Previously appeared in Rooftop Confessions 1 (2007), from GriffinSong Press
For Man to Be Alone
K Hanna Korossy
He was going to kill his brother.
Slowly. Inflict him with boils. Or bring his car back scraped and dented, maybe. Or deluge him with rats—rats were good. He could do it, too. Dean should have known better than to do this to him.
Sam tightened his hands furiously on the steering wheel as he peered at passing street signs. He hadn't even seen this coming, and maybe he was a little mad at himself for that, too. But there had been nothing unusual about the hunt they'd come back from, besides the fact that Sam still wasn't sure exactly what they'd killed. Which wasn't all that unusual for them. They returned to their room bruised and exhausted and Dean a little chomped, but nothing that would make Sam think that when his brother showered and changed and then declared he needed a little space, that it meant anything more than going down the street to the local bar.
That had been the night before. Since then, Sam had reached Dean's voice mail eleven times, searched the car twice, checked with all three area bars, and finally, finally realized Dean had taken his duffel with him.
That was when anger had started to replace fear.
The rest of his oh-so-restful night had been spent calling motels in a widening spiral pattern, using a fake police ID to ask about recent check-ins. It was near dawn by the time Sam reached the Easy Rest Motel about fifty miles away—had Dean actually taken a cab?—and found a Samuel Hagar had checked in hours before.
That when Sam had started to get really mad.
The drive had given him a chance to practice some of his invective. Like what kind of hypocrite Dean was that he feared losing Sam and hated to be alone, and then took off and left his brother high and dry and worried sick—okay, maybe Sam would leave that part out—just so he could have a little space? That this whole watching-your-brother's-back thing went both ways, and if he didn't agree, he could just take Sam back to Cali next time he planned to do something this stupid. That being kidnapped and caged by a hillbilly family was still fresh in Sam's memory, and Dean putting him through worry of something similar was just inexcusable, and didn't he know Sam loved him and was scared for him, too?
Okay, maybe not that part, either.
But he would kill him. Make sure he was all right and then kill him dead. Sam nodded. It was a plan.
The Rest Easy's sign finally came into view, the neon faded in the early morning light. Actually, the whole place looked faded, the kind of motel even they tended to pass by unless there was nothing better. Serious neglect on the outside usually meant bugs and filth and broken-down beds on the inside, and the Winchesters weren't often that desperate, thank God. Sam winced, wondering why Dean would have been. Had he been that anxious for a little time of his own?
It wasn't like they had a lot of privacy. Living in each other's space, nothing to call their own but what fit into a duffel bag: it wasn't like they had any place to retreat to when the other became a little too much. Sam took walks sometimes, or went to the local library and, unbeknownst to Dean, often just sat, soaking in the environment and thinking. Dean gravitated toward bars and pool halls and the occasional young lady's house for his time away. And then, of course, there was always the old sock on the doorknob "Go Away, I'm Busy" signal. But taking off on each other without warning or explanation, checking into a motel halfway to the next town, for God's sake, that was not kosher.
Oh, yeah, Sam was mad.
Room nine, the bored desk clerk had said on the phone, and Sam didn't even bother stopping at the front office for a key. He jammed the car into Park in the free space in front of number nine and climbed out, kit already in hand. The flimsy lock took him all of fifteen seconds to pick, and that was only because his hands were shaking slightly from anger.
He didn't knock, didn't hold back at all as he stormed into the dim room, already yelling, "Dean! Where the he—…llo?"
Fury paused, momentarily confused. The room was empty. The one single bed was rumpled and bare, missing its blanket. Dean's duffel sat on the floor at its end, still zipped. The bathroom door stood half-open, the room beyond it dark.
A flutter of the earlier fear brushed Sam's throat again. "Dean?" he called less stridently, craning to make sure there wasn't anybody collapsed on the far side of the bed before he crossed to the bathroom and pushed the door completely open. "Dean, are you—?"
He was. Hunched on the floor between the toilet and the shower and wrapped in a blanket, Sam's brother sat in the dark.
His first instinct was to turn on the light so he could see better what was going on, but Dean's choice of darkness was one he'd respect for the moment. Instead, Sam opened the door as wide as he could without smacking the sink, to let in the meager light from the main room. Then he crouched in front of Dean for a closer look.
