of the way this time. "You wanna talk about hating someone's interior decorating," Dean muttered, glancing around to see what else could be a weapon. "I think this thing's got you beat, Sammy."
Two shelving units held glassware and random blunt objects. A small coffee table, with a not so small sofa in front of it, weren't probably bolted down, which meant they were more than likely weapons against them.
"You take the upstairs, I'll take the downstairs," Dean ordered, but Sam was already pulling out a small sheet of paper. He began to read off of it, Latin that made the hairs on the back of Dean's neck stand up. A wind began to tear through the room, causing Dean to have to shout to be heard.
"What the hell is that thing?"
"Banishing spell," Sam said quickly, before returning to his work.
"When did you get that? Does it even work on poltergeists?"
"It worked last time," was what Dean could've sworn Sam muttered, but it didn't make any sense. The last time they'd dealt with a poltergeist, they'd taken care of it the way Missouri had taught them.
Another sound was heard, a wail over the wind, and the coffee table flew up at them. Sam slid right while Dean ducked to the left, waiting for the sofa to follow.
It didn't, but the shelving units began to shake. "Dean, get out of here," Sam ordered, and Dean turned to his brother, eyes wide. It took him a few tries to get the words to his mouth.
"I said get out of here, I'll finish it," Sam said, already turning back to the banishing spell. Just an order, nothing more, but the tone it had been delivered with was eerily like that of their dad's. For someone who'd fought with the man for most of his life, Dean couldn't believe that the kid was acting so much like him.
"Sorry, but no," Dean said, pulling out the shotgun. Rock salt didn't make poltergeists disappear, but it did slow 'em down for a few seconds. A few seconds was more than enough to say the right words needed to get rid of it.
The right shelving unit began to shake even more, and Dean aimed at the top of it and fired. The wail increased in sound, before dying off for a few seconds. Sam's voice was still steady above the wind, not a single word jumbled.
The left shelving unit suddenly pitched forward then back, the glassware and other things falling to the floor. Before Dean had a chance to raise his gun again, the shattered glass flew upwards and straight at him and Sam.
"Sam, drop!" Dean shouted, doing the same. Several shards dug into his jacket, harmlessly, but one long shard managed to find his hand. He gasped as it sliced across his hand, leaving a fine line of blood. "Sonuvabitch," Dean cursed, watching the blood well up and slide down his hand.
A loud explosion was heard, and Dean instinctively covered his head. The wind stopped as suddenly as the wail did, and after a moment, he lifted his head to look.
The room was trashed, but the poltergeist was gone. Sam looked to be in one piece, a few cuts from the glass on his face the only exception. "Nice job," Dean said, turning Sam's gaze to him.
Sam's face suddenly went pale, and fear filled his face. "What's the matter?" Dean asked, turning around in alarm. Just an empty entryway; nothing more.
He turned back to Sam, and found his brother already next to him, grabbing him by the arm. He ushered Dean out through the front door and into the car just as quickly. Sam slid him through to the passenger side, then climbed in behind him to take the driver's seat. He looked absolutely terrified. "Sammy, what's the matter?" Dean asked, his own concern going up a few levels.
Sam didn't answer, but instead drove them well over the speed limit back to their hotel. He slammed the car into park outside their door and killed the engine in a way that made Dean growl at him. When he pulled Dean out, though, he was gentle and cautious. Still hurried, though, as he quickly moved Dean into the room.
"Just sit," Sam ordered, and Dean was surprised to hear his voice shake. He was directed onto the side of the bed and watched in worry as Sam dug out the first aid kit.
"Sam? You hurt?"
"Just...just sit," Sam said again, moving quickly to Dean's side. "You'll be fine, I promise."
"I'll be...?" Only when Sam took his arm and slid the coat from his shoulders did Dean see what had him so freaked. Blood coated Dean's hand, making it look worse than it really was.
Dean rolled his eyes, sighing. "Sam, I'm fine," he said exasperatedly, standing and moving past his brother. Sam inhaled sharply when he began washing it off underneath the sink, removing the excess blood. "Superficial wound," Dean tossed over his shoulder. "Not as bad as it looks."
He turned the water off and patted his hand down, then almost walked into Sam. Dean sighed again as Sam set the first aid kit down and carefully pulled his hand up. "Sam, it doesn't need stitches," Dean said, raising his eyebrow. "Now would you knock it off?"
"It could get infected," Sam said, turning away briefly to the kit. "I'll stitch it up, and then we can wrap it."
"Sam, are you even hearing me?" Dean asked, waving his hand in front of Sam's face and glaring when Sam ignored him. "It's not as deep as it is long! It's a scratch. Don't worry about it."
