Title: The Sky Like a Bruise
Author: Maychorian
Characters: Dean, Sam, OCs, mentions of John
Category: Gen, Action/Adventure, H/C, Angst
Rating: PG13
Warning: Language.
Spoilers: Set in S2 sometime.
Summary: Twister's comin', boy. Better find shelter, hunker down with your family and your arms wrapped around you, and just pray it don't take anything you can't replace.
Word Count: 6389
Author's Note: This is my Sweet Charity fic for sparky_joe, ten months late and a dollar short. I kind of have a lot to say about it so I blathered in a separate post (on LJ), but I hope it means half as much to you, gentle reader, as it does to me and her.

The Sky Like a Bruise

Sam and Dean Winchester grew up in the Midwest. Well, close enough—they had probably spent more time in corn country than anywhere else. They knew the rhythms of small towns in the country, the cycle of planting and harvest, when to expect a bunch of grizzled, weather-beaten men in the diners wearing their John Deere hats and talking about the weather, and when such places would be practically deserted, everyone out fertilizing or irrigating or standing by their fields, just worrying. They knew the sights and smells and sounds of the farmland, from the red dust of Oklahoma to the black loam of Illinois, from the lakes of Minnesota to the creeks of Tennessee, from the Amish fields of Pennsylvania stretched like a rumpled quilt to the flats of Texas where you could stand on a chair and see for miles.

Every Midwest town had a tornado warning siren, and most of them were tested at a certain time every week—Wednesday at noon, perhaps, or Friday at five o'clock. When that eerie, two-tone wail began to rise Dean and Sam couldn't help but look up from whatever they were doing, interviewing a witness or eating at a diner or digging through musty books and worn newsleaf at a library. That high, mournful cry dug right down to the bone, sending a shudder through each, a crackle of old memories rising to the surface.

This siren wasn't rising on an hour of a half-hour. This siren was crying on a dusty evening at 6:17 PM, and Sam and Dean were in the middle of a hunt. Even as they ran up the stairs of the abandoned house, amped-up taser and fire axe in hand, they glanced up and tilted their heads to listen to the wail.

Twister's a-comin'. Better get to the cellar, lock it shut, huddle there with your family and your arms wrapped around you, and just pray it passes over without taking something you can't replace.

They were on the stairs, but they weren't heading for the cellar, and this was no refuge. No way to know if there even was a cellar in this house—they had just torn inside and headed for the noises, hoping they weren't too late. No time for scouting, for planning, for taking precautions. They just ran.

The stairs creaked beneath their heavy feet in quick succession. The monster ahead of them hidden in the dark growled and slavered like the wild animal it was, and above those low notes Dean could hear the high sobbing of frightened children. Fucking rawheads. Fucking, fucking monsters. It had to be the kids, didn't it, it just had to be the kids.

Sam carried the taser, had refused to let Dean touch it and got pretty intense about it when Dean tried. He landed on the warped floor of the second-story hallway on both feet and gestured into a side room with a broken door jamb. It sounded like the kids' cries were coming from there, the rawhead still up ahead somewhere. "Check it out, Dean. I'll get the other one."

The only way Sam would let them even think about doing this hunt was if Dean agreed to let him take point, so he didn't have a choice. Dean nodded and followed the sounds of the children, hefting the axe in his right hand, holding it cocked at waist height just in case. Wind whistled around the house, shaking it on its foundations, and somewhere a shutter or a door was banging wildly, a sharp, staccato sound like gunshots fired one after another, bang bang bang bang bang bang bang.

The kids, two little girls maybe six and seven years old, had run instinctively for the only light available—a window in the middle of the wall that now admitted only a trace of fading sunlight outside. They huddled beneath it, gripping each other with small fingers, faces wet with tears and drawn with terror. It was most likely the light that had spared their lives till now—fucking rawheads didn't like the sun—but the light was almost gone and the wind was high, shaking the trees outside the window, and the sky around the lowering sun was whipped into chaos, bruised purple and yellow.

At Dean's appearance the girls jerked in alarm, eyes immediately swinging to the axe in his hand. "Whoa, hey, it's okay." Dean spread his arms and tried to look as harmless as possible, aware of the beating urgency in the back of his head, the cry of the siren outside. They needed to get out of here five minutes ago, and damn it, this was why Sam usually did the civilian thing. "I'm here to help you, don't be scared!"