Something was wrong, and it was more than just Dean deciding to leave Sam and a decent motel to huddle on the filthy bathroom floor of a rat-trap. Up close, Sam could hear labored breathing, see the rise and dip of Dean's bowed head with each respiration. Sweat glistened on the close-cropped hair. The small room smelled of vomit and perspiration.
"Dean," Sam said softly, one hand palming his brother's chin and jaw and lifting carefully.
Dilated, murky brown eyes stared back at him a moment before wincing shut.
Sam made the decision. "I'm gonna call for help," he promised quietly, and reached for his phone.
Dean's head shook in his grasp, a ponderous side-to-side motion that rubbed stubble against Sam's hand like sandpaper. "No." His voice was raspy and dry. "No. Can't help this."
Sam felt another flare of anger, and quickly squelched it. He could lay into Dean when Dean was up to fighting back. "You know what's wrong?" he asked cautiously, and already was sure of the answer. Of course he did. That was why he'd left, to be alone, because he knew what was coming and didn't want Sam to see, to—God forbid—show a moment of weakness in front of his little brother.
Hurt, not anger, tangled in Sam's gut now.
Dean didn't answer, running a swollen tongue over dry lips, and fumbled with something in his lap. A water bottle, Sam realized, and took another look at the little tableau in front of him. Sick brother, wrapped in a blanket, water bottle in his hand, beside the toilet. Yeah, Dean had known exactly what would happen, and had prepared for it in his usual pragmatic, utilitarian way, ready to take care of it by himself.
The only problem was, he had a brother again. A ticked-off, worried, unwilling-to-be-sidelined brother.
Sam unscrewed the water bottle cap that Dean's stiff fingers were struggling with, then helped him lift and tilt the bottle back. Dean feebly pulled away from him, not quite shaking Sam off but clearly wanting to do this on his own. His hands were shaking, too, and Sam was pretty sure it wasn't from anger. There was nothing in Dean's expression, what little Sam could see of it in the wan light, but tired resignation.
Cold suddenly settled in Sam's gut. This wasn't stomach flu.
"Hey, Dean," he said with gentle desperation, "tell me what's going on." How he could help. How he could get rid of this frantic fear that had suddenly gripped him.
Dean was shaking his head again. "Bite. Didn' want you to see…can't help, Sammy." A crooked, feverish smile peered up at him. "Sorry."
Sam blinked back tears. It was the thing they'd hunted. There had been no recognition in Dean's face as they'd climbed up the crags to face the…furry, growling thing, nor when he'd eased his shirt, wincing, away from the neat set of puncture wounds on his arm. Sam hadn't thought twice about it, but Dean had known, known and left to do…this, alone.
To die alone?
Sam took a shuddering breath. There was no point in thinking about any of that now, not of what Dean had done or what might happen to him. The reality now was that he was suffering, and Sam could help with that. He would tear Dean a new one if—when—he was better.
Sam bit his lip, blinked back tears, and nodded. "All right. But you're not doing this alone, jerk. I'm here now and I'll help you, all right?" He pushed himself to his feet, feeling like he'd also passed from the living to the dying in that small room. Sam shut away those thoughts and reached for Dean. "Let's start with getting you comfortable, huh?"
Dean's head was shaking again. "Can't leave…need to—" Then he went for the visual, suddenly heaving, bending awkwardly over the toilet as his body arched and bowed.
Sam flinched at the violence of the nausea and went back to his knees, one arm around Dean's waist, the other clasping his clammy forehead. "Easy," he murmured. "Easy." Which was stupid because none of this was remotely easy no matter what he said. But he had a feeling Dean wasn't hearing anything more than his voice, anyway, if that, so it was a moot point.
Dean gasped and sputtered his way through the attack, finally sinking back, spent. Trying to lean against the wall again, except Sam was gathering him into a lift. "You're going to bed—you'll be more comfortable there. I'll grab the trashcan in case you have to hurl again, all right?" Dean had someone to take care of him now, to clean him up and get whatever he needed and help him. There was no cause for this desperate huddle on the bathroom floor, facing this alone.
Sam firmed his jaw at the thought, holding up a lot of Dean's weight as he pulled them both to their feet.
"Dude, quit hugging me," Dean slurred on the way out of the bathroom, because he'd never been smart enough to hold his tongue.
"Shut up, Dean," Sam answered tightly, and hugged him harder.
The bed, up close, was every bit as disgusting as Sam had imagined it. He changed routes immediately, detouring Dean to the nearby rickety chair, molding the fingers of one too-warm hand around the loose slats. "Hold on to this. I'll be right back," he said, and hurried out of the room.
