This story first appeared in Things That Go Bump in the Night 3 (2008), from Neon Rainbow Press
K Hanna Korossy
"You can't have him."
Dean Winchester recognized the words, the tone. He'd used both before; the line was practically his motto. He'd just never heard it from his little brother. "Sam," he said sharply.
The only answer he got was an arm of steel pushing him back even farther, more behind, protected. And a growl, but he wasn't sure if that was for him or the manifestation they were facing.
"Sam, stop it," Dean insisted, pushing back. He could take his brother down in a second if he needed to, especially with Sam's back to him, but that was the last thing the guy needed at this point. Dean had heard the gasp of pain, seen the blood. "Sammy—"
"I only want him. I don't want to hurt you." Funny how something so melodious could sound so malicious.
"No," Sam said flatly, tucking Dean even more behind him. Dean gave a frustrated snort. "No. You're not getting him." His chin lifted, his feet already planted, body strumming with tension but loose, ready to fight. The arm that wasn't busy corralling Dean curled into a fist. "Never."
If he hadn't been so scared for and exasperated by the kid, Dean would've been brimming with pride.
Bars made it a little easier to talk shop. Between the noise of the crowds and the music playing— one of Dad's favorite country songs, Dean tried not to notice— they could discuss deaths, suspects, and strategy without anyone overhearing and calling down 5-0 on them. Dean still wasn't sure those cops in Andersonville had bought his story about Sam and him being crime writers.
He took a swallow of his beer and automatically glanced around anyway— safer didn't mean safe— before returning his attention to the pages of notes laid out in front of Sam. Dean shook his head, amused yet again by the different ways they worked. He jotted down a few terse facts in his journal, juggled and pored over the rest in his head. Sam needed to write things out, see and study them before he put the pieces together. It was one of the reasons the laptop was practically his now. Besides the fact he seemed to actually like the research part of their job. Dean's mouth quirked. Geek.
"So," Sam was saying, "the coroner's office has no idea about manner of death. The extreme violence seems to indicate an animal attack, but there aren't ever any other signs: no teeth-marks, hair, signs of struggle. It's like…something just zeroes in on these people and tears them apart."
"Nice," Dean murmured, taking another pull on the beer and examining the pictures. "And no connections between the victims."
Sam shook his head. "Not related, different parts of town, different jobs, circles of friends, ages, even races. The only thing they seem to have in common so far is that they're all male."
"Great." Dean set down his beer. "Well, that narrows it down. That could be anything from a phantom attacker to a black dog."
Sam sat back, rolling a beer bottle in his hand. "You find out anything?"
Dean made a face. "Oh, yeah. The locals are worried about teens going cow-tipping and skinny-dipping in the local lake; everybody thinks the chief of police is a cross-dresser, which, having seen the guy, I totally believe, and the dude over in the hardware store warned me about gypsies coming through and cursing the town. But anything useful?" He shrugged. "This place has got the cleanest background I've seen: no hallowed grounds, no mass murders, not even a lot of local lore. If we need to research anything else, it's your turn, dude. I almost fell asleep in the library, it was so boring."
"Sure that was the reason why?" Sam asked mildly, sliding papers together and herding them into his satchel.
Dean threw him a sharp look, which his brother totally ignored. "Lay off, Sam," he muttered instead, draining the rest of his beer.
Sam's eyes cut over to him. Somewhere along the way, puppy-dog pleading had become a similarly soft and shiny concern. Dean preferred the pleading. He braced himself for the inevitable I'm worried about you speech, but Sam surprised him. "I think that girl over at the bar's watching you."
He looked over automatically, eyebrows rising in a silent huh at the sight of the shapely brunette eyeing him over the bottle of beer she was sucking on almost obscenely. Dean felt a small stir of interest, let it settle just as fast, and hitched one shoulder. "She's not my type."
Sam stared at him frankly. "Dude, she's practically undressing you from across the room. She's totally your type."
Dean lifted his bottle, remembered it was empty, and snagged Sam's over his brother's halfhearted protest, keeping his eyes on the girl the whole time. She was looking at him like he was sex-on-a-stick, and, yeah, that pretty much did make her his type. But…
"Hey," a shoulder bumped his, "you said you were dealing, right? So, go deal."