They clutched each other tighter, and the littler one burst into tears. Okay, so maybe yelling at them hadn't been the best idea. Dean huffed out a breath at losing his weapon, but he bent down and leaned the axe next to the door, then turned back to the girls with his hands open and empty. "It's okay, really. See? C'mon, you gotta get away from that window. You hear that wind? That's a bad wind."

As if to corroborate this, the room shook even more violently, the creaking of worn-out wood almost as loud as the siren outside and just as terrifying. Dean felt the floor tremble beneath his feet and spread his stance to compensate, taking a slow step forward. The little girls cried harder but started to push to their feet, more frightened of the storm than they were of Dean.

"Okay, okay, that's good," Dean said, moving forward and crouching a bit, arms outstretched. "Keep coming, keep coming. It's okay."

All right, so the sound of the rawhead still roaring in the background might be undercutting his efforts a little bit. C'mon, Sammy, kill that fucker and let's get out of here before the storm hits.

The girls crept toward him, still uneasy, until they reached some kind of tipping point and came to Dean in one frantic rush. He met them in the middle of the room and swept his arms around them, pivoting quickly to put himself between them and that window. He could hear the loose panes of glass rattling in the frame, buffeted by the differing air pressure inside and outside the house. The sound was almost as chilling as the ugly sky and thrashing trees outside.

Dean herded them toward the door, sweeping the girls in front of him with careful pats on their shoulders and backs, not trying to grab them for fear of more screaming. Finally, finally, he heard the loud, wicked brzzzaaap of the taser going off, barely audible over the storm and the siren and crying, heard the thump of rawhead hitting floorboards. That's my boy,he thought with a brief, hot burst of pride.

The girls were moving a little more quickly now, open space in front of them, a man they distrusted behind them. Then Sam appeared in the doorway, panting and wild-eyed. "Dean, the siren..."

"I know, I know," Dean snapped. "They're scared, Sammy, help me out!"

Sammy crouched down and beckoned to the girls with open arms, and they ran for him. Of course. Dean straightened up, relieved and annoyed in equal measure.

And then the window exploded inward in a shower of glass. Glass and something big, hard, rough, and dark green. It slammed into Dean's chest and drove him backward into the wall, knocking the air from his chest and banging his head into crumbling plaster, scratching up his forearms as he threw them instinctively in front of his face. Dean crumpled, suddenly and bafflingly trapped. He gasped, dazed and winded.

"Dean!" Sam called over the big green obstacle that had appeared in the room, shrill with alarm. The girls sobbed and sobbed. "Dean! Dean!"

Dean choked for air. He tried to call back and couldn't manage it, chest aching and empty. He sucked in hard, fighting for oxygen, and pushed his arms forward against the prickly thing pinning him to the wall. It was... Goddamn, it was a tree, an evergreen tree, must've crashed in the window at just the right second to trap him and cut him off from his brother. He felt broken and splintered branches pressing against his torso and legs, as inescapable as the force of a demon. Dammit, his jeans were gonna get all sticky. Tree sap was a bitch to wash out.

"M'okay, Sam," he wheezed, then again, louder. "S'okay! Get 'em to shelter before it hits!"

Brief silence from Sam, loud even in the wind and the siren and the crying. Then a frantic rush of words. "Dean, no! Your axe is here, I can chop you free, I can get you out, the kids can run down the stairs on their own, Dean, Dean, there's a twister coming..."

"Sam!" Dean yelled as loud as he could. "They're little! They don't know where to go to be safe! Take care of them!"


"Dammit, Sam! You go! Go! The faster you go the faster you come back! Go now!"

The siren cried in the silence, high and warning.

The wind had died.

Even the kids stopped crying. They were all holding their breath.

"Dean..." Sam said, voice breaking. "I'm coming back, man. You gotta hold on till I get back."

Dean spat out pine needles. "I'll be waiting."

He listened to their footsteps pounding down the stairs and waited for whatever happened next.


