This is for Nora, who was nice enough to bid on me for a good cause! I hope you like it. - gert
"Sam! Get down!" Dean accompanied these words with a shove that sent his younger brother out of the range of the chimera's lashing serpent tail.
Sam tucked and rolled, using the forward momentum from Dean's push to carry him clear. He pushed himself up onto his knees, aiming his rifle and sending two quick shots into the creature's flank.
With a fiery roar, the chimera turned its leonine head toward Sam, who had already gained his feet and was doubling back toward Dean's position.
"Over here, you freak!" Dean shouted, waving his left arm to get the chimera's attention, lead-tipped spear held ready in his right hand.
Sam reached his brother at the same time as the chimera aimed a blast of fiery breath at the Winchesters. Both men were forced to take cover behind a large tombstone, the heat driving them to the ground and singeing exposed skin.
"I can't get close enough to get a good shot at the heart," Dean said urgently, as the two dodged from tombstone to tombstone, barely avoiding the chimera's fire.
"We need to split up – I'll distract it," Sam replied, pulling his pistol and zigging back the way they had come.
"No, wait – Sam!" Dean yelled, but his brother was already running full tilt in the other direction, making as much noise as possible in order to attract the beast's attention.
As Dean's year drew to a close, Sam seemed to be going out of his way to prove that he was capable of being just as reckless as his big brother. Dean wasn't sure what to make of that – on the one hand he was pleased that Sam was stepping up, but on the other…
Dean didn't understand why Sam seemed to be planning on continuing the hunt after Dean was gone, instead of going after the life he'd always wanted. But exploring that line of thought too long brought up some other uncomfortable truths about what the deal was doing to Sam, and since Dean didn't know how to fix that, he tried to ignore it. Unfortunately, he couldn't ignore their immediate situation the same way.
"Dammit!" Dean huffed, but started running, knowing that their only chance now lay with him and his spear. "I mean, really, a chimera? If we live through this I am gonna kill that Circe wannabe."
The Winchesters were in the appropriately named small town of Troy, Vermont, following reports of a series of mysterious sightings, including Pegasus, a cyclops, and a minotaur. It turned out that a local young woman with a grudge and a scary knowledge of ancient Greek mythology had somehow gotten her hands on an honest-to-God spellbook, and was using her imagination and a very powerful summoning spell to wreak havoc on the tiny town.
The upside was that for once in their lives the Winchesters were not only tolerated, but welcomed by the town's populace. Apparently saving the mayor's toddler son from the clutches of a Cyclops bought a lot of goodwill.
The downside was that the town assumed that since Sam and Dean had successfully taken out one monster with no help, they could also deal with all the other ones alone. Which while technically true, wasn't much comfort while facing down a chimera at midnight in the middle of a graveyard.
Add that to the fact that they had been unable to locate the spell book of one Hecate Sims, witch wannabe, that the spell she had used seemed to be set on "repeat," which meant that the Winchesters were fighting a different mythological creature every night until they could figure out a way to stop the spell or find the spell book, and you had a Dean Winchester who was simultaneously charging a chimera armed only with a lead spear and feeling completely vindicated in his growing hatred of all things Troy.
Dean saw Sam notice his approach and change his position accordingly, so that the chimera's entire left flank was exposed. Perfect. Dean upped his speed and tried to stay quiet, Sam's shouting and waving giving him additional cover. He managed to get close enough to the chimera to feel the heat emanating from its skin before he struck, thrusting the spear between its ribs and deep into the chest cavity.
With a roar, the creature spun toward Dean, who just managed to throw himself out of the way of the massive head. Sam also leapt backward, but the chimera's powerful tail caught him across the chest before he could get clear. The force of the blow knocked Sam into a tombstone, and he lay still.
"Sam!" Dean was already on his feet again, barely sparing a glance at the faltering chimera, which had sunk to its haunches, panting and drooling blood. His brother was beginning to stir slightly, groaning and struggling to sit up.
