K Hanna Korossy
His skin felt too tight.
Which was possibly a side effect of having been dead for four-and-a-half months and then brought back to life, but Dean kinda doubted it. More like a result of the push-pull of being so worried about and angry at a person at the same time. It felt like he'd burst soon from the storm of emotion inside him.
"You don't know he made a deal," Bobby said quietly from the driver's seat of the Chevelle.
Dean's hand tightened on the window frame of the car. "You got any other ideas how I got yanked out of the pit?" he answered, low and hard.
Bobby's mustache twitched but he stayed silent.
Dean shifted more into the corner of the seat; it felt like he needed something solid at his back. "I got him back the same way."
"Yeah, and how many times do you think Hell's gonna make that deal?"
He swallowed, gaze sliding sideways a moment. "We had a run-in with a crossroad demon, not long after Dad died," Dean finally said. "It offered to bring him back."
"A year later? He wouldn't have come back a John you'd recognize," Bobby said carefully, then glanced over. "You know that."
Dean shook his head, eyes glued now to the windshield and the pink-tinted twilight sky beyond. "Maybe. It woulda brought something back, though."
Bobby snorted. "Yeah, probably a disembodied spirit, or maybe a pile of ash with a soul trapped inside. Not like—" You. He didn't need to say it.
Dean's jaw shifted and locked. He spoke through grinding teeth. "Still waiting for another option, Bobby. Sam's in Pontiac—how do you explain that?"
"Hel—" Bobby chewed off the end of the word, grimacing. "Heck, I don't know. That's why we're gonna ask him first instead of charging in there full of accusations, right?"
Could a soul feel weary? Dean had always thought his did, but it had never felt like this, aching and seeping blood. Seeing Sam again… His eyes burned at the thought, and this time worry—fear—trumped anger. Maybe for Dean it felt like he'd just left, but Sammy had been alone for months. His screams were the last thing Dean could remember, and that had hurt worse than the hellhound. Yeah, he wanted to grab the kid and shake him until that oversized brain rattled around in his head, but…honestly, more than anything he wanted to just see Sam again and be seen by him, let him know he wasn't alone anymore.
Then shake him until his head rattled.
Dean sighed, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. "Yeah, I know." He dropped his hand. "When'd you see him last? Was he—?"
"He was different," Bobby said bluntly. "Sure wasn't the kid anymore who's been trailing after you like an overgrown puppy his whole life. After we got you cleaned up and planted in the ground, Sam pretty much took my library apart. Found things even I didn't know I had. But…nothing worked. He tried every contact in the book plus a few you won't find in any book, tracked down some special collections and went through what they had, even tried to reach your dad. And then, couple weeks after, he just…stopped. Like he'd run out of options and didn't know where to go next. Next morning, he was gone. Never answered my calls after that—I just heard about sightings sometimes. Half of 'em he was drunk, half of 'em he was hell on wheels. But I never saw him again, and that was close to four months ago."
Dean swallowed hard. He'd realized what he was leaving Sam to, long after it was too late to change it, but he'd done his best to ease the way. And he'd thought he'd succeeded, that Sam would go on okay. Sure, rocky at first, hurt and struggling. But Sam had Bobby in his corner, some of their other friends, and a lot more smarts and courage than Dean ever had. He was supposed to be all right.
It had all been for nothing, though. Sam had somehow survived Lilith—Bobby wasn't even sure how—then held out a little longer, but in the end he'd been just as lost and desperate as Dean. As ready to give up everything to get his brother back.
Dean cleared his throat, or tried to; his voice was still thick when he spoke. "I can't…Bobby, I can't save him again. He's m'brother, but I can't go back—" He couldn't even remember what he was so scared of, but he was shaking all over just at the idea.
"Good," Bobby said solidly, drawing Dean's startled glance. His old friend met it with steely compassion. "Maybe you two morons finally learned something from all this. If Sam's got himself in some kind of bind again, how 'bout we figure out a way this time that doesn't include one of you going to Hell?"
"We couldn't last time," Dean said quietly.
"Says the dead man sitting on my front seat," Bobby drawled.
It was weak and full of holes and bravado, but it was the best they had right now.
