This story takes place in Season 3, a few days before 'A Very Supernatural Christmas'.
Sam's asleep and Dean wants to wake him up but he doesn't do it. He doesn't do it even though he's bored beyond belief and his fingers are itching to close the gap and shake Sam's shoulder. His mouth opens and snaps closed again without once shouting mornin' sunshine into Sam's ear.
The sky is slate grey and heavy with fat, swollen clouds. It's probably going to snow soon. It feels cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. The road ahead is nothing but an endless white line blurring against black asphalt and Dean rubs at his eyes. Glancing sideways, he can see Sam's familiar profile with the rapidly changing backdrop flashing by the window behind him.
Sam's tired, worn out and gradually coming undone. A few hours catnapping, squashed into a car seat isn't ideal but it's better than nothing and nothing is exactly what Sam's been running on for the last few weeks.
Despite the lack of music (Sam's finally asleep), Dean's in a relatively good mood all things considered, for a man enjoying his last few months on demon death row anyway.
He's feeling generous, he might keep on driving until he finds a diner. One that has all the comforts of a Winchester life on the road.
Rubbery burger patties on limp buns, stained Formica tabletops, huge slices of cherry pie with a dollop of cold sugary mush masquerading as ice-cream and fucking outstandingly shitty coffee that could double as toilet cleaner. What more does a hunter need?
The scenery in Western Pennsylvania is pretty nondescript. Dean's seen it a few hundred times before and then some but every state holds something of a special place in his heart and Pennsylvania is no different.
In Cantertown, twenty miles east of where they are now, there's a pretty young thing named Claire. Dean crinkles his brow as he thinks, Claire has...ah, that's right, Claire has a tattoo of a butterfly on her belly. When Dean made her laugh, callused fingers tickling over feather soft peach colored skin, her stomach muscles would quiver and that butterfly would fly like a bird.
The diner Dean finds is precisely the kind of place where the food is greasy enough to give you gut rot. He's trying to work out whether they're too late to order from the breakfast menu or too early for the lunch menu when he sticks a finger in his mouth, sucks and then pokes it into Sam's ear.
"Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey. It's time to refuel, Sammy." Sam doesn't move and Dean frowns, giving his brother a light shove. "Are you going to order a salad? No meat, no dressing, no flavors whatsoever. Isn't that how you like it? Am I right or am I right?" Dean grins but Sam doesn't answer, totally out for the count.
Dean leans closer, leather upholstery creaking and flicks Sam's ear with a bigger smile turning up the corners of his mouth as he waits for Sam to start squawking. But there's nothing, not so much as a twitch or a whiny quit it Dean and Dean's amusement curdles into worry.
Worry which hitches up a notch when he roughly shakes Sam's shoulder and still gets no response. "Samantha? Sammy, Sam, Sam, Sammy? SAM?"
There. Sam's pulse is right there and Dean can breathe again. It's stuttering underneath Dean's fingertips like a misfiring engine but it's there. Thank god.
Dean curls his fingers around Sam's wrist and pulls so that his brother tips over, sagging against him instead of the cold window. Sam's head starts to flop back and Dean's jumps forward to wrap his arm around his brother, supporting Sam's neck and stopping the motion.
Dean's brain is short wiring, he can't think straight because this isn't happening to them (to Sam) in the heat of a hunt. There's no survival instinct pumping adrenalin through his veins. The only thing Dean can seethinkfeel is that Sam is hurt and there's no big bad monster of the week to slaughter, nothing for Dean to channel his rageworryfear into. Sam's just hurt and Dean feels like he's free falling.
Dean presses the back of his hand to Sam's forehead and notes the cold clamminess of Sam's skin.
Son of a bitch.
He tries to open Sam's jacket, confused when it seems reluctant to peel away. It's sticking to Sam's body because there, low on Sam's side, is blood. It's a fucking nasty wound, glistening metallic red oozing from jagged edges. The bruised skin around the injury is turning black in places, infection setting in and Dean spits out a curse, then a few more, but it doesn't make him feel any better afterwards.
Jesus, it's deep. Dean cautiously probes at the gash, tries to convince himself that he didn't just see a fleeting glimpse of ivory white rib bone.
Sam knows better than this, the fucking idiot.
Dean's hands flutter over the damage, over the good skin turning bad but he's a faith healer with no mojo. He can't fix this by himself.
He swings the car around and drives in the direction of the nearest town and more significantly, the nearest ER. He jerks the wheel so fast and hard, Sam's body joggles limply in the passenger seat and the answering screech of the Impala's tires can probably be heard from miles around.