Sam held the smaller girl on his hip with his arm around her waist, the other child's hand clasped tight in his as they raced down the stairs. His mind was full of nothing but the mass of dark green and brown that filled that room, the broken window and his brother hidden from his sight. Dean just had to be the martyr, though, had to send them away despite the danger to himself, and God, Sam wanted to stay, he wanted to drop these children and run back up the steps and get Dean the hell out of Dodge before the tornado hit.

The air was still and ominous.

The moment their feet hit the relatively stable surface of the ground floor, Sam scooped up the other little girl in his arms and scrambled for the door, turning at the last moment to hit it with his back as he continued moving. If they hadn't left it ajar on the way in, he was sure he would have burst the hinges now. As it was the door swung open with a shriek of rust, letting him through. He spun back around on the porch, awkward with the weight of two girls in his arms, and clambered down the steps with his long legs eating up the ground.

The Impala was parked crookedly along the street, one wheel up on the sidewalk, the trunk still open. They had tracked the rawhead here after hearing about the latest disappearances, barely had time to grab their equipment before they heard the crying in the house and rushed inside. Now, on the sidewalk, Sam paused to catch his breath and figure out what to do, where to go. The older girl squirmed, so he let her down, and her small hands wrapped around his forearm and hung on. The smaller girl clung to his neck and sniffled.

They were on the outskirts of town, a former mining community in western Kentucky, at the end of a street full of abandoned and ruined houses. The town had been on the decline for decades, accelerated by the area's general turn for the worse. Sam spun, looking for a light on, a door open, anything to offer shelter. Leaves and pieces of torn paper floated in the air all around, not whipped by a wind, just drifting. The air here was weirdly calm, especially after the terrible winds of earlier which had been strong enough to rip off the top of a tree and fling it at his brother.

The air was still, and yet... Sam heard a roaring, rumbling rush of sound, like a freight train passing close by, but he knew there were no tracks down here, not for miles. Or maybe something like a waterfall, massive quantities of water pouring over a cliff to crash heedless into the rocks below, but that didn't make sense, because...

Sam's brain halted its mad babble as his frantic spinning brought him facing west, and he looked up and saw what loomed above the town beyond a single line of buildings and a thin screen of trees.

A column of black dominated the sky, thick and broad and only slightly thinner where it touched the ground, reaching up into the heavens where it widened from horizon to horizon. Sam thought of demon smoke vomiting from a possessed human's mouth and felt the bile rise in his throat. This would be the most enormous demon in all of creation.

It wasn't, though. It wasn't even supernatural. It was a tornado, and it was devouring earth and sky and everything in between.

"We have to go," Sam whispered. Then louder, "We have to go, we have to go! Come on!"

He picked up the other little girl again and ran.


Dean shoved again at the mass of branches and needles pinning him to the wall and couldn't shift it. He was dizzy and shaky, hands trembling and head spinning from the knock he had taken. Above the rush of blood in his ears, though, he could hear the eerie calm outside.

The shattered window was just to his left. Dean could turn his head enough to look out it at an oblique angle, see the trees no longer thrashing in the wind. They were shifting, yeah, but gently, an oddly rocking swaying motion, like seaweed being tugged by conflicting currents as waves moved in and out from the land. Through the whirring and roaring in his head, he was pretty sure that wasn't a good sign.

He needed a basement, or a closet, or a cellar, or a bunker. He needed to not be on the second floor of a creaking old house in a God damn fucking tornado.

The best he could do was push along the wall to the corner, where the bulk of the tree hemmed him in but didn't smash him into the crumbling plaster. Once there, though, all he could really do was surrender to old, old memories and curl up against the wall, folding his arms over his bleeding head, and wish that his dad was there to make everything better. But Dad was never going to make anything better ever again.

When Dean was maybe eleven or twelve, they had been driving through Nebraska on their way to a job in Missouri. They found themselves driving under a storm, into high winds that buffeted the Impala but couldn't rock her stately frame. The sky looked like a bruise, mottled dark yellow and deep purple, and Dad's forehead wrinkled up. He watched the sky as often as he watched the road, constantly turning his head to look all around them at the surrounding plains stretching to dark horizons. Dean sat in shotgun, feeling important and useful as he watched the road with his dad, and Sammy lay on his back in the backseat, humming some song he had learned from his teacher at his last school and playing with army men while he waited for the trip to be over.

