K Hanna Korossy
He was almost used to the idea again that Dean was alive.
Time and determination had worked their healing powers. Sam no longer flinched when his brother unexpectedly walked into the room, didn't head automatically to the driver's side of the car or slip and ask for a single. He was sleeping most nights through again, and wasn't waking up expecting to find himself alone in a silent room, although Dean quickly tossed any clock radios they came across and didn't comment when Sam's first act each morning was to look for him.
He didn't comment on a lot of things, in fact. Dean had eventually gotten back his bed by the door, made it clear his little brother could talk to him, and had almost weaned Sam of his obsessive neatness, and that seemed to be enough for him. He sat quietly with Sam when the occasional memory drove the breath out of him, and engaged him in cheerful arguments of Ginger v. Mary Ann or root beer v. Dr. Pepper when Sam turned introspective for too long, but otherwise he seemed content to let Sam work this out his own way.
"I had it under control, Dean."
"Yeah, that's why the revenant had you cornered with your crossbow thrown across the room. Right, what was I thinking?"
Sam slammed his duffel down on the bed and turned, anger pulling a growl out of him. "Fine, then, you could have just shot it. You didn't have to jump in front of me like some kind of human shield."
Dean crossed the room to stand a few feet from him, staring him in the eye. "Was this one of your hunts, Sam?"
That was what they'd come to call the cases Sam had taken on during the six months while Dean was dead: his hunts. He wasn't sure if doing them again with Dean then made them theirs. "No," he said sullenly.
"No, it wasn't. Which means normal rules apply—I take the lead, not you."
"Why?" Sam sneered. "Because you're already dead anyway?"
"No." Dean punctuated the point with a finger jabbed Sam's way. "Because I'm the oldest and that's my job."
Sam's eyes flinched shut, nose wrinkling. Suddenly all out of fight, he sank down onto the bed behind him. Dean's job. Some part of Sam had always resented it, until it was gone. Then he'd longed so badly to have it back that it hurt. So why was he fighting so hard against it now?
"Sammy?" The stridency had left Dean's voice, too; now he just sounded concerned.
It rocked Sam's already unsteady emotions a little more off-balance.
The bed dipped beside him. His brother's voice was soft, careful. "Look, man, I know you were soloing for a long time there, and it's hard to get out of that mindset, I get it. I got no problems with following your lead on cases you've already done once. But…you charging headfirst into danger every time—that's not gonna happen, Sam. I'm not gonna let it happen."
Sam breathed out raggedly, nodding. "I know. I know, it's just…I don't know how else to be anymore, Dean. It's like…" Like Sammy had died, leaving only Sam Winchester, hunter. But he couldn't say that to Dean. Some things hurt too much to be expressed.
A leg pressed against his, knee to ankle. "All right." He felt the faint vibration as his brother nodded. "We'll figure something out, okay? Maybe a leash…"
Sam winced out a laugh, halfheartedly dodging Dean's elbow as it skimmed his ribs. "Jerk," he said with deep fondness as he looked up sideways at his brother.
Dean's mouth was opening on his response when Sam's phone rang. His eyebrows darted up, and he mussed Sam's hair as he stood and moved back to his bag on the other bed.
Sam shook his head and dug his cell out. Unknown caller. He sighed as he flipped the phone open. "Yeah."
"Winchester? My name's Torrey—Ellen Harvelle gave me your number." The voice was deep and gruff.
Sam frowned and straightened a little. "Okay," he answered guardedly. "How's Ellen doing these days—still roadtripping with Jo?"
Dean paused in his unpacking, watching him.
"You and me both know she hasn't seen Jo in months. So did I pass, can we go on now? 'Cause I hear you got experience with vampires."
Sam made a writing motion with his free hand, and Dean looked around for a pad and pen. "Maybe."
"Well, me and two others got a nest under surveillance we could use some help with. You anywhere near Pennsylvania?"
"'Bout a half-day out," Sam answered, still cautious.