He keeps having to swallow back panic, a huge bubble of hysteria-tinged laughter trying to crawl its way up his throat. This is serious, really serious. He didn't bring Sam back from the dead to lose him all over again.
Dean mumbles hoarsely, hold the fuck on Sam and feels like a hypocrite because he's doesn't think he can hold on. No matter how hard Dean tries, his grip simply keeps on slipping.
Since Dean made his demon deal, Sam's been slowly killing himself to find a way to stop it, which of course defeats the whole point of Dean making a deal in the first place but Sam always was an awkward kid.
Dean can't overlook the dark shadows under Sam's eyes, the exhaustion adding a grey cast to his skin and a tremor to his hands. Dean put that there, that lead weight pressing down on Sam's shoulders. He knows he did and there isn't anything he can do about it. Sam's alive. That's all that matters to Dean. Shame he didn't stop to think about what matters to Sam.
But Dean isn't going to beat himself up about it now, guilt won't change a goddamn thing. He's going to hell and he might be dragging Sam down with him but he's done everything he can to try and save his brother. He sleeps sounder for being in possession of that piece of knowledge.
Dean doesn't mollycoddle Sam as the days pass by, faster and faster, sand trickling through the gaps between their fingers. Although, sometimes, he does feel an overpowering urge to wrap Sam in cotton wool, shove him in the car and drive towards some spec on the distant horizon like a bat out of hell.
Instead Dean settles for playing booming music in the car, getting more ass than a Hollywood hooker, eating messily, farting frequently and generally doing as much as he can to be an annoying older brother.
It's the fleeting moments when Dean sees Sam's weary face break into a fond smile, that's exactly when he knows his efforts have been worthwhile.
Sam wants to research deal breakers, not hunt but that doesn't stop Dean from scanning newspapers on a daily basis and surfing the net whenever he can kick Sam's skinny butt off the laptop.
It's late evening on a Sunday when Bobby rings. Dean's drinking a take-out coffee with the lid popped off. The coffee is black and strong, exactly how Dean likes it. He's gargling a mouthful when his cell buzzes and he scrabbles to tug it free from his back pocket without spilling any of his precious java.
"Hey, Dean. Got a Rawhead case for you." Bobby's voice reverberates down the line, straight to the point as always. There's deep affection for the brothers in Bobby's heart but he likes to keep his caring side under prickly, grumpy old man, wraps. He'd never call to discuss something as simple as the weather unless it was hellfire raining down.
"Definitely a Rawhead?"
"I ever give you reason to start doubting my instincts, kid? I'd do the job myself but it's going to take me at least a day to get out there..."
"We'll do it." A Rawhead is the exact sort of back to basics hunt Dean can do standing on his head, with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back. A shotgun full of consecrated iron rounds usually does the job nicely but slitting the Rawhead's throat with the blade of a silver knife works equally as well. It's the messier option though considering jugular hits are usually gushers and Rawhead blood stains like a bitch.
Dean's as happy as a pig frolicking in shit at the prospect of sending another supernatural nasty screaming into the pit.
It takes longer to convince Sam.
Sam grunts when Dean slides the phone across the table. He's half-hidden behind the teetering pile of books he pilfered on long-term loan from an occult bookstore a few towns back. Only a shock of untidy hair is visible over the top of the tower. Dean doesn't need to look at the titles to know they're all demon chronicles. "Hey, Poindexter, Bobby's on the phone."
"Sam!" Dean's using Dad's authoritative tone and it gets Sam's attention quicker than a whole library chock full of books. The geek.
Sam's got a face like a bulldog licking piss from a thistle but he's got the phone pressed to his ear now, listening to Bobby, frown lines smoothing out and eyebrows rising higher with every sentence he devours. "Okay, will do, thanks Bobby." Sam clicks the phone shut and then his eyes dart to Dean's face. "A Rawhead?"
"Jackpot. What do you reckon, Sammy, you in?"
"Yeah," Sam starts packing his books away, moving with newfound purpose around the room.
"We're going right now?" Dean frowns, glancing forlornly at the pizza take-out menu they haven't yet ordered from.
"No time to lose."
Dean huffs and reaches for his car keys, he should have known that Bobby would be the one person capable of lighting a fire under Sam's stubborn backside.
On the face of it, the hunt shouldn't be complicated. In fact, it's Dean favourite kind. One which requires the wham, bam, thank you 'Mam style tactics which Dean loves and Sam never ceases to pick holes in.
