Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Summary: A much deserved night out bonding doesn't end the way the Winchester brothers planned. Set after WIAWSNB.

A/N: I believe I started writing this fic before WIAWSNB aired in May of 2007 but once I saw the ep, I wanted to include some of its themes in this story. I never planned on posting this fic – it was just something to amuse Faye Dartmouth – but she thought others might enjoy it so here it is…

Part 1 of 2

Dean's eyes scanned the blue horizon. The Impala was gobbling up the miles, and the gas, as they made their way across the states.

Usually Dean could immerse himself in the music and the landscape. This time was different. His mind kept circling back to their last hunt. He'd not only royally screwed up by checking out the possible den of their quarry but what he'd seen in the djinn's dream world had a cut a little too close for comfort.

I guess we just don't have anything in common, you know? The djinn's dream Sam had said those words to Dean and the pain had been instantaneous.

He and Sam had lots in common. Well, okay, maybe not a lot.

Hobbies. Sam preferred reading and learning while Dean was a man of action.

Lifestyle. Sam longed for stability and normalcy whereas Dean got antsy if he stayed in the same place for too long.

Chicks. Sam's ultimate woman was a tall, leggy blond and Dean gravitated toward busty brunettes. Busty redheads weren't bad either, and hell, a busty blonde certainly did the trick as well.

Weapons. Sam would rather use his bowie knife while Dean's choice of weapon was a rifle – a model 70, 7mm magnum Winchester rifle, naturally.

And there was a segue if ever there was one. Hunting. Of course they had a lifetime of hunting in common with shared memories and experiences.

Yet Dean knew the bond went deeper than that. It was, and had always been, his job to look after his baby brother. And Sammy was so worth it. It scared Dean to think about how much he relied on Sam.

Dean had almost caved in to the persistent depression that had plagued him since John Winchester had died after cutting a deal to spare Dean's life. The run in with the djinn had almost sent him over the edge.

We've lost so much...we've sacrificed so much. For a short time, Dean had doubted the sense in fighting out of his dream world, had doubted himself. Even doubted their job. No one ever thanked them for a job well done. Hell, most of the time no one knew they'd done anything.

But Sam had made him see sense. It was a hard life. Sam's words echoed in his head -- but it's worth it.

And that had been some sort of turning point for Dean. He'd found some measure of peace.

This was the life Dean had missed when Sam left for Stanford. He and Sam had always had a special bond, a way of communicating without words, which made hunting together a delight. As close as Dean had been to John Winchester, as much as he had learned from him, it was he and Sam who made a great team.

Dean was still grieving the loss of his father. At first he'd taken his loss out on his brother, pushed him away, said things to hurt him. But once Sam had stopped trying to coax Dean's feelings out of him, he had started to face how much he'd missed his brother.

And he found himself resenting John Winchester for chasing Sam out of his life six years ago. He'd always thought Sam had "daddy issues" but apparently he had some to work out as well.

But he and Sam were a solid team again.

A lifetime of code words and phrases and gestures had coalesced into perfect hunting harmony. If Dean said drop, Sam didn't argue and fell to the floor, so that Dean had a clear shot. If Sam held up his hand, Dean knew his brother was working through a problem and if he just gave him a moment, he'd come up with the perfect solution to the situation du jour.

It was the perfect partnership.

Dean glanced over at the object of his thoughts. Sam's head was angled uncomfortably against the passenger window and occasional sighs puffed from between his parted lips. Dean was tempted to slide something into Sam's mouth just to see him jump, like he'd done with that plastic spoon before snapping a picture, but didn't give in to the urge. It seemed heartless to bother Sam while he was at his most vulnerable. Besides, he had to save the good stuff for the boring stretches of road.

A vulnerable Sam was always hard for Dean to handle. It reminded him of how difficult it was to protect his kind-hearted, hard-headed brother. He would never allow anything bad to happen to Sam again. Ever.

Noticing a sign for a motel, Dean steered the Impala to the exit and got off the highway. Sam had been looking tired lately and could probably do with both a decent meal and a soft bed. And maybe some fun.

-0-

The first thing Sam noticed was the complete silence. The motion of the car had stopped and it was quiet. Even the radio was off. Something was wrong. Dean always had music playing when he was in the car. Sam cautiously cracked his eyes open, uncertain of what to expect.

The sun was setting and glorious streaks of orange and red were flooding across the sky. Sam turned his head and found Dean sitting in the driver's seat, watching him. The expression on Dean's face -- mouth turned down in a frown, wrinkles between his eyes – was so serious it freaked Sam out.