"Meet us here at ten tonight." He reeled off directions, which Sam scrawled on the pad Dean had dropped on his leg. The phone clicked off without further pleasantries.
He lowered it slowly, chewing his lip.
Dean was trying to read his writing upside-down. "Pennsylvania? What's in Pennsylvania?"
"Nest of vampires. He said Ellen sent him."
Dean's gaze darted up to him. "You don't believe him?"
Sam met his eyes. There wasn't any need to lay out history that had never happened, but, "He didn't call last time."
"Huh." Dean shrugged. "Maybe we did something to change things this time. Or maybe Ellen knew you were…on your own before and didn't want to bother you."
"Maybe," Sam answered, unconvinced. Mouth twisting, he pulled up Ellen's number and dialed. Leave a message, was all her voice mail said. Sam disconnected the call.
The toe of Dean's boot jabbed at his shin. "So? We going or not?"
Sam started out of his reverie. "Yeah. I guess. No reason not to, right?"
Dean shrugged as he repacked what he'd just taken out. He was leaving it up to Sam.
Sam's stomach twisted uneasily. He couldn't help thinking that, for once, he would have felt better following decisions rather than making them.
The address, an old sawmill off a still older road, raised Sam's hackles before the Impala even rolled to a stop.
It wasn't ten yet, but the half-moon was haloed in a dark, overcast sky. Trees crowded all around, cutting visibility down to a dozen feet, and were near silent, too early in the year yet for insect life or hibernating creatures.
They climbed out of the car soundlessly without having to discuss it, leaving doors ajar and scanning the still woods for any sign of human—or vampire—life. Sam glanced back once at his brother, saw Dean's deep frown that meant his instincts were on alert, too. With a nod from Dean, Sam slowly started circling the front of the car, heading for his brother.
The crackle of underbrush was the only warning they had before a dark figure stepped out into the road before them. "You're a little early, Winchester."
They both already had their guns out and aimed. Dean's dipped a little at the words, but Sam's held steady as the figure moved closer. "You Torrey?"
"Yup. Ellen said you two were good. Feel better if you pointed that someplace else, though, boy." He spread his arms wide to show he was unarmed.
Sam tracked him in the gun's sight as he moved closer. Another step, and moonlight washed over Torrey's face, throwing his shadowed features into relief.
Sam realized in a rush that he recognized that face. Teeth bared, he moved his gun down an inch and pulled the trigger.
Torrey fell with a howl, clutching at his leg.
Dean's weapon had instantly returned to target at the sound of the report, but Sam could feel his sharp gaze. "Dude, what the he—?"
Light glinted dully off metal amongst the trees to their right.
It was a friggin' ambush. Cursing, Sam dove across the front left corner of the Impala's hood, reaching for Dean. He had just enough time to glimpse the wide, confused hazel.
He barely felt the bullet.
Dean's yell knifed through him far more keenly. His brother's hands grabbed at Sam, pulling him back and down. There was pressure on his back; he felt like he'd been punched under his shoulder. It was hard to breathe. He curled around Dean's leg, gasping.
Dean's gun went off above him, twice.
He started to push to his feet; one bullet hadn't kept him down before and wouldn't now. But the hand curled tight around his shoulder gently but firmly kept him on the ground, and Sam finally closed his eyes and gave in. The only threat he could hear was moaning in the distance, and he himself was hurt and tired, his back throbbing.
A moment later, Dean was turning back to him. "Sammy?"
Sam peeled one eye open. "You get both of 'em?"
"Yeah," Dean said tersely. He was probably full of questions, but Sam was grateful he wasn't asking them yet. Just, "You breathing okay?"
Sam cautiously pulled in air. The slab of left back muscles was starting to burn, but there was none of the pressure-pain of a torn lung. "'M all right."