"Take it easy," Dean said, dropping to his knees beside Sam and easing him up against the tombstone he had bounced off of moments before. "Where'd it get you?"
Sam blinked slowly, obviously trying to figure out where the pain was coming from.
"Back, mostly," he finally managed with a grimace. Don't think any ribs are broken." He moved to lift his shirt but pain stopped him short. Dean eased Sam's hands back down.
"Don't move. I'm gonna torch the corpse, then we'll get you checked out at doc's place." The local physician had given Dean his home phone number and a guarantee of free medical care for as long as the brothers were in town—another perk that Dean appreciated, even as the reasons behind it irritated him.
"No dude, it's okay. Just a little stunned," Sam gave one last slow blink and drew in a deliberate breath, bracing himself for movement, but again, Dean stopped him.
"Just…wait a sec, okay? Chill out 'till I get this thing lit up--we'll see how you're feeling then," said Dean, and he took off at a jog to locate their weapons duffel.
Another bonus to having an entire town knowing what you were up to was that there was no need to stick around to cover up the remnants of a salt and burn. Dean merely doused the chimera's corpse with a copious amount of kerosene and lit it up, figuring that after the past few days the local fire department probably had the cemetery staked out. If the blaze got out of control—well, maybe the local Trojans could man up enough to do something for themselves, Dean thought bitterly as he made his way back to his brother's side.
Sam was standing up and looking more alert, although he was gingerly rubbing his chest where the chimera had caught him with its tail. When he noticed Dean, he dropped his hand and grimaced. "Thing packed a wallop."
"I'll bet. You sure you're okay? The one time we've got all the free medical care we want, no questions asked…"
Sam shook his head. "I just got knocked around a bit. Besides, if we don't find that spell book before tomorrow sundown, we're just gonna have to do this all over again, and the list of mythological creatures only gets bigger and scarier from here."
Dean huffed out a sigh. "You've got a point, Sammy. Hotel?"
Sam nodded, and the brothers made their way back to the Impala, to catch a few hours rest before resuming their research.
Dean woke the next morning and rolled over, expecting to see his brother already seated at the book-covered table in their room, but Sam was still a motionless lump in the other bed. Frowning, Dean checked the alarm clock – it was already after 9 a.m., and Sam rarely slept this late. Dean tossed his blanket back and got out of bed, crossing to Sam's side of the room and giving his brother a gentle shake.
"Hey, sleepyhead, rise and shine!" Dean forced cheerfulness into his voice. Lately Sam hadn't been very appreciative of Dean's over-protective tendencies, taking every opportunity to remind Dean that he needed to stand on his own two feet. And while Dean had been pushing a little regarding his deadline – trying to make sure Sam was prepared for what probably was going to happen, his brother's fervent denials to the contrary – he still didn't like the way it felt when Sam threw it back in his face.
Sam slowly stirred, rubbing his eyes and looking blearily at Dean. "What time is it?" he managed in a gruff voice.
Dean stepped back, acting casual. "After nine. Gotta say you're falling down on the job, Sam—you've usually brought me my first cup of coffee by now."
Sam's eyeroll made Dean feel a little less worried, but not much. "Guess the week's catching up with me," Sam said, sitting up and yawning.
"Yeah, how're the bruises?" Dean pointed at Sam's chest, which his brother was absently rubbing. Sam immediately stopped the gesture and scowled.
"Dean, I'm not made of glass, okay? It's fine. Now if it's okay with you, I'm going to shower, and then we can try to get a bead on that spell book." Sam swung his legs out of bed and stood in one motion. Dean knew from experience that moving quickly after being still so long with bruises like that hurt like a bitch, but Sam didn't grimace, and Dean waited to shake his head at his brother's stubbornness until after Sam disappeared into the bathroom - So much for the kid gloves approach, thought Dean.
Dean gathered his wallet and keys and headed out to get breakfast—and coffee. He gave one last indignant snort on his way out the door: Sam was being stubborn and in denial about hunting injured, and Dean was fetching coffee and donuts? Looked like their role reversal was complete.