He was actually kind of grateful for the oblique reference to Dad, because he wasn't sure he could have stood an outright one. It would've definitely been a mood-killer.
Dean gave the girl another glance, letting himself think a little further, feel his interest grow. Maybe it was time. Dealing was a good thing, right? Show Sammy he wasn't falling apart after…after everything; get on with life, or at least bury himself in a little distraction. Set a good example for his brother and all.
Besides, the legs on that girl…
Dean canted his head at Sam. "Can you find your way back?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "The motel's two blocks away, Dean. I think I can manage."
"Cool. See you…later."
"Yeah," his brother's soft voice followed him out into the crowded bar floor, and Dean snorted softly to himself. Mushball, his Sammy. Probably thought this was therapeutic or something, hooking up with a girl. Dean would have to remember that the next time Sam gave him grief about lovin' and leavin', or about ignoring all the hot women who seemed to have a thing for six-foot-four and long hair.
And then he didn't think at all about his brother for a while.
He mumbled something appropriately derisive into the bedding and rolled away from the annoying voice.
"Dean!" Something smacked his leg, and although it didn't hurt, it made him flinch. He opened his eyes and glared. "Shut up and g'way." He shut his eyes again.
"There's been another death."
That reluctantly, slowly, penetrated, and Dean reopened his eyes to give his brother a suspicious look. It was interrupted by the cup of coffee— good-smelling coffee— that was waving in front of his face. "Let you live another day," Dean muttered and pushed up, coffee in one hand, blankets in the other. "Who died?"
"Chad Drucker," Sam said, glancing at a folded newspaper he was holding. "Same MO as the others, just out by the lake."
Dean yawned, scrubbed a hand through his hair. "What was he doing down by the lake?"
"He's homeless, had a little camp set up there. They say he was the town drunk."
"Huh." Not the most intelligent contribution, admittedly, but unless there was an emergency, Dean took a little while to wake up. "Okay, so, not exactly a model citizen, probably spends a lot of time by himself, maybe stumbled on to something. I'm still seeing a lot of possibilities here, Sam."
Sam dropped the newspaper, inhaling some of his own cup of…whatever. "Which is why we have to go talk to the victims' families," he said, tilting his head at Dean.
Dean groaned. His favorite part. No, research amidst dusty books was his favorite part. Or digging graves in the rain. Why were the jobs never just, roll in, kill something, take a few bows or, you know, whatever the townspeople wanted to offer, and roll out again?
Sam was smiling at him, that knowing little-brother smile. "So, when'd you get in last night?"
Well, there was that. Dean stretched comfortably, feeling a smile creep onto his face. Okay, so the job wasn't all bad, and he did feel better. "Late," was all he leered back, grin widening at the red that touched Sam's cheeks and his brother's shake of the head.
Dean was feeling just a little bit grateful, though, so he'd spare the kid the details. For now.
The pattern wasn't too hard to find, once they got started.
Mrs. Epson was a timid woman, quiet and dry-eyed when she talked about her recently deceased husband. Dean had quietly smoldered at the clear finger-shaped bruises just fading on her wrists and neck, the dead look in her eyes. From the tight anger in Sam's face, he saw it, too, but his brother shooed him out of there before Dean could say anything.
Toni Ever…sham? smith? lasting? heaped praise on her ex-boss until she learned Sam and Dean were reporters, not cops. Then the stories of sexual harassment and rumors of rape tumbled out, leaving her angry and shaken by the time Sam solemnly shook her hand and told her to take care.
Mrs. Pinkney cried the whole time she talked about her banker son, declaring the rumors of his being an embezzler to be absolute lies. Sam had half-dragged Dean from that one, too.
Nobody could recall anything good about Drucker.
Something was killing the town jerks, apparently, and the Winchesters, well, they were there to stop it and provide justice. Nobody said their job didn't occasionally suck. Dean glanced at his brother as they walked away from the last interview, the question clear on his face. Sam shook his head. "Not up to us, dude," he said quietly, taking his avowed role of pain-in-the-ass conscience very seriously.
Dean was grateful for that, he really was. But it still sucked, and there were no shades of gray about that.
The evening found them in the other bar in town— never retrace your steps was a good rule for both hustling and picking up women— huddled over bottles of the same local brew. Dean watched a little more proactively this time, noting the pretty faces, the pool table in the back. Barely listening to Sam because they'd already hashed this out in the car before and he could do without the rerun.