Dean settled back, feeling skin pull unfamiliarly over muscle and joints, and tried to find his anger again because fear was so much worse.
Sam gave an unexpected laugh, sounding about six again, a moment of pure joy that lightened Dean's heart. But Sam went still again just as fast, the old nervous habits Dean remembered now oddly absent. "So."
They had a few hours before they needed to go see Bobby's psychic, and the older hunter had left to grab a little sleep and let them "catch up." They'd sat down hesitantly on the beds—two of them, Dean noted—facing each other…and promptly lapsed into silence. Dean finally cocked his head, grinning. "New Batman movie? Mavs make the playoffs? McCain or Obama in the lead?"
Sam's hollow face seemed to cave a little more, eyes deep and echoing. "Dude, google it. I was kinda busy."
Again Dean had expected irritation, but there was only unsettling somberness. He absently kneaded his jeans with one hand; he wasn't used to not getting Sam. "Yeah, about that—"
Sam reached out, slow enough that Dean would've had time to shy away if he'd wanted, fast and desperate enough that he didn't want to. He just watched, one eyebrow raised, as Sam clamped onto his arm below the elbow and…completely relaxed. Shoulders rounding and head bowing, everything going limp except his hand, which dug spastically into Dean's arm as if he were trying to put down roots. Or maybe if he hung on hard enough, he would know for sure Dean was really there and they couldn't be separated again.
Dean swallowed. "Yeah, okay," he muttered, and turned his own hand to clasp Sam's forearm in turn. It was the first thing that felt right since he'd come back.
The rest could wait for now.
They followed the gurney out to the ambulance and watched as Pam was loaded up. Bobby immediately climbed in with her. He glanced then at the Winchesters as if suddenly remembering he hadn't come alone, but Dean just waved him off. Bobby nodded, and the doors shut behind him.
The ambulance wailed off, leaving deep silence in its wake.
"So what are we supposed to do now?" Sam finally asked.
Dean glanced over at him, taking in the pale face and again that strange stillness. Sam usually couldn't keep still when he was agitated, nearly vibrating with it. This new quieter, more serious version of his little brother was unsettling. "Lock up the place and head back to Pontiac?" Dean suggested. "Still got those demons of yours to find."
"They're not—" Sam's mouth pursed. "We're just gonna go back and pretend none of this happened? Dean, whatever pulled you out of Hell just blinded that poor girl." He pointed after the departed ambulance.
Dean stamped down his irritation. No way were either of them firing on all cylinders just then. "Yeah, and waiting around here won't exactly help with that, will it?" He started heading back up the stairs, absently marveling again at the lack of ache in his knees.
"What if this…Castiel isn't finished with you?" Sam argued from behind him. "What if he—?"
Dean stopped, suddenly understanding. He turned around, to see Sam's face all puckered like it had been back in the motel room. When he'd been trying not to cry. "—comes back for me?" Dean supplied quietly. "Why would it do that, Sam? It could've done anything it wanted when it hauled me up. Or, for that matter, it could've left me downstairs in the first place—not like there's anything worse that could happen to me than that, right? This doesn't change anything, man. We already knew whatever could swing me a ticket out had to be a major badass."
Sam was turning the words over, nodding reluctantly at their logic. And still looking miserable.
They weren't used to good news. They'd been braced for bad for so long, it was hard for Sam to take an honest-to-God miracle at face value and accept that it didn't have a major price tag attached. And truth be told, Dean wasn't sure it didn't, because life had never been that kind. But what he did know was that he had to erase that look from Sam's face, because he couldn't watch his brother break again.
Dean hurriedly returned to the house to pull the door shut and make sure it was locked, then jogged back to Sam. He had to crane to peer up into his brother's downcast face, cocking his eyebrows in the way that had always made little Sammy giggle. "We'll figure it out, Sam, I promise, okay? Get a few beers, hit the books—it'll be like old times. Nothing we can't handle together, right?"
"You didn't tell me about the handprint."
He didn't like how subdued Sam sounded, but at least he was talking. Dean shrugged. "Honestly? Didn't even remember it until she asked. I was kinda busy, Sam."