He returned twenty minutes later, sipping still-hot coffee and munching on one of the donuts pilfered from the paper sack, and heard the shower still running. He cleared a space on the table for the food, then walked over and rapped—hard—on the bathroom door.
"C'mon, princess! Breakfast is served!"
When he didn't immediately receive a pissy reply, Dean knocked again, concerned now.
"Sam? You okay in there Sammy?"
Still no answer. Brotherly modesty be damned, thought Dean, and he kicked in the bathroom door.
The first thing Dean noticed was that the shower curtain had been pulled free. A slight spray of still warm water hit his face as he knelt beside the still figure tangled in the vinyl curtain and slumped in the tub.
"Sam! Sammy!" Dean felt his brother's pulse—slow but strong—then examined him for any sign of a concussion, but found nothing.
Dean reached to shut off the water with his left hand, and tapped his brother's face gently with his right. "Sam, wake up man. Sam?"
Sam's eyelids fluttered open, and his gaze drifted for a moment before focusing on Dean.
"Dean?" Sam's voice was weak, though he immediately attempted to get out of the tub. His motions caused the shower curtain to slip, and Dean caught a glimpse of his brother's chest.
"What the hell? Hold still, Sam," Dean said firmly, pulling more of the curtain away from his brother. Sam's chest was a rainbow of bruising, which was to be expected, but that wasn't all. There was a darker, circular bruise the size of a dime in the center of Sam's chest, directly over his breastbone. The middle of the bruise was red and angry looking, and when Dean looked closer, he noticed a small puncture wound.
"Sam? Did that chimera claw you or bite you?" Dean had wrapped his brother in towels, and helped ease him out of the tub and into the bedroom, where he propped him up on pillows and covered him with several blankets. The shower had still been warm, but Sam was shivering a bit, and Dean didn't want to take any chances. The fact that Sam had been pliant and silent during the entire process only increased Dean's worry.
Sam seemed to be getting a bit clearer as he got warmer, and he shook his head. "No. Just caught me with that tail."
"Well something got you, bro," Dean said, trying to conceal his anxiety. "How are you feeling?"
Sam huffed a laugh. "You mean aside from passing out in the shower? I told you man, I felt fine this morning--a little stiff, yeah, but I've seen you fully functioning with worse…"
"Sam…" Dean tried to keep his exasperation and fear out of his voice--how to make his brother understand that this wasn't a contest? That Sam would be just fine as Sam - not some hardened imitation of himself?
Sam seemed to pick up on what Dean wasn't saying. "I'm not trying to prove anything here, Dean. I'm just trying to get the job done, okay?"
Dean decided not to call Sam on the lie and just nodded, lips pursed. "Okay. So what happened?"
Sam gave a half shrug. "Got dizzy? Woke up naked with my brother staring at my chest? Filled my humiliation quotient for the year?" His crooked grin eased the knot of anxiety in Dean's stomach a bit.
"Yeah, yeah." Dean gave Sam a pat on the shoulder and turned toward the table and the piles of research. "Why don't you just rest a bit, get something in your stomach--I'll check the lore on chimeras."
"Dean…" Sam began, exasperated, but Dean merely held up a hand to silence him, then pointed at the donuts on the bedside table.
"You're the one who wants to act more like me, right? So that means you sit on your ass and eat donuts, and I'll handle the research."
Sam did laugh at that, and Dean's sense of relief lasted until he noticed that his brother had fallen asleep without touching any of the food.
Two hours and several surreptitious checks of Sam's temperature and pulse later, Dean had found the answers that he needed. Not that the answers were making him feel any better; in fact, the more he'd read the more worried he'd become.
Chimeras were described variously as being part lion, part goat, and part serpent--or dragon--depending on the translation being used. The tail of the creature they'd tangled with had been pretty snake-like, but so were most dragon's tails. And the major difference between a dragon's tail and a snake's tail was the presence of venomous spikes along the tip of a dragon's tail. Given the mark on Sam's chest and his brother's symptoms--pain, weakness, dizziness, chills, and now a fever--Dean was willing to bet the Impala on the fact that Sam had been envenomed by a chimera.