"Okay, so all the victims were creeps: abusers, drunks, conmen. That's the only thing they have in common, right? So we're looking for something that goes after people it feels deserve death."
Dean kind of felt that way, too, but kept his mouth shut. Besides, the three young men playing pool were pretty bad but full of bravado— the best kind of mark— and he was watching their game for weaknesses.
He yanked his attention back to Sam. "Yeah. They were all asking to be whacked, got it."
"I was thinking maybe a vengeful spirit? Someone who felt like they were wronged and is looking for revenge?"
"Yeah, maybe." A blonde by the pool table winked at him, and Dean's eyebrow rose. Lot of lonely women in this town. He reluctantly refocused on Sam. "Or it could be some kind of curse. Who knows, maybe the gypsies did pass through here." It wouldn't be the first time they'd come up against Romani vengeance.
"Maybe," Sam conceded. He paused. "Did you notice all the victims so far embody one of the seven sins? Greed, lust, anger, alcoholism as a form of gluttony? Maybe we're looking at some sort of Judeo-Christian entity, like a relative of a golem."
"You been hittin' the Latin books again, Sammy?" Dean asked whimsically.
Sam sighed. "I'm gonna check the journal again." He glanced up as Dean stood. "Where're you going?"
"Make us some money," Dean said succinctly, and heard no protest as he advanced on the pool table.
Two hours netted him one hundred-twenty dollars, a very brief fist fight in the back alley that Sam rolled his eyes over and didn't even bother getting up for, and two phone numbers. Those were tucked away for now, though. Angela— Amelia?— from the other night had been…well, more than good, but Dean still didn't like leaving Sam alone for long in the middle of a hunt, especially with his busted hand now. Dean still wasn't really comfortable, either, having fun while Dad was so freshly gone, Sammy's blessings or not. There'd be time for that later.
Still, it didn't hurt to look, right?
Dean headed back to their table when he sensed the watchful eye that had been on him all evening had started flagging. A glance revealed that Sam was nodding off over his work. The one priority that was crystal-clear in Dean's head was to take care of his little brother, and Sam hadn't been sleeping a lot better than he had. It was time for both of them to head out.
Sam didn't protest the decision. He gathered his papers with a clumsiness that had Dean enjoying the show. The growled suggestion what he could do with himself when Sam realized why he was smiling, just made him smile all the more. Sometimes little brothers were just too easy. And sometimes he loved this crabby, sleepy, huge version so much that it hurt.
He nudged Sam ahead of him into the room only because he wasn't sure his brother wouldn't keel over behind him if Dean went first. Which was how he didn't see it before Sam stiffened and froze, and a bodiless voice slipped between them.
"I have come for you, Dean Winchester."
They hadn't been using their real names, of course— he'd been Willis, and Sam, Rickman, ace reporters for whatever the big regional paper was— so that was his first tip-off something was wrong. The second was the fact that their guest's feet weren't touching the ground.
Otherwise, the spirit was not particularly flamboyant. It looked almost like a normal, living woman, with a pale face, long, drab hair, a flowing dress. Only her eyes burned red, and those eyes were fixed now on Dean.
He slipped past his brother to stand next to Sam, whose gaze flicked to him, then back. "Let me guess," Dean hazarded, "you've been the one killing the town scumbags."
"I punish those who deserve it, whose lives are waste."
"Ouch," Dean winced theatrically, "that's kinda harsh. What'd I ever do to you?" He already knew the weapons bag was in lunging distance, and was running through its contents in his mind. The holy water would probably be best, buy them a little time until they figured out how to actually kill it.
"Your crimes are against your fellow man. And they will be punished."
The next moment, she was suddenly in front of him, her hands claws, long and sharp.
He and Sam were already moving. Dean threw himself at the weapons bag, while Sam…Sam threw himself in front of his brother.
"I must." The spirit paused, giving Dean a precious second to dig out the flask. "I will."
And she darted past Sam with inhuman speed.
Everything happened at once.
Dean splashed her in the face with the water.
The spirit— or something else— didn't even slow down, claws raising, falling, raking.
Sam slammed into place again in front of Dean, jolting as her claws bit, the sound of pain low in his throat, but never moving, not as she reared back and glared at them.