Not wanting to spoil the calm, Sam settled for quirking an eyebrow and cocking his head to the side in question.

Sam had always been a talker. When he had a problem, he liked to talk it out. If someone else was having a problem, he wanted to help them figure it out so he invited them to tell him about it. He had a gift for both words and for listening and enjoyed using both.

Spending time with Dean again, he had to reevaluate his communication skills and make some changes. Dean didn't like all of the talking. In fact, the more Sam pushed Dean, the more his brother clammed up on him. Sam discovered the best way to get Dean to open up was to shut up. It went against his grain, but after a few years of practice he felt like he was getting the drift of it.

The other big concession was that Dean wanted to call the shots, be in control. Sam had left his father's directives behind when he went to Stanford but now found himself in a silent battle of wills with his older brother. But Dean had been through so much with losing their dad and blaming himself – Sam would willingly give up some of the control if it brought some peace into his brother's life. Dean was worth it.

When Dean didn't respond to his silent question, Sam craned his neck around. They were parked in front of the Whispering Hills motel. They appeared to be stopping for the night, which was odd since there were several more hours they could have spent on the road.

Sam gladly would have taken a turn behind the wheel but somewhere along the way a decision had been made and Sam didn't drive unless it was absolutely necessary. He wasn't sure if that was a result of his wrecking the Impala in the collision with the semi or if it was due to his sporadic visions.

"We're stopping for the night?" Sam finally asked. If he sat there much longer he would fall asleep again and he'd rather go inside and sleep, preferably on a clean, soft bed. Although, by the mildly dilapidated looks of the outside, it wasn't a sure thing.

"Great deductive abilities…they teach you that at Stanford, college boy?" Dean teased, his face shifting from solemn to playful in the blink of an eye.

"Dude, you need to get a new writer. Your material's getting stale," Sam volleyed back.

Ever since he could remember, he's been the butt of Dean's jokes. Or at least that's how it had seemed when he was younger. He'd always worshipped his brother but sometimes his words cut deeper than the knife he kept under his pillow at night. But after spending time away from his brother, the barbs no longer drew blood and he appreciated Dean's quick wit. He was no longer over- sensitive to the remarks and could enjoy them for what they were – light hearted, usually affectionate, banter between two brothers.

Lately Sam had a greater appreciation of his older brother. He'd always been aware of the sacrifices Dean had made on his behalf; Dean had spent his childhood caring for his younger brother instead of being a child. But then Dean had broken the hold the djinn had over him through sheer strength of will. He'd given up his dream, his wish, to return to real life. To return to Sam.

"Can we…"

Sam had been on the verge of saying talk but that word had pretty much been stricken from Dean's vocabulary and he swallowed the last word like a bitter pill. Sam shifted his eyes away from Dean's face before he could be accused of being a chick and wanting to force "a moment."

His brother threw open the heavy car door and stretched out into the cooling air. Without missing a beat, Dean picked up the sentence where Sam had trailed off. "…go inside, yeah. I think I hear a pool table calling my name somewhere so we might as well stop for the night."

Quietly gathering up some of their bags, Sam followed Dean toward the registration office.

Musings on his brother or even a nap would have to wait. Dean might be hunting a pool game but Sam had research for a different kind of hunt in mind.

-0-

Sam's legs were stretched out in front of him, loose and gangly, while his back was hunched over the keyboard, his fingers flying. Dean could never figure out how half of Sam's body could look so relaxed while the rest of him was twisted up like a pretzel. His brother, the living dichotomy.

"Francis, you coming up for air any time soon? It's time to feed," Dean said, kicking Sam's outstretched foot with one of his booted feet. Sam barely missed a beat in his typing as he flashed a middle finger at him.

Dean smiled in appreciation. Now that he no longer looked for hidden meanings in Sam's words or gestures, feeling like Sam wanted to ditch him at the slightest provocation, he could enjoy the flippant side of Sam. Or in this case, the flipping side.

Sam snapped the laptop shut with an economy of movement before stretching his arms over head. "Fine. We have to tend to your stomach before we fight evil. It must be in Dean's hierarchy of needs. Let's go," Sam grumbled without heat before standing up and grabbing his jacket.

It tickled Dean when Sam spoke all scholarly to him. Not down to him, but to him. Like Sam knew he'd understand what he was saying. And he did. Or he came close enough to faking it most of the time.

After all of the crap they'd faced this year, it felt good to just hang out. To be brothers.