"So we put on our swimming trunks, do the backstroke around the pond until we find the Rawhead then you can distract it while I shoot it in its fugly face."
"What? I got ketchup around my mouth?"
Sam's eyes mist for a second and Dean cringes internally. He can feel a hug coming on.
Sam's being doing this a lot lately, spacing out while on the verge of tears. It's the deal raising its ugly head again, the dark storm cloud that constantly hangs over them, blotting out the sun. No doubt Sam's burning himself out on a mix of dread and sheer exhaustion and Dean would be lying if he said he didn't feel the same way too some days.
Love you, little bro. Going to miss your big stupid face.
Sam shakes his head as though trying to clear the cobwebs, runs a hand through his hair. "Nah, it's nothing." He stares at the ground and when he looks up again, he's composed himself, his expression becoming the sober, way too sensible, super nerd Dean knows and loves. "Dean, don't go counting your chickens. This hunt might not be a cake walk..."
"Sam, it's a Rawhead. A stinky, butt-ugly, only its momma loves it, Rawhead. Those things are as thick as two short planks. It couldn't be simpler."
"We'll see...just, don't go charging in there like the cavalry. For a start, there's a good chance the pond will be frozen over."
"I'm offended by your lack of faith. I'm a professional hero." Dean cuffs Sam upside the head and laughs out loud when Sam yells and flails one long orang-utan arm out, trying to hit him back.
Two nuggies and several Chinese burns later, they pull into Wickersville, a dead-end burg to beat all dead-end burgs.
Dean's seen small towns like this one before, ones sucked dry and left for dead by the alluring pull of nearby big cities. The main street has little to offer besides a Dairy Queen whose decor has seen better days and a small convenience store with tinned goods in the window covered by a thin layer of dust. Dean's starving, he'd sell his left ball for a Subway.
"Whoa. Reckon we should hit the bars to celebrate when we're done with the hunt? This looks like a party town." Dean says. The only illusion of flashing neons is coming from a line of sorry-ass Christmas lights strung over the convenience store sign, feebly blinking on off on off at irregular intervals. Dean gapes a little at the sight of them because Christmas has gone and snuck up on him again this year.
Stepping out of the car Dean rubs his hands together, blowing a warm breath over them. It's fucking freezing—perhaps he should ask Santa for wool mittens and a scarf this Christmas...or a vacation to Hawaii.
Sam snorts and mutters something that sounds a lot like, "Not when you're on his naughty list."
Damn but Dean needs to stop thinking aloud.
They ask around and quickly get directions to Cooper's pond. Sam's puppy dog magic working wonders on the blue-rinse granny serving behind the counter in the convenience store.
Unfortunately the pond isn't in some out of the way place, it's a prime fishing spot and the banks are dotted with men decked out in rubber waders.
Shit. They're going to have to come back tonight. At least with those old dudes fishing it means they won't need to bring ice picks.
It's after midnight and pitch-black so neither of them can see for shit and the pond is murky even in broad daylight. They're dressed in their regular jeans and shirts because despite Dean's comment about swimming trunks, it's too fucking cold for baring their skin not to mention more dangerous. Rawheads have teeth which can give one hell of a love bite and claws sharp enough to severe a limb with a single swipe.
It happens in slow motion.
One minute, Sam's wading ahead of Dean bitching about how his pants are going to have shrunk and his shoes will be ruined. The next, Sam's disappeared, the water rippling in the spot where he was standing. The pond barely reaches chest height on Dean, even lower on Sam's tall frame but for a few nightmare seconds Dean imagines Sam silently drowning. Thick weed wrapped around his ankles, dragging him deeper and deeper down.
Dean rushes forward, splashing noisily through the pond just as Sam resurfaces. His face twisted in pain and screaming at Dean to look out at the same time as trying to heave air into starved lungs.
The Rawhead is moving below the water's surface, only just visible under the blanketing layer of algae. Matted hair covers its long white body, insipid eyes boring into Dean as it swims directly towards him.
Monster in the lake. Dean frowns, it's such a horror movie cliché, this son of a bitch deserves what its got coming.
Dean braces himself, loaded shotgun ready but like the big fish in that Steven Spielberg movie, the Rawhead surges up and out of the water with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth on display and Dean knows he's going to get a chunk bitten out of him before he can get a shot off.