"It's still bleeding, Dean," Sam said, still rifling through the kit. "You need to be careful with even minor wounds."
Dean dropped his hand and glared at Sam, causing Sam to finally turn back to him. "Minor wounds," he repeated flatly. "It's not even a wound, Sam. It's a freakin' scratch. But you're gonna get upset over a scratch instead of a bullet?"
Sam's worry disappeared, and Dean was left with a solid stone mask. "Leave it, Dean," Sam said, voice low.
"The hell I will! You've been off ever since we dealt with the Trickster, and dude, I can get it, I really can," Dean said, softening his tone. "I mean, when you died, I wasn't okay with it, either."
Sam rounded on him, glaring at him with a fury that Dean had never really been faced with since his teen years. For the first time in his life, he loomed over Dean, using his height to his advantage. "How many days did you last, by the way, when I died?" Sam asked conversationally. "Two, three?"
"Three," Dean echoed, blinking up at Sam.
Sam edged forward, and Dean stepped back to give him room. "You really want to know what happened? Fine, I'll tell you what happened." Another step forward, and Dean automatically moved back again. "I cornered the Trickster, got us out of Tuesday. Wednesday morning, you went to pack the car while I finished in the room. I heard a gunshot, and came down and found you..." He swallowed hard but kept going, clenching his fists.
"All right, I'll pack the car."
"Wait, you're not going anywhere alone."
"It's the parking lot, Sam."
"Just...just trust me."
"I hunted on my own, by myself, no help, nothing, for almost five months," Sam said, anger the standing emotion once more. He continued forward, hissing, "Five months on my own. No you, no hunting partner, no one to stitch me up or talk to me! It was just me until I found that damnable Trickster, and begged him to let me go back and have you back. I begged, Dean, and he just snapped his fingers and put it all back, but I still remember those five months like they were yesterday, because they practically were yesterday. So yeah, I've been a little 'off'. I'm trying to adjust to hunting with a frickin' partner again, because you were dead!"
Dean's back touched the wall, and he jerked at the surprise touch. Sam froze, anger and fury gone in a flash, his eyes locked on Dean with rising horror. Then he quickly turned and all but ran from the room, the hotel room slamming shut behind him as he fled into the night.
"Sam!" Dean called out after him, but it was too late. He hung his head, before slamming it back against the wall behind him. "Sonuvabitch."
He was surprised Sam hadn't murdered the Trickster for that. Dean was thinking about it, and he hadn't even been there but for one Tuesday.
How many Tuesdays had Sam been through? And then five months without him?
Suddenly the last couple of days made a lot of sense. Sam was locked in the mindset that he had no partner, and was just hunting on his own. This was what his brother was going to look like if Dean wasn't ever there to help him.
Dean stared off into space for a moment or two, then reached into his pocket to find his cell phone. Calling Sam was instinct; it was speed dial number one. He knew his own number was locked in Sam's phone, the first number to call.
Who had Sam been able to call those months?
He'd always thought that if he wasn't there, Sam would go back to school. Go back to the normal life he'd wanted for so long.
Apparently, he'd taken his own hunts, with no help next to him. If the last couple of days were any indication, he'd been shot several times, and stitched himself up every single time. The thought made Dean's stomach turn and his heart twist.
Sam's voice mail answered, and Dean pursed his lips but waited for the tone to speak. "Sam, where are you? Call me back. I mean it."
After all those months without Dean, and the Tuesdays before it to add injury on top of injury...no wonder he'd flipped over Dean's hand coated in blood. He just had to get the geek home and then Dean would sit him down and talk to him, set him straight. More than likely end up hearing him brood and blast himself for hours, but Dean didn't really care this time.
He hadn't been there for Sam for apparently months; time to get back to his big brother duty.
He dialed Sam again. "Seriously, where are you? I'll come get you, but...I'd really feel a hell of a lot better if I knew where you were. Worry goes both ways, dude. Just call me back."
He frowned as another thought occurred to him. Their latest hunts had been picked by Sam, from the bear to the poltergeist tonight.
"When did you get that? Does it even work on poltergeists?"
"It worked last time."
The kid was still trying to help the people he'd helped before. Wasn't enough that he was worried about Dean dying, but he was worried about these random people he'd met during those months, too.
Sam needed to get home. Now.
He raised the phone to dial again, then decided on a text message instead. That was something Sam was possibly more likely to acknowledge and at least look at. Sam – come back, or tell me where you are. Please.
He closed the phone and leaned his head back against the wall. If Sam didn't want to be found, he wasn't going to be found. They'd trained him too well for that. The town wasn't all that small this time, either, so he could be any-
His cell phone beeped from the incoming message, and Dean flipped it open to read. An instant later, he was grabbing his jacket and heading out the door, car keys in hand.