The good news was that according to everything Dean had found, the poison was slow-acting and curable. But Dean was basing that conclusion mostly on one apocryphal story about an unfortunate young man who had encountered a chimera, been stung, and spent three days in agony before some sort of godly intervention that Dean was choosing to interpret as "cure". The text waxed poetic about "wild deliriums and blindnesses of the brain" and Dean had simply closed the book and swallowed hard against the guilt he still felt whenever he didn't protect Sam—telling himself that he didn't need much detail beyond "poison bad," after all.
Guilt had become a familiar friend to Dean in the past couple of months, as he began to realize exactly what his situation was doing to Sam. In response, Dean had tried to make sure Sam had all the knowledge that Dean could pass along, reassuring himself with the thought that if he could somehow ensure that Sam would be physically safe, he would eventually recover from Dean's absence. It obviously wasn't working out too well, if Sam's recent behavior was any indication.
Dean sighed, and looked over at his sleeping brother. It seemed that everything Dean had done lately had caused Sam pain, up to and including bringing him back from the dead, and he didn't want this case to be just another example of "Dean screws up and Sam pays the price." Plus there was that tiny "what if?" playing in the back of Dean's mind – what if his research was wrong?
Which led to the troublesome part--what was the cure? Dean put in a call to Bobby just in case, though he was pretty convinced that his problem would be solved locally. There was one person in Troy who could tell him how to stop the poison, and help him stop the spell itself.
Unfortunately, that meant paying a visit to Hecate Sims, the teenage witch wannabe responsible for the entire mess, and she'd been less than helpful thus far. Dean slammed the book he'd been reading down in frustration and looked over at a still sleeping Sam. He was really beginning to wish he'd never even heard of a little town called Troy.
Dean didn't want to leave Sam by himself, but given his brother's steadily rising temperature, he didn't want to risk aggravating his condition further. After a few quick mental calculations, Dean decided that leaving Sam alone for a couple of hours was the lesser of two evils. Even so, he made sure to leave a note explaining where he was going and what he'd found out--carefully glossing over the "chimera's poison is possibly fatal" parts, that was--next to the bottle of water and Tylenol on the bedside table.
"Back soon, Sammy," Dean whispered, and left.
It took less than ten minutes to get to the local jail where Miss Hecate Sims was being held, as much for her own protection as for that of the local populace. The sheriff must have seen something in Dean's eyes when he came in and declared that he needed to speak with Hecate--now--because the elder Winchester suddenly found himself accompanied by a muscular deputy who had orders not to leave Dean alone with the girl under any circumstances.
Hecate Sims was a mousy fourteen-year-old girl with glasses and an unfortunate complexion. In other circumstances, Dean might have been sympathetic to someone who was so obviously a social outcast, but three days of fighting monsters had dampened his empathy, and Sam's poisoning all but eliminated it entirely. So when Deputy Carlisle unlocked the door to Hecate's cell, Dean simply strode in, slammed his hands down on the table where Hecate was seated, and demanded, "Where's the book?"
The girl jumped slightly, then turned vacant, muddy brown eyes on Dean. "I burned it."
Dean's jaw clenched. "Bullshit." He leaned in, trying to make eye contact, but the girl's gaze was unfocused, skipping and stuttering around the room. Frustrated, Dean turned to Deputy Carlisle. "What did you give her?" he demanded.
Carlisle shrugged. "Didn't give her anything, man. She's been like this since she got here." He lowered his voice. "Got a psych eval scheduled for later today—looks like Elvis may have left the building."
"Great. That's just freaking awesome." Dean took a calming breath and blew it out before returning his attention to Hecate. He pulled out the chair facing hers and sat down, trying again to make eye contact.
"Hecate, people could die if you don't help me. Please—I know you didn't mean for this to happen, I know you're scared, but it's okay. No one has to get hurt. I can stop this if you tell me where the spell book is."