-0-

Dean had talked Sam into crossing the street and visiting the local tavern, the Tumble Inn, after they finished dinner at the Wagon Wheel.

Sam hadn't been interested in alcohol since his little meltdown with tequila in Connecticut at the Pierpont Inn but Dean had been insistent and he didn't want to ruin his brother's mood. A pint and some pool with Dean sounded good at the moment.

No hunting evil. Nothing supernatural. Just a couple of brothers taking it easy. The normalcy of it all appealed to Sam and he decided to go with the flow.

He blinked his eyes and tried to focus. Maybe he'd been a little too fluid. Dean had hustled a little at the pool table and brought in some much needed cash. A pitcher of beer had appeared at the table in celebration and before long Sam had lost track of how much he had consumed.

Sam knew he was a light weight when it came to alcohol but he wasn't worried. He was with his big brother and he knew Dean wouldn't let him do anything stupid.

Scratch that. Dean would encourage him to do something stupid and laugh at him the whole time but he would make sure nothing bad happened to Sam.

Glancing around the crowded room, Sam spotted Dean flirting with the waitress. He was leaning against the bar, frown lines smoothed out, looking happy and relaxed. Sam caught Dean's eye and smiled.

This wasn't his usual scene but in some strange way Sam found it comforting. He reached out and finished off the mug of beer in front of him, watching his brother in action.

-0-

Dean took the proffered phone number from Missy – hi, I'm Missy, and I'll get you anything you want this evening – the bartender. What a way to welcome a guy. He thought about taking Missy up on her offer but he was enjoying the time with his brother.

Sam's behavior tonight was surprising. For someone who liked to talk and liked people, Sam had seemed content to kick back and let people seek him out. The only time he'd seen Sam up and about was when he hit the bathroom or plugged the jukebox.

That had been another surprise. Dean had expected Sam to gravitate toward that emo music crap but instead he'd selected classics. At least they were classics in Dean's book. Helter Skelter, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, She Sells Sanctuary…the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Cult. A little something for everyone chased indoors on a cool spring night.

Sam was turning out to be a happy drunk as opposed to the angst driven performance he'd reeled off in Connecticut. This Sam wasn't crying in his beer; his foot was tapping in time to the music as he glanced around the crowded bar in leisurely fashion.

Maybe Dean didn't know his little brother as well as he thought he did. This guy was someone Dean might hang out with even if they weren't brothers. And just imagine how happy he'd be if Sam had tits...he so wasn't finishing that train of thought. Maybe he'd had one too many himself.

Dean saw Sam stifle a yawn and that sealed the deal. He wouldn't be spending time with sweet Missy, at least not tonight. It was time to pack it in for the night.

Catching Sam's eye he motioned toward the door. Sam shrugged in agreement and then hauled himself to his feet before weaving his way through the crowd. Dean met up with him at the door.

Sam wasn't really unsteady on his feet but Dean still caught him by the elbow and maneuvered him out the exit. The air was frigid as the brothers crossed the street and headed toward the Impala.

"Why's it so cold?" Sam gasped, his teeth chattering.

"Well, Einstein, weren't you wearing a coat earlier?" Dean asked, amusement and impatience fighting for dominance across his face.

Sam's face was priceless. "Dude! My coat. I'll be right back," Sam said as he spun on his heel and headed toward the crosswalk.

Pressing the button on the traffic light, Sam bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, waiting for the walk sign. A smile creased Dean's face. Even tipsy, his brother managed to be a law abiding citizen.

The walk sign came on and Sam threw Dean a triumphant smile over his shoulder before striding into the street.

An engine revved and tires squealed as a car roared around the corner.

Dean's mouth opened to shout a warning but the words froze in his throat as he watched the scene playing out in front of him.

Sam lunged to the side, trying desperately to avoid a collision, but the light-colored Jetta dodged in the same direction and in that moment Dean knew heart-stopping fear.

He heard the thud of impact, saw his brother's body lifted and cruelly flung into the air before dropping dully on the road.

The Jetta careened down the street, either oblivious to the damage it had wrought or uncaring.

Dean didn't waste any time. He fairly flew across the street and reached Sam's side in seconds.

Amazing. Sam had landed on his back but was even now struggling to pull himself into a sitting position.

"Easy. That was quite a hit you took, Sam," Dean said, dropping to his knees beside his brother. His hand went to Sam's back to steady him as his brother faltered.

The streetlight was shining directly over them and Dean could see Sam was frowning. His eyes were wide and the pupils dilated. Shock.