If Sam recognized the echo, he didn't acknowledge it, his gaze stubbornly remaining on the sidewalk. "Does it hurt?" he asked in a small voice.
Dean's eyes narrowed; he knew his brother well enough to be sure that wasn't what was really on Sam's mind. "Just itches—are we done now? You gonna tell me what's going on?"
In all the commotion, Sam's neatly parted hair had slipped down into his eyes again, but it wasn't just those glittering eyes peering through his bangs that made him look so unsure. "Dean, I'm sorry I wasn't the one who saved you. I promised I'd find a way and I…" He tipped his head, mouth quirking painfully, his expression making Dean's heart clench. "I wanted to be the one, you know?"
Dean cast around for an answer to that, but everything seemed too glib. He wasn't sure Sam would believe him, anyway. He finally just brushed Sam's arm above his elbow, his brother's jacket oddly coarse under his uncallused fingertips. "I know," Dean said hoarsely. And he did. As cursed as the deal was, he was still glad he'd been the one to get Sam back.
Sam nodded at the ground.
Dean cleared his throat. "So, Pontiac, research? I'll spring for the beer."
Sam's head lifted and his expression wobbled a little, like it was trying to decide between tears and a smile. Dean prayed fervently for the latter. And maybe there was a God, because the balance tipped and Sam's mouth curved up, his head shaking. "Dude, you have money?"
"Yup," Dean said brightly. "Cleaned out a…never mind," he quickly coughed. He punched Sam in the arm and headed for the Impala, listening for his brother's footsteps behind him. "We'll even get some of that pansy Canadian watered-down stuff you like."
"That's not what I drink anymore," Sam said, trailing him to the opposite side of the car. At Dean's surprised glance, he just shrugged. "Things change, man."
Didn't he know it. Dean hid his unease with a grin. "Finally became a man, huh?"
He was kinda hoping Sam would argue with him, but he didn't.
It was like old times, a dozen dusty books spread out on the bed between them, Sam hunched over his laptop. Dean could almost pretend nothing had changed, that he hadn't been gone—dead—for months.
Except for the way Sam was stealing glances at him.
Dean finally met his eyes with a frown. "What?"
Sam blinked. "The scars on your wrists. They're gone."
Dean looked down even though he already knew it was true. He'd been tied up a few times in his life, didn't even know which one had left him with the thin, pale lines across his skin, but it didn't matter anymore. "Yeah, uh, they're all gone."
Sam's eyes shot up to his, dark with surprise. "All of them? Even the…?" He gestured vaguely at his own chest, about where Dean guessed hellhound claw marks would've been.
He hitched a shoulder. "Wasn't like the old place was ready to be rented."
His brother blinked. "And that doesn't bother you?"
"You kidding me?" Dean snorted. "Dude, no more crooked fingers or a shoulder that keeps slipping out of joint or bullet scars to worry about someone seeing? It's awesome." And totally not freaky that he had a whole new body, one that didn't quite seem to fit.
Sam watched him, silent and still. Dean wished he'd chew on the inside of his mouth, rub his leg, something. It wasn't fair that everything was different now.
"Can we get back to the books?" Dean asked, maybe a little too desperately.
Sam's eyes flickered, but he obediently pulled one of the thicker tomes closer and bent over it.
Dean debated a moment, tasted the words before letting them spill. "The tat's still there."
Sam huffed into the book. "You'd think of all things, a demon would want to erase that one."
A demon. Dean kept not wanting to go there, especially since Sam hadn't made a deal to get him out. The thought of a demon's hand branding him like some kind of frickin' head of cattle made Dean queasy. But what else could it be, right? He couldn't remember Hell, had only a few flashes to go by of something so horrible that his mind shied away from it, and what else could or would descend into that to find him? He made a face and settled back uncomfortably to keep reading.
He opened his eyes with a gasp, not even sure when he'd closed them, let alone fallen asleep.
Sam's hand was splayed over his chest, worry-bright eyes dipping down into Dean's frame of vision. "Y'all right, man?"
Dean took a shaky breath, rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good. Just…bad dream or something."
He forced his leaden shoulders into a casual shrug. "I don't know," he lied. "Didn't see much." That part was true, at least. It had all been feelings. Terrible ones.