"Dude, you've got a hole in your back," Dean retorted grimly. "'All right' kinda seems like the wrong phrase here." He rolled Sam forward so his stomach rested against Dean's thigh. Something fluttered over the torn skin of his back, and Sam tensed as Dean swore. "You think jumping in front of a revenant was bad—you dove in front of a bullet, genius."
"'M all right," he repeated in a whisper, leaning his forehead against the cool dirt. And he was. He'd managed this once alone. He could certainly handle it again with Dean, even if the bullet had found his back instead of his chest this time.
"Yeah, sure you are," Dean drawled. He was weaving something under Sam's arms, then pulling it tight. It pressed right over the injury, and Sam sucked in a breath. Dean's fingers combed the hair away from his temple and eye. "Let's get you in the car."
"Check them," Sam ground out. The pain was rising, and soon he wouldn't be able to drive—talk. He wouldn't be able to talk clearly.
"They can wait, trust me." Hands dug under his armpits and pulled up.
Sam sucked in a breath, which just made his back hurt worse. He groaned before he could stop himself, and even though he knew Dean was being gentle, his brother's movements slowed even more.
"Just do it!"
Dean didn't pause again after that, not when Sam's fingertips bit into his shoulder, nor when Sam groaned as folding into the car pulled on his muscles a whole new and painful way. Not until he was inside, turned sideways in the seat and panting against the upholstery. Dean disappeared for a moment, returning with a pair of pills and a bottle of water. "Trip's gonna hurt like a mother otherwise."
Sam eyed the offerings blearily. He hadn't taken any strong painkillers for the six months, unable to let down his guard. He'd almost forgotten they were an option. His trembling fingertips brushed them before scooping them out of Dean's palm and shoving into his mouth. The water that followed washed the taste of dirt from his lips.
Dean's hand rested on his knee, his brother eyeing him critically. "Doesn't look like it's too deep, but say the word, man, and we'll find you a hospital."
Sam shook his head. "Check Torrey," he rasped.
Dean frowned but didn't say anything, just closed Sam's door as gently as possible and strode back out into the night. Sam watched him until he was swallowed by the darkness, wishing he'd asked Dean to retrieve his gun for him before he left.
The driver's side door creaked open a minute later, Dean sliding safe and whole into the seat next to Sam. He was faced away from Dean, but his quiet call was immediately answered.
"Torrey's knee's in about ten pieces—he's not goin' anywhere. His buddy's dead."
It was said flatly, although Sam knew the cost killing a person took on Dean, even if that person had just shot Sam. He closed his eyes wearily.
"I should call someone for—"
"Leave him," Sam interrupted gruffly.
There was a long pause. Then Dean started the car and threw it into reverse.
Sam braced himself for the painful, bumpy ride, but the pills must've started taking effect because his body was soon relaxing despite himself and the sharpening pain in his back dulled again. It seemed to be only minutes before they were pulling up in front of lit windows. He closed his eyes briefly, opening them to find Dean bent down beside him again, expression caught between amusement and concern.
"Feeling no pain, huh?"
"It always hurt," Sam whispered.
Dean stopped smiling, brow pinching in the middle.
Sam let him do the work, and each blink seemed to find him in a new place: hunched half out of the car, on his feet staring at gravel, stumbling over a threshold into warmth, easing down onto a remarkably soft bed with a good view of maroon carpet. Another moment, and he was up close and personal with a dark blue comforter as Dean coaxed him onto his stomach.
Sam sighed. Maybe getting shot in the back was better. He hadn't been able to sleep on his stomach for a week last time, and had sat hunched to keep from pulling on healing flesh. Of course, he wouldn't have been able to dig the bullet out then. Maybe with a mirror…?
Dean's hand was a grounding weight on the small of his back. "Sammy? You with me?"
He nodded into his pillow.
After a few minutes, Dean sat next to him, knee just brushing Sam's elbow. His brother began to undress him, untying the shirt he'd used as a makeshift compress, then easing off Sam's jacket and plaid shirt. The two layers under that he just cut off, and Sam realized the heat in the room had been turned up, his bare back hardly prickling at the exposure.