He came back to find Dean, of course, hadn't listened to him. His brother was sitting on the floor by his duffel, looking dazed.
Alarmed, Sam rushed for him, afraid he'd fallen, only to see the glint of metal in Dean's hand. No, the idiot had been going for his knife. Come to think of it, Sam was half-surprised Dean hadn't had it on him in the bathroom, then, realizing this was Dean he was talking about, conceded he probably had.
"Feel better now?" Sam asked acerbically, but grasped Dean's shoulder in quick reassurance before moving past him to make the bed.
That mostly consisted of laying one of their open sleeping bags flat on top of the grey sheets and replacing the motel pillow with one from the car. The bed prepared, Sam returned to his brother's side to relocate him.
Dean groaned at the motion, although at least it wasn't the "I'm about to puke" kind of groan Sam was way too familiar with. This was the pain of sore muscles and weakness, and considering the fever that burned through his clothes, Sam had some idea just how miserable he felt. He was gentle as he settled Dean on the bed, easing his head down last. He coaxed the knife out of Dean's hand and slid it under his pillow, shaking his head as Dean seemed to relax fractionally at its presence. Then, Sam started at his brother's shoes and worked his way up, peeling off damp and dirty clothing.
"Knew I shouldn't've…left you the car," Dean breathed as he watched Sam work, not moving.
Sam swallowed and kept going, heatlessly murmuring another, "Shut up, Dean." When his brother was down to shivering in his boxers, Sam pulled out the warmest hoodie he had and worked it over twitching limbs. He had a sudden déjà vu to the last time he'd seen Dean in a hoodie, standing swaying in their motel room door, having left the hospital to come back home—to come to Sam—to die, and Sam bit his lip hard enough to draw blood.
He tucked the off-green blanket back around Dean, then looked over the room for something else to cover him with. But there was only one bed, and a check of the closet revealed no extra bedding. Figured. Sam's jaw squared and he returned to Dean's side to skim his hair with one hand. "I'll be right back."
The door to room ten was answered by an irate middle-aged guy dressed in his underwear, and Sam gave him a mumbled apology about going to the wrong room. Eleven was quiet, and after a quick glance around, Sam bent to pick the lock. He emerged with a folded blanket, this one maroon. One more stop at number twelve, and he returned with his booty to nine. There were two blankets in the car if necessary, too, but these seemed relatively clean, and Dean's shivering tapered off as Sam swaddled his brother in the two extra layers.
"You'll make a good wife," Dean whispered when Sam paused to consider his next step.
Sam gave him a pointed stare. "I can be a good brother when I'm given the chance, too," he said, and felt no triumph when Dean's eyes slid away from him, then shut.
Dean was still flushed from the fever that was rising and falling but mostly rising, and with a sigh, Sam tackled that next. He soaked a thick pad of toilet paper—no washcloths in this fine establishment—in cold water and cleaned the dried sweat off Dean's face, then resoaked it and laid it across his forehead. Dean's face twisted into grimaces beneath the ablutions, and Sam didn't want to know if it was from pain or chagrin.
Sam cupped a hand to the back of the dark blond head and coaxed Dean into swallowing some more water. He did, looking like it hurt and exhausted him to do so, and Sam felt the prick of tears again. They made his voice rough, too. "Did you take anything?"
A tiny shake of the head, Dean's spiky hair rasping against the pillow.
Sam twisted back to reach the kit he'd brought in with the sleeping bag and dug out a pair of pills. "Tylenol. We'll work on your fever first, all right?"
Dean didn't answer, just took the pills and swallowed them, letting Sam help him wash them down with water. He didn't open his eyes during the whole process, just murmured after, "You don't need to stay… 'be all right."
Sam's face twisted. "Enough already, Dean, okay? I'm not leaving."
Dean sighed, burrowing a little more deeply into pillow and blankets and shutting him out.
Sam took a shaky breath and stood. Okay. Immediate requirements taken care of, what was the next step? They'd need some supplies, and he needed to start doing some research on whatever poison was apparently in the bite of this thing they'd killed the night before. He also needed to clean the grimy bathroom, because if Dean's fever kept climbing, a bath would be next, and he wasn't sticking Dean in that tub as it was. And he should probably try to call their dad if this…if this was as serious as it looked.