In an eye blink, Sam's in front of him, giant body forming a human shield as he punches the Rawhead on the chin hard enough for Dean to hear its jawbone crack. The next thing Dean sees is Sam grappling with the Rawhead. Close range, hand-to-hand combat is totally not the way to tango with a Rawhead but Sam's in full-on Terminator mode, rolling around in the water Crocodile Dundee style. It makes Dean's stomach twist to see his brother like this. A blank, expressionless, killing machine in action.
Sam's trying to protect him, to save him. Dean's going to shove his foot so far up Sam's backside for pulling this shit he'll be able to tickle Sam's tonsils with his toes. It doesn't matter how much Sam can bench press now, how hard the kid's been working out in order to transform himself into Arnie, Dean is the big brother in this relationship.
"Now, Dean. NOW!" Sam shouts, one arm holding the Rawhead in a headlock while it thrashes, trying to tear Sam to shreds with vicious pointed claws.
Dean takes a deep breath and fires, praying to god his aim is good. There's an almighty splash and then silence.
"Sam?" Dean squints trying to make out shapes in the gloom surrounding him. He needs a moment to take everything in. He's still jittery, shaky and not just from the cold. "SAM!"
"I'm over here." Sam's laid out in the long grass by the edge of the pond, curled in on himself, breathing like he's winded.
Dean struggles over, climbing awkwardly out of the water. "What the fuck were you thinking? Jumping in front of me like that? Dammit!" He reaches down to help Sam to his feet but Sam rolls onto his side away from Dean, dragging himself up slowly, breath catching.
"I'm sorry, Dean."
Dean's teeth bite down into his bottom lip, anger softening slightly at the edges. "Are you hurt?"
"Dean. We don't have...We gotta go."
Sam's not lying either because Dean turns around and can see the unmistakable flashing lights of police sirens filtering through the trees, distant but getting closer. Someone must have reported hearing a gun shot. Dean doesn't have time to worry about the Rawhead's body, with luck that sucker will sink straight to the bottom of the pond. And if it doesn't, well, shit, let Animal Control deal with the petrified locals.
No more children are drowning in this pond, through supernatural means at any rate. Their work here is done.
When they're back in the car, mostly dry thanks to the scratchy towels in the Impala's trunk Sam jerks away from Dean's outstretched palm for a second time. Sam's quiet and subdued, probably lost to his fears of a hunt almost gone tits up and Dean wants nothing more than to put on some music loud enough to block out his own chaotic thoughts.
Dean starts the car while Sam tugs on his coat, burrowing down into the warm folds. Dean turns the heater up high and directs all the vents towards Sam.
If Sam notices the gesture, he doesn't mention it.
The hospital waiting room is cold, a bitter winter breeze blowing in from outside every time someone opens the automatic sliding doors and Dean seriously cannot remember the last time he felt warm. It's as though he has ice water running through his veins.
The minute he'd stumbled inside, trying to carry his unconscious brother and mostly failing, two EMTs had converged on them. They'd loaded Sam onto a gurney and quickly wheeled him away, checking his airway and shouting stats to each other in a code unanimous with hospitals that Dean partially understands thanks to a wealth of past experience.
Dean was left standing like a statue in his muddy boots and blood damp clothes, feeling dazed and useless and so fucking lost. It wasn't until a nurse directed him to a line of orange plastic chairs that Dean moved and even then the woman had to take his arm, reminding him to put one foot in front of the other in a stumbling semblance of a walk.
Now he's got nothing to do but wait, so that's exactly what he does.
Glancing distractedly around, Dean notices the receptionist is wearing a pair of furry reindeer antlers so it's probably way closer to Christmas than he had realized. Neither him nor Sam normally bother with Christmas gifts, it's not like they're going to start bawling over not getting the latest Transformer toy—or whatever the cool kids are into these days.
Whenever Christmas is just around the corner, Dean will usually go out to fetch lunch and buy them both a turkey roll. Tossing the paper bag containing Sam's sandwich at his brother's head and later, Sam will disappear off only to return with a coffee for Dean, black but laced with whisky and cinnamon.
Dean hates the taste of cinnamon but drinks it all the same. Trying to show a smidgen of festive goodwill by not upsetting Sam's girlie feelings.
"You look like you could use this." Dean glances up and sees the nurse from earlier holding out a Styrofoam cup towards him. He can smell the rich burnt coffee aroma and his eager hands move on instinct to take it. She's gone before Dean can summon up a thank you, disappearing down the corridor, back towards the nurses' station.
Dean didn't even bother to check out her ass, doesn't matter, he's not really interested anyway.
The cup of coffee sears his hands and tastes like heaven on a June day but it makes him think of Sam and every tiny scrap of comfort drifts away.