And suddenly, a long, casted arm was sweeping Dean back to behind Sam, a position totally foreign and unacceptable to him. "You can't have him," Sam gritted out.
There was no way in Hell or Earth that his injured brother was going to play shield for him while Dean had any life left in his body, let alone when he was perfectly fine. He shoved back against Sam's arm, barking his brother's name.
Sam growled, unyielding. There was strength in desperation, and Sam seemed suddenly infused with it, immovable without considerable force Dean wasn't ready yet to expend.
So he tried another way first, the one his brother usually preferred. "Sam, stop it," Dean argued, testing his brother's hold. It didn't budge, trapping him between door, fierce little brother, and the open doorway. "Sammy—" he snapped.
"I only want him. I do not want to hurt you."
Yeah, right. Who was the one bleeding here? Dean ducked down to slip under Sam's arm, and found the limb instantly in the way again. Fine, if he wanted to play it that way…Dean snaked an arm out to the side and yanked the weapons bag closer, digging the salt-loaded shotgun out.
"No," Sam was saying, and for a second Dean's hands faltered because he sounded so much like Dad. Like Dad at his most unshakeable, laying down the law. Dean almost fumbled the gun, making an exasperated noise as Sam pressed him even farther back. "No. You're not getting him. Never."
Not that he didn't appreciate the thought, but enough was enough. Dean swung the shotgun up over his brother's shoulder, Sam immediately leaning aside to give him room, and fired.
The not-spirit scowled at them. Okay, not what he'd been going for.
"So be it," their uninvited guest hissed, and dove for Dean.
Sam just happened to be in the way.
He was really trained better than this, but Dean would have to give his little brother credit later for fear-borne strength and speed in taking him so off-guard. Even as they were attacked, Dean found himself unceremoniously rammed out the front door.
"Sam!" he barked, but the door was already slamming and locking in his face. Dean swore creatively and jammed his hands into his pockets for the motel key.
The door rattled from a hard impact against the other side.
"Sammy!" Dean bellowed again. He was coming up empty on the key, and he added Latin and Spanish curses to his running commentary. Must have dropped it inside. He lifted a leg to kick the door down, hesitating when a second thud rocked it. If Sam was propped against the other side…
Dean pulled his lock pick set out and quickly bent over the doorknob. His actions grew more frantic when he heard the very human cry on the other side. This couldn't be happening, not in their room, not with him less than a foot away…
The lock clicked free, and Dean hissed with relief and impatience as he turned the knob.
The door jammed, an inch open, on something he couldn't see.
The crack let him hear, though, the not-spirit's high, whispery voice, Sam's weak and low one, coming from somewhere below his usual height.
"Why? Why do you defend him?"
"Because he deserves it." Sam coughed, sounding a little breathy. "You're wrong about him."
"Many have said that. But even he does not believe it."
That wasn't… Well, okay, it wasn't exactly true. Dean didn't beat up women or harass them or steal…anything that people couldn't afford to lose, anyway. But he wasn't exactly Joe Citizen, either. He'd killed people, cost his dad his life, and Sam… He'd hurt Sam a lot, with Dean's burdens and his weaknesses and one well-placed punch in a Montana parking lot. Dean swallowed. Maybe the being wasn't totally off the mark.
"I don't care," Sam insisted. "People can't always see themselves clearly. But he's the best person I know."
Back at ya, Dean thought, subdued. No, that was definitely not a lump in his throat. He struggled helplessly with the door, but it wasn't budging, and even though he was dying with the need to get inside, he didn't dare force it not knowing how and where Sam was. Dean's eyes passed over the motel front, checking out the windows.
Sam's voice again, deep with emotion. "You. Can't. Have. Him."
There was a pause. Then, quietly, astonishingly, "Perhaps I have misjudged."
Dean's attention riveted back just as Sam breathed, "Yes." Something shivered against the door, and Dean only realized then it hadn't been his brother blocking it all this time, not until now. "Yes. He's not…" Sam trailed off into frightening silence. The door creaked under his weight, and Dean pushed back harder on it to keep it open, grunting with the effort.
A breeze flowed out the crack in the door. "I will go."
Dean didn't believe it until he heard the soft thunk of Sam's head against the wood, about shoulder height. It was a sound of relief, and Dean felt his own muscles go limp. "Sammy," he said with gentle force, "open the door."