Suddenly overwhelmed, Sam sank down on the floor beside his brother's bed, throat feeling scratchy and his skin too tight. He wanted to get out of this disgusting little room and the pervasive sense of illness and the sight of Dean's pinched face, wanted to run away back to school and Jess and a simple, happy life so badly, Sam nearly vibrated with longing. He didn't want to be responsible, didn't want to lose someone else, didn't want to be alone. He hadn't thought Dean wanted to, either, and that was one of the things that had made Jess's loss bearable, the feeling Sam was needed and had a place, a job to do.
But, hurting, his brother had chosen to go to ground instead of coming to him. He wasn't relaxing in Sam's care as much as resigning himself to it, and Sam was starting to wonder if he should even have come.
Dean moaned, legs drawing up toward his chest, and Sam knew what was coming. He quickly grabbed the trashcan from beside the door and held it ready as Dean rolled over and retched into it. Sam held his head again, voice breaking over a soothing mantra. He helped Dean rinse and spit when he was done, then laid him back, wiping the fresh sweat away and replacing the compress. Dean was already dozing, probably only half aware Sam was even there, but the lines around his eyes eased as the water cooled him.
No. Sam had left once, wreaking damage he was only now starting to understand. He wouldn't do it again, not while Dean needed him, whether his brother acknowledged it or not.
With a sigh, Sam climbed to his feet. He had some work to do.
"'At some time a little past two a.m. on the morning of October 30, 1970, the telephone began to ring in the downstairs hall of a small house about a hundred and fifty miles south of Cleaves Mills. Herb Smith sat up in bed—'"
Dean coughed wetly, and Sam looked up from the copy of The Dead Zone, the first book he could find in their stuff that wasn't about rituals or supernaturals or herbs. Well, not unless you counted Johnny Smith a supernatural, but considering he only had visions… No, Sam didn't.
"Dean?" he asked softly, leaning over his brother. "Y'all right?"
Dean was curled on his side, his upper back pressed against Sam's hip. The floor was too disgusting to sit on long, and the one chair in the room had creaked alarmingly whenever Sam shifted his weight, so he'd finally tucked himself along one edge of Dean's bed. Dean either didn't care or, more likely, didn't even realize it, slipping in and out of sleep or some state close enough that it was indistinguishable. He groaned faintly sometimes, eyelashes fluttering when Sam spread his palm over the length of Dean's forehead and felt his temperature, but he didn't fully wake up anymore.
Sam had debated a few hundred times the wisdom of not calling 911 or, at the least, Pastor Jim. But for all Dean's stubbornness, his brother usually knew what he was talking about, and if he hadn't sought some sort of help for the bite that was breaking him down, it meant there was probably no help to be found for it. No research on Sam's part had given him hope of anything different, either. After hours of bending over the laptop and looking up at Dean's every stir, Sam had given up and set the computer aside to read to his brother. Even if Dean didn't care he was there, Sam did.
But he couldn't help think some part of Dean did, too.
Dean made a noise that sounded faintly like "Mmm," and Sam's mouth twitched at it. He slid a Kleenex into the book to keep his place and got up to circle the bed, bending at the knees and waist in front of Dean.
"Dean? Have a little more juice, okay? We can't let you get dehydrated."
He could have been talking Swahili, but Dean automatically opened his mouth when Sam nudged his lips with the glass, and swallowed the apple juice. The nausea had finally abated late that afternoon, after Dean had anointed Sam's shirt so thoroughly that Sam had had to borrow one of his brother's; Sam's bag had never made it out of the car. Sam had taken advantage of Dean's fitful rest to run across the street to the thankfully close convenience store and stock up on drinks, instant soup, and a real cold compress. The fever was holding steady but still high, and Dean's face smoothed at the coolness.
Sam tilted the glass until the juice started to dribble out Dean's mouth, then wiped his chin and set the drink aside. "We'll just save the rest for later," he said gently, and circled Dean's limp wrist with two fingers for a few moments before pushing himself back up. His spine cracked with tension and hours spent pressed against a headboard, and Sam stretched out a few kinks before returning to his edge of the bed. He found his place, dropped a hand on Dean's shoulder, and continued reading.
It kept him from thinking about what came next, anyway.
The low murmur nudged its way slowly through the layers of Sam's sleep, inch by inch. He was frowning before he even opened his eyes, blinking at the darkness. What?
The voice didn't rise or fall, continuing unbroken, and finally Sam's weary brain made the connection.