If Sam hadn't told him where to look, Dean wouldn't have seen him. As it was, Dean stopped for a moment out of pure faith, and it took a few moments before his eyes found the hunched over figure seated on the curb of the main road. Dean killed the engine and stepped out, moving slowly towards his brother.
If Sam knew he was approaching, he said nothing and didn't move at all. Dean crept closer until he was finally standing practically above Sam, but still Sam didn't move. Dean paused, before moving to sit beside him. The curb dug into his ass and his tail bone, but they were minor discomforts he didn't really give two shits about at that point. He was a little more concerned about Sam.
A shaky inhalation came before Sam's quiet words. "I keep waking up every morning expecting you not to be here," he admitted in a raspy voice. "Even when I look over at the next bed and I see you, I'm still convinced you're a figment of my imagination, of my wanting you back so bad."
Dean glanced over in time to see two crystal tears fall from Sam's eyes. "I didn't think anything could be worse than having to watch you die multiple times, but I was wrong," Sam continued, swallowing hard. "Watching you die once, and then not having you back was worse."
Sam raised his head to look at Dean, red rimmed eyes evident even in the dark. "I think I died with you," Sam whispered, and that was what Dean had been hoping he wouldn't hear. "Because I sure as hell wasn't me anymore. I just...existed. God, I was worse than Dad was, but if I let myself be Sam, then I was just gonna fall apart, you know? And I-I couldn't. Because it hurt way too damn bad."
He sniffled and rubbed at his eyes, and he looked so lost and child-like that Dean's heart felt like breaking all over again. "I didn't mean to scare you, back in the room," he whispered.
It took Dean a moment to get it. "Is that why you ran? I wasn't scared of you, Sammy," he said softly. "You moved forward, I backed up. Wasn't expecting the wall, that's all. I was scared for you, but..."
Sam swallowed hard, stopping any other words. Dean gazed at him, Sam's control teetering on the edge, before he reached an arm out, pulling his brother in. Sam fell forward, head resting against Dean's collarbone, with Dean's right arm wrapped tightly around his shoulders. Anything more would just break him, and Dean figured Sam was broken enough.
When Sam's shoulders began to silently shake, Dean did nothing more than hold on.
Morning poured through the windows, causing Dean to wince as he woke slowly. The events of the night before came back to him, and he was suddenly one hundred percent awake, sitting up straight in bed.
Sam was already up, seated on the edge of his own bed. His eyes were locked on Dean, hollow except for grief Dean didn't know how to erase. "Still here," Dean said softly.
Sam took a deep breath in. "Yeah," he answered, before he shook his head, eyes downcast. "One of these days, I swear I'll believe it."
The covers were slid off, and Dean shifted to tap his brother's leg. "I ever tell you what I did those first two weeks, after you died?" Sam glanced back up, blinking before shaking his head. "We'd turn the lights off, you'd fall asleep, and...I'd just stay up and watch you breathe," Dean admitted quietly. The rise and fall of Sam's chest had kept him awake for sometimes hours.
Sam was silent. "So the way I look at it, you've got at least another week and a half of not believing," Dean continued. He rolled his shoulders and stood, glancing back over his shoulder with a small grin. "I could leave my dirty laundry around so you'd have visible proof that I'm still here."
Sam whipped his head around at that, staring at Dean for half a beat, before he chuckled softly. "I wouldn't bank on that being a good idea," he replied.
Dean let his grin widen. "I'll find them shoved somewhere I won't like?"
"I could hang your boxers and socks from the Impala's windows as we drive by hot women in cars," Sam said, raising his eyebrow.
"You wouldn't dare."
Sam merely let his smile answer for him.
Dean grumbled all the way to the shower about insufferable little brothers who have no respect for dirty laundry or hot chicks. Just as he closed the door to the bathroom, though, he glanced a peek out into the room.
Sam was still seated on the bed, his gaze once more directed to Dean's bed. It wasn't made, the sheets and covers bunched and wrinkled in several different places from obvious use. Sam closed his eyes, then opened them a few seconds later as he stood. "I'm not making your bed for you," he called out.
Dean hastily closed the bathroom door and moved to the shower. "Aww, no room service?" he called back. His smile had to have been heard in his voice, but he didn't care.
He kept smiling when Sam later griped about his music choice, looked ill at what Dean ordered for lunch, then raced out to beat him to the driver's seat. He was bound to get upset and fall back into the mindset he'd held for who knew how long, but Dean wasn't concerned.
Sam was in there; Dean would just find him and pull him out again.