Suddenly Dad pulled the car over on the shoulder in a spray of dirty gravel. "What is it?" Dean asked, leaning forward with his hands against the warm, grumbling dash, peering out the window with his head held at the precise angle of his father's. "What are you looking at?"

Dad beckoned wordlessly with one hand and stepped out of the car, sturdy heels thumping on broken pavement. Dean scrambled to follow, scooting across the seat to the driver's door and standing beside his dad. John Winchester held one hand to his forehead and pointed the other toward a patch of dark, whirling sky maybe a quarter mile away over the eastern field. "You see that, son? You see that thing?"

It looked alive, a pointed broad cone of cloud poking down out of the storm, questing like a finger thrust through a hole, like a writhing snake peeking its head above ground to watch for prey. The tip of it turned, lengthened, retreated, again and again, sometimes receding into the sky only to push downward again, farther than before. Below, a column of dirt from a half-planted field rose to meet it, fell again, rose once more, like a stalagmite in a cave building before their eyes.

"What is that, Dad?" Dean asked, breathless with awe and a sudden, gripping terror in his chest.

The storm had come alive and it was coming to the ground and it was close, so close, it could turn at any moment and devour them, Sammy, Dad, Impala and all.

"That's a twister, Dean. That's a twister."

Dad had left the car running. They got back in, and Dean sat forward in his seat, leaning on the dash with his head tucked down in the corner of the Impala so he could look out the front and the side with only a flick of his eyes. Sammy finally noticed the tension and sat up in the backseat, asking what was going on, and Dad answered in a single terse sentence. They drove quickly along the country road and Dean watched the tornado form between sky and field, the funnel above finally touching down into the column rising below, and then it thickened and thickened into a spinning giant of dirt and debris.

He could hear the numbing roar of it through the thin pane of glass and frame of metal, a deep concussive rattling purr. It made him think of the house in Indiana that was only a few yards from the railroad tracks, where they felt the passing of every freight train through the floor and in the walls. Sammy had had a nightmare once about wolves in the walls, growling and slavering and running, running, from one end of the house to the other, looking for a hole to burst out of. He avoided the air vents for the rest of the time they lived in that house, which wasn't that long, anyway.

Now Sammy slid along the backseat until he was right behind Dean, pulling himself half over the seat to watch with him as the tornado wailed and whirled and whistled in the field beside them. Dean leaned back in his seat, so that their heads rested cheek to cheek, and he could feel his little brother trembling. Dad bent over the steering wheel, shoulders tense, and the Impala growled around them like a bear, standing between them and the tornado only half a field away. Dean could not remember ever feeling less safe in his life.

The next farmhouse was maybe half a mile down the road, and a woman stood in the front yard, waving to them with both arms in big broad sweeps. Her floral dress and bright pink apron stood out in the gray like a warning beacon, and Dad pulled the car into the gravel drive and got out, pulling Dean and Sam behind him like paper toys in the wake of a speedboat. The woman pushed fly-away hair back from her face with a work-wrinkled hand and pointed toward the barn, already turning to lead the way. "Storm cellar. Time's wastin'."

They hustled behind her, Sam and Dean holding hands, Dean instinctively wrapping his other hand in his father's sleeve. He stared at the woman's brown hairbun bobbing along at the back of her neck, leading the way like a bouncing ball in a sing-along cartoon. The tornado was loud, loud, loud.

A few kids waited in the storm cellar, two boys and a girl, older than Dean down to younger than Sam. They stared with wide pale eyes as their mother tromped down the dusty wooden stairs with Winchesters behind her. But Dad paused at the top, gently loosened Dean's hand from his sleeve and nudged him on. "Go on down, boys, I'll be just a moment."

Dean was in such a hurry to get down under the solid concrete foundation of the barn that he didn't realize Dad wasn't with him until he got a few steps down. Then he turned abruptly on the steps, making Sammy yelp and grab his waist to keep from falling. Dean looked back up the stairs, saw his father standing at the top, looking out at the sky. He stood in profile steady and watchful, strong and still as a statue against the bruised sky. He looked immovable, sure and solid as a mountain, surrounded by storm but unchanged by it, and his eyes were hard and unafraid. Dean's breath caught in his throat, but somehow he could not believe that anything could harm his dad, not when he looked like that. Untouchable. Hero.