"Dean?" He sat up quickly, twisting around to the huddled body that lay behind him. Dean was also turned away, his face buried in bedding, and it was only when Sam leaned close to him, the heat of his brother's skin spreading across Sam's cheeks, that he could hear the words, repeated over and over again.
"Don't leave. Don' leave. Don' leave, don' leave, don' leave…"
Sam blinked back a sudden wash of grief and love. This was what he wanted, what he'd hoped Dean wanted, but it hurt to hear now. He swallowed and silently scooted over, curling himself around Dean. Sam settled his face in the crook of his brother's neck like he had as a kid, biting back the ragged, you idiot, I wasn't the one who left that was on the tip of his tongue, and whispered instead what Dean used to to him. "I'm here. I won't leave you, I promise. I'm right here."
Dean didn't respond, but at least he stopped pleading.
It was hard to force the words past the lump in his throat, but Sam kept talking until they both fell asleep again.
"Sam, that better…be you."
The strengthless whisper jolted him awake the next time. Sam's head snapped up, eyes sweeping the room before looking down.
To see Dean's eyes, exhausted but clear and aware, staring back and up at him.
"Dean," he said stupidly. This had to be a dream, right? Even if bright late-afternoon sunshine was streaming in through the windows. Anything that made that drab room look better, that made Dean appear better, had to be unreal. "Dean, I…"
"You look like a fish." Dean still had no volume, and he closed his eyes as if even those few words wore him out.
Sam jumped up, tangling in the covers and falling off the bed with an oof! Didn't matter, not if he was awake. He scrambled around the bed, hands skimming the covers on the way as if for balance, or proof that what he was seeing was real. Because Dean was watching him again, amused weariness glimmering in the hazel.
Up close, Sam grew more hesitant, touching the exposed back of Dean's hand, then skimming the side of his face. It was still warm but not hot, and falling temperatures had coated skin and hair with dried sweat.
"Dude," Dean offered a halfhearted protest at the touching.
"Shut up, Dean," Sam breathed, and withdrew his hand to rub it over his own face this time, believing but not understanding. But Dean was alive, he was better. "Oh, God," Sam broke and tumbled over the words, over the certainty, and sank down besides Dean's bed, for once not caring what was in the carpet.
A hand, heavy and damp and warm, settled on his head, sliding through his hair. "Sam?"
Because he was crying, silent, heavy tears rolling down his nose and splashing over his lips. Sam shook his head, lightly so as not to dislodge Dean's benediction, but didn't even try to hide it.
"C'mon, Sammy, don't be a girl. Venom makes you…sick coupl'a days but…s'not like I'm dying."
He went still. "What?"
"Goa venom. Makes you sick 's a dog…for 'bout forty-eight hours, but—"
Sam looked up at him in disbelief. "You weren't…? I mean, you knew?"
Dean blinked slowly. "What? Whole sentences, bro…'m not the psychic."
"You knew you weren't dying? I thought…"
He heard Dean suck in a breath but wasn't looking at him. Little sleep and a lot of worry with a nice bombshell of a revelation to top it off had left his emotions a jumbled heap, and Sam wasn't sure what would come out if he let it, if he opened his mouth or met Dean's gaze.
Dean's thumb slipped down to the back of his head, rubbed lightly there. "Sammy…I wouldn't've just left if—"
Sam wrenched himself free with a sharp laugh. "Right. You'd have stuck around and let me help if you'd been dying, but not if you were just sick out of your mind. You're such a jerk, Dean, you and your stubborn pride. How do you think I felt having you disappear on me like that after, God, after Minnesota, only to find you dying?"
Sam felt his brother's stricken gaze all the way down to his bones. Dean was too husked out to censor himself, and the whispered, "I didn't want you to have to see that," was more true than even Sam could deny. He tried to scoff, and found himself choking instead.
Dean had been trying to protect him. The stupid, selfless SOB who loved him more than anyone deserved had done it again. And Sam didn't know whether to hit him or hug him.
"Man, no more cuddling," Dean muttered a preemptive warning, and Sam spluttered a laugh. He settled for a sort of compromise, leaning back against Dean's bed with a sigh of pure emotional exhaustion. Closing his eyes when Dean's hand draped over his shoulder. Wondering how either of them had ever found the strength to walk away from each other.
Dean's fingers pinched a handful of material over his collarbone. "Dude, are you wearing my shirt?"
Sam cracked up completely. It felt good.
"An' what am I doing in your clothes?"