Sam's hand slid lower, giving his stomach a gentle pat before pulling away. Next thing Dean knew, his brother had sidled up to the head of the bed next to him, laptop still perched on his thighs but shoulder now buttressed against Dean's.
Dean figured if he didn't say anything, they could pretend Sam was just making himself comfortable. Or that sitting there next to Sam, he felt more himself than he had the last two days.
Or that when Dean drifted off again soon after, the deep, dreamless sleep this time had nothing to do with Sam being there.
Just because he wasn't a big fan of modern technology—seriously, what was wrong with cassette tapes?—didn't mean Dean couldn't figure out how to work stuff. It took only a minute to get into the iPod's menu and scroll through its contents. His mouth twitched at the thought of the vast amount of blackmail material at his fingertips.
He almost missed it as he went down the list. Metallica. With a frown, Dean slowed. AC/DC. Motorhead. Styx. The greatest hits of mullet rock dominated Sam's playlist, in fact.
Dean silently turned it off and set it on the front seat next to him just as Sam came out the motel door.
The back door creaked open as he tossed in his duffel next to Dean's—the duffel of Dean's he'd apparently had sitting in the trunk of the car for the last four-plus months—then Sam slid in beside Dean, picking up the iPod with a curious glance as he did. Dean ignored him, and Sam pocketed the player.
Dean turned over the motor, cranked the radio, and pulled out of the motel parking lot before Sam spoke up. "So, are you gonna tell me now why our room looks like a tornado hit it and there's blood caked in your ears?"
Dean grimaced, rubbing one ear against his shoulder. He thought he'd gotten it all. "You gonna tell me now where you went last night for your 'burger'?" he quickly deflected.
There was a pause. "I went back to the diner," Sam finally said, quiet.
The car swerved a little under Dean's startle. "Tell me you're joking."
"Don't worry—they were all dead. Eyes burned out like Pam's."
The anger was distracted, not assuaged. "Huh. Well, that's not creepy." He wanted to ask what Sam would've done if they wouldn't have been dead, but his brother had been making it on his own—and killing demons, by the sound of it—all summer. He was entitled to a little subterfuge and independence…for now. Besides, Dean still kinda owed him for the panicked phone call Dean had gotten on the way back to the motel, after Sam beat him there only to find a wrecked, bloody room. Dean cleared his throat. "Listen, Sam, I…found out something about whatever's been pulling the whole torched eyeballs act."
"You mean the being that got you of Hell? Castiel?" Sam shifted in his seat, giving him his full attention. "Dean, what'd you find out?"
Dean twitched, squirmed a little. "It, uh, claims to be an angel."
There was a pause. "An angel." Sam might as well have been saying a leprechaun.
Dean gave him a belligerent glance. "Yeah, an angel. Messenger of God, Wings-and-halo, the whole Michael Landon meets Roma Downey bit?"
"The ones on your BS list along with unicorns," Sam clarified.
Dean growled at him.
"Wait…you didn't summon him, did you?" A scowl started brewing on Sam's face.
He only squirmed a little bit. "Maybe?"
"Look, I had to know, Sammy, okay? And I didn't say it really was an angel," Dean said quickly.
There was a long silence while he waited for the explosion.
But…Sam laughed. Short and disbelieving but amazingly genuine. "Yeah, that sounds about right for us. I'm guessing that's why Bobby keeps looking at you like you spit in his beer?"
They made the turn onto the highway, the road straight and long in front of them. It was a clear fall day, the breeze sliding through the open car window, and "Ride the Lightning" was playing. Sam was sitting next to him, fingers tapping the beat of the music on the open window's frame as he waited for Dean to spill, and no deadline loomed over them. Yeah, okay, so the end of the world was maybe coming, Heaven and Hell were jockeying for their souls, and Dean's life had just gotten a heckuva lot more complicated, but what else was new? Right now from where he was sitting, things didn't look bad at all.
"Yeah." Dean sat back in his seat, feeling himself settling more comfortably into the shell of his body with every mile. One arm draped over the steering wheel and the other stretched over the back of the seat, he turned to Sam and smiled. "Dude, you're not gonna believe this…"