Dean could hear people murmuring in the background. Someone called out that an ambulance was on the way and Dean was relieved. Sam had to have sustained some sort of injury from the hit and run. Now he set about finding out what was hurt.

His little brother seemed intent on dragging himself to his feet so Dean reached out and grabbed his right arm. "Would you just settle down for a minute and let me see where you're hurt?"

Dean tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice but he was worried and it bled through when he snapped at his brother.

Despite Dean's words, Sam planted his hands on the rough road and tried heaving himself up off the ground. His left arm buckled and the only thing that kept him from falling face first onto the street was Dean's grip on his other arm.

"Huh," Sam said, looking down at his left arm. He glanced at Dean with an air of bewilderment.

Dean wasn't prepared when Sam's weight pitched back suddenly and he had to scramble to keep them both from crashing to the pavement. He shifted behind Sam so that his brother was partially cradled against his chest and peered around his body to get a look at the arm that had given away.

Sam's flimsy shirt had been torn away and hung in tatters around his left side. Dean gasped. He could see bone poking through the arm in various places, the skin slicked in blood. He'd seen his share of horrific injuries, but even Dean was nauseous at the sight of the gore in front of him. And he'd never had the stomach for seeing his little brother hurt.

Dean gently tilted Sam's head so that his brother wasn't staring at the injured limb anymore.

Sam's muscles bunched in his shoulders, as if preparing to rise again, and Dean exerted pressure on his brother's chest with his right hand, attempting to still him. "Sam, please. Relax. Help is on the way." He could hear the siren in the distance. What was taking so long?

A shiver rippled through Sam's body. Dean heard him sigh before he finally quit struggling and relaxed back into Dean's arms.

"Dean?" Sam said, his voice pitched barely above a whisper.

"Yeah, Sam?" Dean replied, distracted. He was worried about all of the blood but didn't want to put pressure on Sam's arm. He didn't want to cause Sam pain, especially with the ambulance moments away.

Sam angled his head farther back until he was situated more fully in Dean's left arm and was staring at Dean's face. "Why am I so cold?" Sam whispered.

Dean cursed himself. Sam was still without a coat and any idiot knew the first thing you did when someone was going into shock was to keep them warm. Dean couldn't shrug out of his jacket without causing Sam pain and contented himself with gathering Sam closer.

Reaching out, Dean brushed the hair out of Sam's face. His skin was cool and clammy and his eyes stared straight ahead. By now, all resistance had fled Sam's body and he reclined bonelessly in Dean's arms.

It had been one of the best night's Dean had enjoyed in a long time and now this. Why?

-0-

Dean had lost track of the time.

The EMT's had wasted little time in loading Sam up and carting him off to the nearest hospital. Dean had been allowed to ride along and he was grateful for that small mercy. He couldn't contemplate letting Sam out of his sight.

When they had wheeled Sam into the ER, Dean had nearly lost his composure. The staff had blocked him from following and had insisted that he wait until his brother had been evaluated. Pushed into the waiting room, Dean was left to his own devices which included slumping in a hard, plastic chair and wringing his hands. He forced himself to stop. He needed to calm down. Sam needed him.

"Mr. Winters? Your brother is asking for you," the pixie-cute ER nurse announced.

Dean was up and out of the chair before the words had finished leaving her mouth. She was staring at him with flirtatious eyes but for once he couldn't respond.

Sam was hurt.

He was quickly escorted back to the exam room where a Dr. Smith introduced himself. Dean barely glanced at the doctor as his attention zeroed in on Sam.

Sam, who was lying pale and bruised on the exam table.

An IV snaked out from his right arm while his left arm rested grotesquely on some convoluted board. Sam's eyes were open and he was staring right at Dean yet he didn't acknowledge him.

"Mr. Winters? Your brother is in serious condition. He sustained a compound fracture of the humerus," the doctor said, motioning to his upper arm, "as well as comminuted fractures of the radius and ulna bones," once again the doctor paused to point to his lower arm. "However, the largest problem facing him right now is that there's a tear in his brachial artery which supplies the blood to his whole arm. We have to restore the circulation so we're prepping your brother for surgery. Do we have your consent to perform the surgery?"

Dean felt overwhelmed. An innocent night of pool and beer had somehow resulted in Sam being very seriously injured. It could only happen to Sam.