"Your brother's very sick, he's lost a lot of blood and the infection is starting to attack his major organs. I'm sorry but—"
"But?" Dean interrupts. The doctor's words hit him like a punch to the face, a knife to the gut, the awful snap of bone when a neck is broken.
"Is there anyone you want to call? Only, if you have family, I think it would be wise to ask them to come down here tonight."
To say goodbye. For a moment Dean actually considers it. Ringing Bobby, Becky and Zac, perhaps some of Sam's other Stanford buddies—but he doesn't have their phone numbers, let alone know their names.
"Can I sit with him?" Dean asks woodenly, a numb sensation working its way upwards from his toes.
"He's in the ICU on the fourth floor." The doctor smiles gently as though, any second now, Dean's going to start freaking out right in front of him and the truth of it is that Dean just fucking might. The doctor points towards the elevator and Dean stands up, sprints over towards it, shoes squeaking on the polished floor.
Dean doesn't need to run, getting their faster won't stop Sam from dying—but he can't make himself slow down.
There's no television in Sam's room only a monitor, beeping quietly. There's dappled shadows on the bed, black lines bisecting crisp white sheets. Two IVs have been set up, slim tubes twisting together feeding God only knows what into... Sam. Pale and sickly looking under the oxygen mask which is covering most of his face. His chest is moving, a mechanically slow up and down motion, the mask fogging over with every soft exhale.
It's chilly and Dean walks over to the window to check that it's pulled closed. He searches through his jacket, finds the few packets of salt he pocketed at the last roadside diner and lays down a wobbly line for good measure. Minuscule white crystals coating the sill, fallen stars, catching in the moonlight. He listens to the pattering of light rain as he draws a few protection sigils in the condensation on the window pane.
It's already too late and he doesn't know why he does it.
Dean takes a seat. This chair is padded, comfortable, designed for long vigils. Dean tugs off his boots so he can put his feet up on the bed. Socked toes pressed against the warmth of Sam's uninjured side.
"Why didn't you tell me you were hurt? Were you trying to slip away quietly, huh, was that your plan? So you wouldn't have to face being left alone?" Dean's anger is hot enough to burn. "You were going to let me just find you in the car, dead. Well, thanks for nothing, Sam."
He wants to scream at Sam, throw some shit around, get drunk and beat the crap out of some schmuck in a rundown bar but Dean's nose is stuffed up and his eyes are stinging.
He settles for crying instead.
The crossroads Dean finds is ten miles outside of town. He's driven all the way on auto pilot, can barely remember leaving the hospital let alone getting into his car. He digs at the stony earth with bare hands before laying the box of miscellany required for the summoning ritual inside the small shallow hole and hurriedly covers it over with dirt again.
He waits, paces, waits some more. "COME ON ALREADY!"
"Dean, why, aren't you the early bird. I haven't consulted my calendar lately but I'm pretty sure you have some time left on the clock. Are you cashing in your chips already?"
It's her, the same demon as the night he made the deal—same possessed woman's body too. Dark wavy hair and wicked red eyes. The scent of expensive perfume mingling with sulfur.
"I'm not here for that."
"I know why you're here, Dean. But it's a deal that's already been done."
"My deal was for Sam to live. He's going to...He's dying."
"Not my problem, sugar."
"Please? You can take me right now...just please."
"You ever wonder how we're going to officially welcome you to hell?"
"By braiding my hair? I really don't give a shit. I want you to..."
"We're going to tear out your ribs, Dean, one by one. Personally, I think you'd look good impaled on a spike with your dick cut off."
"Well, aren't you a fruity bitch." Dean digs the fingernails of his right hand into his palm. He closes his eyes briefly, works at slowing his heart rate. "Are you going to help Sam?"
The demon shakes her head and purses ruby red lips, "I've been meaning to thank you for making your deal, I made employee of the month for that proud accomplishment." She walks closer, lays her hand on Dean's shoulder and puts her mouth against his ear. "Did you never stop to think that you were giving us exactly what we wanted? You down there and Sam up here? That we played you..."
"Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you."
"Oh, Dean but I want you to know how you were played because I can tell you this much, it was beautiful. Like a grand orchestra of harps." The demon starts to sing a merry tune under her breath, something melodic and timeless.
"Wait," Dean says suddenly, dulled defeated eyes sparking to life. "You said Sam up here?"
"Sam's going to die. If you let that happen, isn't your boss going to be pissed with you?" Dean smiles crookedly, he can see the demon starting to squirm. "You just couldn't wait to rub it in could you? But it looks to me like you haven't got much of a choice here. So, are you going to uphold your part of the deal? My brother is meant to live."