The teenager's gaze seemed to focus on Dean, a brief lucidity flickering to life in her eyes as she studied him. "It's out of my hands," she said dully. "It doesn't matter what I meant to happen. There's no way to stop it." Her gaze and voice grew more intense. "You don't have to die, too--you're not even from here. Get out while you can."
Dean controlled the urge to grab the girl and shake her until her teeth rattled. "I can't. My brother--I have to stop this spell, do you understand me? How do I stop the spell?"
Hecate shook her head. "You can't." Her gaze wandered again as her fingers traced nervous patterns on the tabletop. Finally, she spoke. "When things started getting bad--I tried to undo what I did. I tried everything I could think of, and then I just burned everything. I thought that would stop it, but it didn't." Her movements grew jerkier, more agitated. "I can't undo it! The monsters come, then the mother of monsters…" She jumped up, twisting her hands together anxiously. "Please, I didn't know! I have to get out of town--my mom and dad and sister--everyone here will die!"
Dean stared at the teen in shock. "You really burned the spell book? All of it?" Hecate didn't reply.
"Dammit!" Dean stood, running his hands over his scalp. He paced for a moment, forcing himself to calm down, to try and connect with the girl once more. Then he turned back to the teenager. "Hecate, you said the spell had a sequence--where are we in the sequence?"
Hecate's gaze was unfocused again, and she stood in one place, rocking back and forth.
"The mother of all monsters will rise tonight."
Dean left at a run, and didn't look back.
When he burst into the motel room, the last thing Dean expected to see was an empty bed.
"Oh, no. Nonononono," Dean muttered as his gaze flew to the darkened bathroom. When he turned and saw the slumped figure sitting at the kitchenette table, relief rushed through him.
Dean approached Sam cautiously, reaching out to grasp his shoulder. "Sam?" he said softly. "Hey man, are you okay?"
Sam jerked in response to his brother's touch, and sat up slowly, wiping his chin.
"Is that drool?" Dean teased gently, using the distraction to assess Sam's condition. It had deteriorated, but not as quickly as Dean had feared. It was looking like his initial research had been correct, and there was still time to find a cure.
Sam had pushed himself upright in the chair to blink confusedly at Dean. He was dressed only in sweats and a t-shirt, his skin was pale, his eyes dark-ringed, and sweat plastered his hair to his forehead.
Dean dropped to his knees beside his brother, feeling for a pulse. "Dude, you look like crap," he said, placing his other hand on Sam's clammy forehead.
Sam opened his eyes fully and looked at Dean, finally seeing him. "Hey Dean," he said, and the moment of open affection in his gaze as he regained his faculties struck Dean like a physical blow. If Dean had needed proof that his brother's recent actions were just a panic response to Dean's time running short, that look was it. Guilt flooded Dean again.
"What are you doing?" Dean demanded, letting his exasperation distract him from uncomfortable emotions.
In response, Sam fixed him with an almost-normal glare. "Research. Did you get anything from Hecate?"
"Nothing helpful, but don't worry Sam, I'm on it," Dean reassured, trying to coax Sam to stand. "Let's get you back to bed, okay?"
Sam shook his head and jerked out of Dean's grasp, almost overbalancing in the chair. Dean moved to help him, but was stopped by another stubborn glare.
"No. I can still do research. What about the spell book?"
Dean sighed but answered – no sense trying to out-stubborn his brother. "No go. Hecate said she burned it – said something about how tonight the mother of all monsters will rise and then the spell will have run its course. Of course, Hecate is also apparently in the middle of a mental breakdown, so I'm taking all of that with a huge grain of salt."
Dean risked taking a step closer to his brother, spreading his hands in supplication. "I've got a call in to Bobby about a cure for that poison, so why don't you just take it easy for a while, okay?"
"And leave you to fight whatever is going to show up tonight alone? No chance, Dean." Sam leaned forward, resting his head in his hands. "I just need to keep hydrated, keep the fever down," he whispered, more to himself than to Dean. "It's like the flu, and I know you've hunted with that before."