Alcohol was a cool bite on his skin as Dean began to clean him up. "So," his brother's throat cleared, "you knew the guy, huh?"
Sam's eyes flinched shut, nose suddenly tickling. "Didn't know his name," he said hoarsely. "He heard about the gate opening from the demon gossip mill and decided we were responsible. He ki—" Sam clamped down on the tremor in his voice. "He killed Ellen. Shot her in the head before going after me." With that shattered knee, at least she'd hear him coming this time if he tried it again. Somehow, it wasn't very comforting.
Dean froze behind him. Sam pressed his eyes tighter together when a warm touch soothed the back of his neck. "You didn't know he'd be here?"
"It happened differently last time. A few months later, when I was looking into a cursed town in Alabama. I didn't know it was him tonight until I saw his face."
Dean hummed a little, palm sliding down to Sam's upper back. "What happened last time?"
"I killed him," Sam said flatly.
If he expected shock, he didn't get it. Dean didn't even hesitate, the alcohol wipe only slowing as it approached the edges of the wound. "That all?" Dean finally asked, sounding almost conversational.
Sam's hand balled in the bedspread. "He got me first."
Dean's grip tightened fractionally. "Bad?"
Sam's head moved an inch side-to-side. "Sewed it up myself." He was glad he couldn't see Dean's face. He knew exactly what it would look like, and wasn't up for that just now.
Dean kept working in silence. Antiseptic came next, pouring like fire into the wound, and Sam went rigid, breathing tightly through his nose. Dean's thumb started moving back and forth over his collarbone, the quiet humming starting up again, distracting him.
There had been no distractions last time, just Sam and the solitude and the pain. He swallowed a few times.
Dean's hand stayed on his back throughout his ministrations, sometimes gently pinning Sam, other times massaging the tension out of his corded muscles. He didn't know how, because Dean should've needed two hands for some of what he was doing: cleaning the wound, digging out the bullet, then sewing him up. But somehow he managed to never let go.
The time before, the time that had never happened, there had been no one to hear him grunt as he did surgery on himself, or to catch him when his knees had finally given way near the end. No one to care that he was hurt and a little scared, or to be concerned when he became feverish and nauseated after. No one there to even know if he lived or died.
Tears pooled under Sam's eyelids, so unfamiliar. He hadn't wept then, not alone in that barren room. There was no reason to now when Dean was there with him.
"Hey, you're not crying, are you?"
Sam snorted wetly into the pillow. "No."
Dean finally moved his hand; cutting gauze was beyond even his one-handed skills. But the contact returned as he taped the bandage into place. "'Cause you could, you know. Remember Dad's rules? You get a free pass if you're hurt bad enough for stitches."
Sam glowered at the bedspread. "Dude, I'm not crying," he said thickly.
"Or onions. Tears are okay if you're cooking onions, too." He put the last piece of tape in place, then moved down the bed to work the covers out from under Sam's legs.
Sam sniffed, shook his head with something nearly a laugh. "When did we ever—?"
Dean carefully tilted him enough to pull the upper blankets out from under him, then draped them over his body. "Or watching Old Yeller because, dude, it's his dog."
Sam's breath hitched, definitely laughter this time. He turned his head to the other side and lifted it so he could just see his brother out of the corner of his eye. "Yeah, good excuse. That why you cry on Bambi, too? You never fool anyone, man—you know that, right?"
Dean rolled off the bed, swatting his calves. "Shut up and go to sleep, Samantha."
"Jerk," Sam muttered. His back sent slow rolls of pain through him, feeling tight where Dean had put the stitches in, but he was already drifting off. Last time he'd finally succumbed to exhaustion. This time it was contentment and safety. God, he'd missed his brother.
"Bitch," Dean shot back softly. He dropped on the other bed, in Sam's line of sight, and threw him a smirk before turning the TV on low.
Sam closed his eyes.
God, he'd miss his brother.