There was a slide of fabric and hair on the other side. "Dean?" Sam sounded seven again, that in-between age where he already thought he knew some things better than his older brother, but still curled up against Dean's side when something scared him, trusting that same imperfect big brother to take care of it.
"Yeah, Sam, I'm okay. It's gone— let me in."
"I couldn't…" He sounded too darn weak, and in pain.
Dean started to say something but bit his lip at the sound of creaking and shuffling. The door vibrated under the force of Sam unwedging something from it, then it pulled open a few more inches.
Dean took it from there, turning so he could slide inside the opening shoulder-first.
Sam had one hand locked around the floor lamp he'd just moved from the door, the other around his stomach, where blood trickled over his fingers. His mouth was also bloody, his hair askew. His eyes weren't quite focused as they stared at Dean dully.
"Sam?" he said.
And caught his brother as Sam's eyes rolled up and he crashed gracelessly toward the floor.
Dean had stood there a moment and stared at the blood spatter on the door, the floor, and two walls. At the dent in the door. At the space where his would-be executioner had sparkled and shone, and where Sam had taken his stand and shielded his brother. And at the lax face that was slumped against his shoulder.
They weren't staying here.
"Sammy," Dean murmured as he slid a hand under Sam's chin, checking his pulse, then quickly grabbing for him again as he began to slide down once more. His heartbeat was racing, and he wasn't waking up. Making sure he was snug against his older brother's chest, Dean pulled up Sam's shirt.
The claw marks were long and deep. Not quite penetrating the abdominal wall, thank God, but deep enough. Blood soaked Sam's shirt and painted his belly, dripping down his sides. Probably not fatal if the bleeding was stopped soon, but definitely serious. Dean swallowed his panic, grabbing at bedding, pulling the pillow off with it, and yanking the cover free to use as a temporary pressure bandage. Then he lifted his brother in his arms. Another few minutes wouldn't change anything, and they needed to get out of here.
It took about thirty seconds more to collect the rest of their stuff after he'd eased Sam into the car. Paul Stanley would have a heck of a bill once the motel owner caught sight of their redecoration, not to mention the police probably getting involved because of all the blood, but Dean just didn't care right now. His only concern was slumped unconscious in the car.
He drove to the first rest stop outside town, one hand against Sam's chest all the way, stopping at a Motel 6 that was a notch above their usual. Peter Criss paid for this one—might as well keep it in the family—and then Dean was relocating to the end of the row of rooms.
He lugged Sam inside, ignoring his complaining back, and settled him on the bed, then ran to get their stuff, dropping Sam's duffel and the kit beside the bed. Yanking his bloodied jacket off, Dean settled on the edge of the bed and got to work.
He stripped Sam to the waist, examined the injuries in full light. The blood loss was the most dangerous part, but the sliced abdominal muscle would be a bear to heal. Sam would be laid up a long time with this, and that was assuming infection didn't take its toll.
The red stain under his left arm caught Dean's eye as he triaged. He paused to turn the limb over carefully, and Dean saw for the first time the three parallel slashes across the lower arm, the grazes over the hand.
Defensive wounds. Defending him.
Dean swallowed, something hard and painful lodged in his chest. He was supposed to protect Sam, not the other way around. Yeah, Dad's death had screwed with his head, turned it around, but still, he'd never meant Sam to take up the slack for him. Watch his back, maybe be his moral compass, heck, even his reason for living. But not his shield. He'd never once wanted Sam with him for that.
Dean lay the hand back down like it was glass, wondering why he'd ever wished Sam back in this life in the first place. Or at least why he'd thought Sam would be safer with him than tucked away at school. Dean grimaced as he gently started wiping the blood off. Sam didn't stir, chest fluttering with strained, uneven breaths.
Bright light streaked across his red-painted body.
Dean jerked around, an arm instantly flung out to protect his helpless brother like some kind of out-of-place soccer mom. But June Cleaver had never faced what was coalescing in the room in front of him.
Dean surged to his feet, casting a wild glance around for their weapons bag. It was still by the door where he'd dumped it, on the opposite side of the light. To get it would be to leave Sam defenseless. Dean stayed, fists curling in helpless anger.
Then he saw who the new arrival was.
"Oh, no way are you touching him again," he spat at her,moving even more squarely between the manifestation and his defenseless brother. Sam's toes brushed against his thigh, and Dean drew strength from the contact as he always had.