"You think you're so smart. When you're dead we're going to awaken that which is sleeping inside of Sam. That which is desperate, dark, evil...we're going to bring him home. We're going to bring our brother home."
Dean keeps his face blank although he's screaming on the inside. "I can kill you right now," Dean reaches behind his back and pulls the colt, "Sam will die, but at least you fuckers won't get your claws into him."
The demon startles, shuffles forward with her hands outstretched, all complacency gone. "Wait! I'll do it. Consider it part of the fine print of your original contract. No kiss necessary." She closes her eyes and then, opens her mouth. Black demonic smoke spirals out over her tongue, it plumes and gathers in a dangerous vortex above Dean's head. Dean can't help staring, he never ceases to be hypnotised by the display.
Eye of the storm, Sammy.
When Dean gets back to the hospital it's morning, the same doctor from the day before takes him to one side. Dean's exhausted and his simmering anger is giving him a pounding headache. He hears snatches of words, ones like recovery and remarkable and he knows the crossroads demon kept her word. For better or for worse, Sam's going to live.
Dean's legs feel weak but somehow, they carry him to the elevator and all the way to Sam's room.
The blinds are closed and it's still dark inside Sam's room. Dean's held out for as long as he can take, he leans over and pulls the cord that switches on the lamp above the bed. Sam's brow instantly creases, eyes struggling open and then slamming closed against the light. The artificial sallow yellow only serves to make Sam look frail and Dean instantly feels shitty even though the monitor is unplugged now, pushed back against the wall and the oxygen mask is gone too.
Sam coughs dryly and Dean fetches a glass of water, holding the straw to Sam's lips while Sam takes a few careful sips. Dean's pissed off but he's not heartless.
"When were you planning on telling me the Rawhead bit you?"
"Yes, it fucking does. It does matter, Sam. It does. You fucking matter." Sam closes his eyes, shutting Dean out but Dean's having none of it, he grips Sam's arm in a tight pinch. "Rawhead bites can be lethal when you don't get them treated. Were you trying to kill yourself?"
"No...Dean, No. I didn't think, didn't realize it was that bad, I promise. I've—I've been distracted lately." Sam says, voice cracking.
Dean breathes through his nose. In out, in out. He reaches under the blanket, finds Sam's hand and squeezes hard but not hard enough. He wants to feel Sam's bones grind together, he wants to force Sam to listen and understand. "You're my brother. Mine. I know I got the handsome gene but we're family and you are stronger than this. You should know by now that Winchesters don't go quietly, Sammy. We're kick-ass hunters and fierce motherfuckers." Dean's getting through, he can see the evidence of it in Sam's shining eyes. He edges his chair closer to the bed. "We're going to be okay."
The fact that Dean really means you and not we goes unspoken. In a few more months there will be no we but Sam doesn't need that cheerful reminder right now.
"It'll be Christmas soon," Dean says, a lame filler for the awkward silence.
Sam looks surprised, then resigned. "Fuck, guess I'd better start saving my pocket money if I'm going to buy you a Hershey bar."
Dean grins, Sam's joking of course but Dean loves Hershey bars and Sam knows that. "I didn't realize it was so close, guess I've been distracted lately too." Dean stares down at his hands but out of the corner of his eye, he sees the way Sam nods. "How about I go see that cute nurse, get you signed out? We could hit the road, spend Christmas with Bobby. C'mon dude, what do you say?"
"I'm going to heal up fine. I don't need to take shore leave, Dean."
Dean licks his lips slowly; this is harder than he imagined it would be. The walls he built to protect himself are thick and hard to climb. "I wasn't saying that you did. It's just, I think I need—I want to take some time out."
I want to eat home cooked food until I'm ready to pop, I want to sit on my ass throwing handfuls of potato chips at bad movies on the TV, I want to fall asleep wearing one of those stupid paper crowns, I want... to be your brother while I still can.
Sam looks chastised and as though he's having trouble processing the words he never thought he'd hear his big brother say but Dean's too shamefaced to notice. "Guess you're right," Sam mumbles softly, "Who is Bobby going to pull a cracker with if we don't go?"
Dean's grin grows until creases crinkle the skin around his eyes.
Sam starts to match his smile and something bursts inside Dean's chest. It's probably love, not that Dean would ever admit to it. But whatever it is, it's warm.
They've still got time, they've still got each-other and Dean feels invincible in the moment.
The battle's not lost yet.