Sam was a big-eyed, serious five-year-old, who wanted to hang from the tree like the big kids in the neighborhood. He'd jumped from the white picket fence in front of the place they'd been renting, grabbing for a tree limb. He'd missed the branch and landed on his feet but he'd spoiled his picture perfect landing by losing his balance and tipping forward to sprawl on the hard ground. A fractured right wrist had kept the I-told-you-so's to a minimum; the broken arm seemed punishment enough.

Or the time Dean had been fourteen and the kid had been about ten and they'd been sight- seeing, one of the few times their dad had consented to pull over and let them walk around a local landmark. Sam's arms had wind-milled frantically as he tried, and failed, to catch his balance on the bridge after a strong gust of wind. He'd lost his fight with gravity and teetered over the edge, plummeting toward the frigid water below. Only Sam had managed to land on the sole rock in that stretch of river, earning himself a king sized concussion.

The doctor cleared his voice, interrupting Dean's walk down memory lane. "Mr. Winters, please. I know this is a lot to take in but if we're going to save your brother's arm, we need to move quickly." He had a deep, mellow voice but it was jangling Dean's nerves.

Surgery? How was he fit enough to consent to surgery on his brother's behalf when he couldn't even keep Sam safe from speeding cars?

Dean was irritated at being rushed into a decision when the doctor's words finally sunk in – if we're going to save your brother's arm.

Acid burned its way up Dean's throat and he had to swallow it back with effort.

"Do what you have to do," Dean grunted, his face screwed up in pain.

Dr. Smith and the perky nurse buzzed around Sam for another moment, injecting something into his IV line, checking his vitals again. Dr. Smith touched Dean's arm gently. "The staff will be back in a few minutes to take Sam to the OR."

Dean pulled up a stool next to Sam's good side and reached out, gently picking up Sam's right hand. "Sammy, can you hear me?" Dean's voice rasped, filled with worry.

Sam's eyes were wide open and slowly blinking. Sam seemed to struggle for a moment, as if contemplating what Dean said, before he finally turned his head and looked at Dean.

"Dean, that you?" Sam asked. His voice was groggy, as if he had been awakened abruptly from a deep sleep.

"Yeah, Sam. I'm right here," Dean said, his voice still pitched barely above a whisper.

Sam's eyes focused on Dean's face with confusion, his forehead wrinkling as he sought answers to his predicament.

"What's going on?" Sam asked, his head swiveling around, taking in the IV and then his injured arm. Anxiety arrived hard on the heels of confusion.

"Sammy. Relax. You hurt your arm but the doctor is going to fix you up," Dean stated, trying to project his big-brother-knows-best persona. He couldn't afford to freak out because Sam needed to remain calm.

Dean followed Sam's gaze and for the first time since entering the room, really looked at Sam's arm. From shoulder to fingers, the arm was obscenely swollen – so swollen that slivers of white gaped between bloody gashes along Sam's arm.

Bone. Dean was staring at the tip of a bone protruding from Sam's upper arm.

Nausea gripped Dean's body. If it was having this kind of effect on him, he couldn't imagine what it was doing to Sam.

Dean carefully reached across Sam's body and gripped his chin, pulling his head back toward Dean. And away from the mangled sight of his arm.

Sam relaxed for a moment, his eyes sliding shut, before they snapped open, darting around. "Dean, are you okay?" Sam asked in a breathy voice. He couldn't keep his eyes open but Dean could see he was on the verge of panic.

Dean continued to hold Sam's hand while reaching out and brushing the hair from his brother's eyes. Sam's hair was way past shaggy. Dean was always teasing him about cutting it off while Sammy was asleep. But Sam's hair was such a part of him. Just like having two arms. Stop it. Concentrate on keeping Sam calm.

"I'm fine, Sammy. Just fine. Now close your eyes and when you wake up I'll be waiting for you," Dean finally answered. His voice cracked with stress but Sam didn't seem to notice. His eyes were closing and the hand Dean was holding became lax.

Dean closed his eyes as he continued to cling to Sam's hand. His brother was completely vulnerable and depending on Dean to take care of him.

"Mr. Winters? It's time," a voice announced from the doorway. Someone took Dean's elbow and helped him up, intent on escorting him out of the room.

Dean dug in his heels and turned back to Sam. Leaning down, he whispered in his brother's ear, "I'll take care of you Sam. I promise," before lightly kissing Sam's cool forehead.

This time he allowed himself to be shown out of the room and found himself in a different waiting room. He slumped down on the couch, marginally more comfortable than the plastic chairs in the ER waiting room, and settled back. He hated waiting. Almost as much as he hated seeing Sammy in pain.

TBC