"I am not here for him, I am here for you, Dean Winchester."
"We did this before already, remember? You've got a wrong number, lady."
"Do I?" Piercing eyes examined him. "Am I wrong, Dean Winchester?"
He squirmed under the gaze. Memories of all his crimes, all his shortcomings, edged up against his mind, and he pushed them back with determination. Maybe he was no innocent, but Sam needed him. His dad's last words had left Sam to him, and Dean wouldn't give that up any more than he would his brother. "Yeah, Tinkerbell, you are."
She tilted her head, still examining him with that too-perceptive gaze. "Give him to me, then, and I will spare your life."
The anger actually helped, clearing the uncertainty from his mind. This one he didn't even have to think about. Dean cursed, pressed back against Sam's foot and the edge of the mattress. "No way. I'd die first."
Her eyes seemed to flash with approval, and if this was a test, Dean was going to personally send her back to Hell or wherever she'd come from. But her voice was still cold as she said, "You cannot kill me, Dean Winchester. Do you know who I am?"
The light flared, brightening until he was squinting against it, one arm raised to protect his eyes. Inside it, she was changing, features remolding into something tall and terrible and beautiful. She loomed over him in all her fierce majesty for a moment, while Dean fought the rare instinct to hide. He bent back over Sam instead, offering what meager cover he could while clearly outmatched.
And then she was shrinking back into her previous plain form, shining soft instead of bright.
"Nice act," Dean forced out through stiff lips. "You should take it on the road."
"I am an Old One, Dean Winchester. I cannot be destroyed or stopped. I come when I am needed, bringing justice."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "You call this justice?" he asked tightly, pointing back at Sam. "He's lost everything— his parents, his girl, his future— and all he's trying to do is lead a normal life and help people. What did he do to deserve this?"
"He protected you," she said without hesitation.
And…yeah, that hurt. Because it was true. Dean faltered for the first time, not sure anymore what he was, what he wanted. If it was him or Sam, there was no contest, no hesitation. But leaving Sam was failing him, too. Sam needed him, at least a while longer.
Which meant Dean had nothing left to offer but the truth.
"Please," he whispered, curling his hand back around a still foot. "I can't leave him. Even if I deserve this, he doesn't. He still needs me. Please."
She floated, silently glowing, her gaze almost painful as it dissected him, raked and sifted through his soul. She was who she said, Dean could feel it, and the only victory that was possible here was one of mercy.
The light softened, her eyes pale and weak.
"I have misjudged. He offers his life for you; you offer yours for him. There is unseen worth here, deserving life. Perhaps…my time truly is past."
"Yeah, maybe," Dean said quietly. Sam was the one who was so sure about these things. Dean was only certain on one point now.
Another pause, then her chin came up. "I am past. I will go and not return. Thank you for your…insight."
"Wait!" His hand slipped off Sam as he surged forward a step. "If you really want to thank someone, can you…fix him?" He glanced back at Sam.
Coldly beautiful eyes stared at him, making him flinch, then looked past him to Sam's motionless form. A moment later, Dean fought down panic as she flowed past him, her white light hovering over the bed, suffusing Sam's chalky face with a glow.
Sam gasped, arching off the bed a little, and Dean lurched forward a step before stopping himself. His brother slowly relaxed back into the bedding, sighing in his sleep. Dean watched with wide eyes as the bloody wounds closed and faded, the lean body curling easily in their wake. Sam's chest rose and fell in deep, even motions.
She turned back to Dean. "I am finished." And then whatever that meant, she was gone, the light dying down to two plain incandescent bulbs under ugly motel lampshades.
Dean whirled in place, searching every corner of the room, but they were really alone. His gaze whipped back to Sam, and he was finally able to move, even though his body was shaking. Dean stumbled around the bed, dropped onto the mattress by Sam's shoulder.
Color now filled the pale face, and his pulse beat a slow and steady rhythm under Dean's fingers. Dean splayed a hand against warm, smooth skin, not even feeling the knit of a healing scar under his fingertips. Only the drying blood remained to testify to its source.
He almost slid off the bed as relief made his bones watery.