"Sam…" Dean started, as his cellphone rang. It was Bobby, and Dean flipped the phone open with one hand, holding it to his ear.
"That was fast."
"Yeah. So good news – there is a cure for chimera poison."
"Great – any chance I could get hold of some before sundown? Because all hell's gonna break loose around here when that happens."
"Not unless you got some of Echidna's blood handy," was the gruff reply.
"Echidna - the snake chick?"
Sam's hand on Dean's arm brought his attention back from Bobby. "Mother of monsters," Sam murmured, followed by, "I need more Tylenol, I think." His eyes began to slide shut.
"Shit - hang on a sec, Bobby," Dean dropped his phone and helped his brother to stand, then guided him back to bed. He draped a blanket over Sam, gave in to the urge to smooth his brother's hair back from his forehead, then returned to his conversation, clearing his throat before speaking.
"Sorry. So how do I get Echidna's blood?"
"There's a summoning spell…" Bobby's explanation was lost as Dean realized what Sam had just said. Echidna, mother of monsters – the end of the spell and a cure for Sam. Could it really be that easy?
Dean's heart leapt with excitement, and he interrupted his friend with a sudden, "Summoning won't be a problem, Bobby. I just need to know what to do when she shows up," and then Dean was scrambling for pen and paper while Bobby rattled off a series of instructions.
When the call was over, Dean looked over at his groggy brother and smiled crookedly. "See, Sammy? Even delirious you're better at this research stuff than I am. Get some rest, dude."
Dean called the sheriff, to let her know that it looked like the spell would be over – for better or worse – tonight, and that it might be a good idea to keep the local populace indoors and far away from the cemetery. She offered to send backup, and Dean managed to bite back his initial "too little, too late" response in favor of a polite "no." He could handle this one on his own.
Except for the fact that his younger brother didn't seem to grasp that concept. Dean looked up from packing the weapons duffel to see Sam doggedly putting on his shoes. When Sam noticed Dean's stare of disapproval, he merely held up a hand.
"Don't start. I'm coming with you – you need someone to watch your back."
Dean snorted. He was beginning to tire of this argument. "Yeah, you'll do a great job of that with your eyes closed, Sammy."
Sam merely stared at him, jaw clenched and eyes burning with determination. Dean dropped his head and sighed.
"Fine. You make it to the car, you can come with me – but you'll stay down and out of sight, you hear?"
Sam gave a short nod and made his way slowly out the door. Dean noticed the perspiration already dampening his brother's shirt and made sure to grab a couple extra bottles of water.
The Winchesters reached the graveyard with fifteen minutes to spare. Killing Echidna wouldn't be a problem, Dean thought, and Sam had agreed. The lore had Apollo killing her with golden arrows, so Dean had loaded two guns with blessed gold-dipped bullets, and given one to his brother, who was tucked out of sight behind a large mausoleum.
The spell Hecate had chosen became active every evening at 9 p.m. sharp, and the monsters always appeared in the same place – an empty area in the exact center of the graveyard where no vegetation grew. Local legend referred to the spot as a "devil's circle," but Sam and Dean hadn't found anything specifically supernatural about the area. Well, except for the fact that ancient monsters had been appearing there for about a week, but that was all Hecate's doing.
Dean checked his watch and hitched himself up to perch on top of a tombstone. He swung his feet and hummed softly to himself under his breath.
"You okay over there Sammy?" he called after a few minutes.
"Why don't you come over here and find out how okay I am!" came the irritated--though weaker than Dean would have liked--reply.
Dean's laugh was cut short by a rumbling noise as the ground began to tremble. He hopped off the tombstone and readied his pistol.
Echidna was big. Actually, big was probably the understatement of the century, Dean thought as he dodged and wove, searching for anything resembling cover. The half-woman, half-serpent was over ten feet tall, with snakes for hair, and a tail at least twice as thick and powerful as that of the chimera. Dean cursed himself for ever thinking that this would be easy - he couldn't stop running long enough to get a clear shot.