"Dude," he huffed a laugh, plowing a hand through his hair, then resting it on his brother's unruly mop. "Even when you're out for the count, you still manage to save my skin." Dean petted through the too-long strands, feeling his trembling calm with each stroke. "Show-off," he mumbled.
Sam slept on, oblivious to the tides he'd turned in one ancient being and one weary brother.
He was watching Dean, tucked up against the headboard, when Dean woke.
"Hey," Sam said quietly.
Dean rubbed his eyes, yawning, and tried to convince himself he couldn't use another twelve hours of sleep. "Hey. How're you feeling?"
"Considering there's a tub full of bloody clothing soaking in the bathroom, I'm thinking 'pretty good' is probably an understatement."
Dean snorted, rolling up to sit. He had to move the weapons bag to swing his legs over; he hadn't been about to get caught with his pants down again. "No pain, no weakness, nothing?"
"A little tired and sore, but…" Sam leaned forward, and the easy grace with which he moved momentarily wedged a lump in Dean's throat. He really was okay. "Dean…what happened last night?"
He chuckled dryly at that. "You really want to know what happened?" At Sam's timid nod, Dean shook his head. "You went head-to-head with an Old One, dimwit, that's what. She tore you up pretty good, too."
Sam blinked, looked down at his bare chest. Dean had made sure all the blood was cleaned up before he'd collapsed into bed, for both their sakes. "Okay…uh…so why aren't I—?"
"Dead?" Dean nodded. "Turns out she has a soft spot for people sacrificing themselves for other people. Go figure." He stood, reached warily for his bag. It felt like forever since he'd worn clean, dry clothes.
"Wait. She was… She came for you, right?"
Dean pointed back at him without turning. "Yahtzee."
Dean looked up at the ceiling, then back at his brother. "Look, I was on her naughty list, she came after me, you got in her way, she decided she was losing her touch and healed you, and she booked. End of story."
"Yeah, oh." They really needed to go clothes-shopping soon; most of what he had was stained or ripped. And too much of it was bloody.
Sam's voice had gotten very soft. "Dean—"
He tossed the fresh shirt down on his bed and turned around. "First Dad, now you— what part of 'it's my job to look after you' don't you get, Sam, huh?"
Sam pulled back in surprise. "Uh, the part where it doesn't go both ways?"
Dean sank down on the bed, watching Sam with hooded eyes. "The good she saw in me? The reason she didn't go all avenging angel on my ass? It was you, Sam. She saw you."
He could tell when Sam put the pieces together, recognized the start in his eyes. It was the understanding that followed that surprised him. "You think I would've been any different?"
Dean snorted. "You never would've made her list in the first place."
Sam shifted forward and snagged the shirt from next to Dean, pulling it on. But his eyes never budged from Dean's face. "Yeah, so maybe I don't do the James Dean act you do, but that doesn't mean I'm any better than you. If she would have looked, she'd have seen that. I know where the best part of me comes from, too, man. So did Dad."
Dean scoffed, willing away the prickle in his eyes. "Yeah. From him."
"Dad didn't raise me, Dean," Sam said softly.
Dean stared at him, chest tight.
Sam's mouth crooked into a small smile. "'Sides, I'm not the one who convinced an Old One to back off. You know how many times that's happened, Dean? Try, never in recorded history."
"I told you, women can't resist me," Dean quipped automatically, starting to breathe again.
"Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that." Sam's hand, his uninjured, unbloodied hand, thumped Dean's leg companionably, lingering for a moment. Even their brand of normalcy was hard to hang on to sometimes those days.
Dean muttered something suitably disparaging, then slid out from under Sam's grasp, clearing his throat. "Dibs on the shower. I think even you'll fit under this one, Sammy."
Sam groaned. "Man, I feel like I haven't showered in a week." He flopped back on the bed like a very overgrown puppy.
Like his baby brother. "Yeah, you smell like it, too," Dean muttered, mouth twitching. He collected his stuff, giving up on the shirt Sam had apparently claimed and finding another not-too-filthy one in its place.
Dean made it to the bathroom door, then stopped, remembering frightened, urgent hands pushing him out another doorway, trying so hard to keep him safe. Perhaps there really was a little bit of him in his brother.
"Thanks, Sammy," he said softly to the wooden door, knowing the words would carry to their intended recipient. Then he hurried inside before Sam could make a big deal out of it.
Maybe one of those phone numbers in his pocket had a hot geek friend.