Dean was keeping to a roughly circular pattern, dodging the tail and doubling back whenever Echidna began turning toward the mausoleum where Sam was located, because Dean feared that in his weakened state Sam would be a sitting duck. Unfortunately, Dean's self-imposed limits on maneuvering meant that Echidna was able to quickly predict his movements, and she moved to cut him off as he began his third circuit of the area surrounding the devil's circle.
Dean saw Echidna switch course and move in front of him, and saw her tail, complete with a six-inch barb on the end, raise into a striking position. He had nowhere to go, unless he headed for the shelter of the mausoleum, and that was out of the question, so he stopped and aimed, determined to get off as many shots as he could before the monster struck.
Suddenly the sound of gunfire combined with Echidna's high-pitched scream, and Dean had a second to wonder how he'd managed to fire before he realized that the shots had come from Sam's location. The monster had realized the same thing, and Dean watched in horror as Echidna turned and brought her massive tail down onto the mausoleum in one fluid motion.
"No! Sam!" Dean was firing and running, skipping and dodging wildly, trying to get to his brother. Flashes of memory overwhelmed him - the feeling of his brother slumping into his arms, the cold , wet mud soaking his legs, the sticky warmth of Sam's blood against his hand and the slowing of Sam's pulse as Dean cradled him in Cold Oak. Not again, not again, not again ran like a mantra in his head as he moved and fired.
Something must have struck home, as Echidna's wailing grew louder, and the ground began to tremble again--this time from the death throes of a massive beast, not its emergence--but Dean couldn't hear anything save his own blood rushing in his ears as he stumbled the last few feet to the ruins of the stone burial chamber.
A still figure lay crumpled to the side of the worst of the damage, and Dean made a beeline for it, dropping to his knees beside Sam and gently checking for a pulse. He was rewarded with a groan, and Sam opened fever-bright eyes.
"Did I get it?" he whispered hoarsely, and Dean's shoulders slumped in relief.
"Yes, you dumbass," Dean said with relieved affection, and Sam's faint chuckle turned into a cough. Dean held his brother up until the fit passed, and Sam didn't protest.
"C'mon, Sammy, not much further," Dean kept up the usual one-sided conversation he'd perfected over years of hauling his immediate family out of life-threatening situations. Although Dean would never admit it, the meaningless rambling helped calm him just as much as it reassured the person he was helping. He stopped, grunting as he shifted himself to take more of Sam's weight. "For someone who lives on tofu and lattes, you weigh a freaking ton, dude," he said, and was gratified at the weakly indignant snort his brother gave in response.
Dean hadn't bothered to burn Echidna, he'd merely retrieved a vial of the dead monster's blood—which had the smell and consistency of tar—and left her there for the locals to deal with. He'd cleaned up enough of other people's messes in this town—it was time to attend to the one he'd made.
Back at the hotel, Dean mixed a paste with Echidna's blood and the other ingredients Bobby had instructed him to use, and smeared it over the puncture wound on Sam's chest. Then he started preparing the gauze to tape over it, quirking an eyebrow at his brother's sour expression.
"I could have done that myself, you know," Sam began.
"I know," but Dean didn't stop working.
Sam sighed and tried another tactic. "So is this my official moment of 'I told you so?'" he asked.
Dean kept his expression neutral. "You told me so? What about?"
"I told you I could watch your back – I told you that I could do this, and guess who saved your butt out there, huh? I'm stronger than you think, Dean. So, I told you so." Sam relaxed back against the headboard, apparently satisfied that his point was made.
Dean merely nodded, lips pursed. "Yeah, Sammy, you're plenty strong enough to do this by yourself. And as yourself." He paused before continuing, "I told you so."
Sam scowled, and started to argue, but Dean cut him off with a small smile, "Not that you're going to need to, though, right?" he left the rest of his speech – I trust you, Sam, and I want to be saved – silent, though from the look in his brother's eyes, Sam got the message.
Dean felt a little of his guilt vanish. For now, that would have to be enough.