Dad turned and looked down at Dean, gave him a small, fearless smile. "I'm gonna keep an eye on it. Go on, get down there. Look after your brother."

Dean hesitated for a second, but Dad's eyes hardened a little and he flicked his wrist. Dean scampered down the steps, pulling Sammy with him. Above, he heard Dad closing the heavy doors, muffling the sound of the wind.

Absurdly, he was not afraid for his father, standing out there exposed to the elements. Instead he felt safe, completely covered and protected, knowing that John Winchester stood between him and the tornado. Not even a twister could beat his dad, of that Dean was sure.

But now Dean was alone—in a house that had been a rawhead's den, no less—and Dad wasn't here to protect him. Dad wasn't anywhere. Dad was dead. He was never coming back.

Dean sighed and leaned his head into the wall, welcoming the slight pain of pressure on his aching scalp. He drifted, rocked in the cradle of the storm, and let it all just...slip away.


Fortunately, it wasn't hard for a young man carrying two little girls in his arms running down a street with a tornado at his back to find shelter. As soon as Sam turned into a more occupied street, a middle-aged man ran onto a porch to wave at him, calling him over, and Sam found himself up the stairs and into a basement before he had time even to have a grateful thought for the generosity of strangers.

The basement was one of those nice furnished ones, carpeted and painted, an entertainment center on one wall and comfortable furniture everywhere. A multi-generational family apparently shared the house, a grandma, a middle-aged couple, two teenage boys, all staring at Sam and the little girls clinging to him with curiosity and sympathy. The man who had brought them in waved toward a couch, inviting Sam to make himself at home.

The woman, evidently his wife, leaned forward, peering at the two little girls. "Is that...Sarah? Jessy? There was an Amber Alert about them a few hours ago, I saw it on the news."

Sam shook his head in agitation, glancing down at the girls. The older one had wrapped both arms around his waist and the other he still held in his arm, propped against his hip. Neither seemed willing to let go of him anytime soon. "I don't know their names... My brother and I were driving by this house, and we heard noises and ran inside, and found them there, and with the storm... A tree fell through a window and trapped my brother. I have to go back for him."

The woman clucked her tongue in sympathy and moved forward to kneel next to the older girl, speaking to her kindly. "Sarah? Are you okay? My name is Martha. Why don't you come sit with me?"

While she worked on the girls, her husband clapped Sam's shoulder. "You can't go back out there, son. There's no telling where that twister will go. It's not safe."

Sam fidgeted while the family alternately fussed over and admonished him, but when the grandma broke out the cookies, they finally made progress with the little girls. Sarah started babbling about the monster who had grabbed her and her sister from their back yard, mouth full of crumbs and chocolate chips, tears still running down her cheeks in a quiet stream. The family clucked and shook their heads, even the disinterested teenage boys watching with wide eyes.

Little Jessy still wouldn't let go of Sam's hand, but the family managed to nudge him over to the couch, where Jessy crawled into his lap and buried her hands in the front of his shirt. After a long time her sister got her to eat a cookie, dropping dry white crumbs all over Sam's shirt and pants. He shook his head and said he wasn't hungry, mouth dry, stomach twisting.

The dad of the family, Thomas, kept calling him "son". It made Sam want to scream.

He remembered another tornado, another family, remembered waiting in a cellar for the storm to pass. That cellar had been dirt and concrete, lined with rough plywood shelves stacked with canning equipment, tractor parts, vitamins for livestock. That family had been quiet and tense, waiting to see whether the twister would destroy everything they owned or pass them over like the hand of God over the Israelites in Egypt. The wait had been cold and uncomfortable and full of fear.

But Dean had been sitting next to him, a length of warmth pressed all along Sam's side, and he had known that nothing bad would happen to him. Now he had no such assurance. Now he didn't have Dean, or his father, or anything but a sore heart and aching knees.

"I have to go back for my brother. I have to go back for Dean," he said again, didn't know how many times he'd already made the same declaration, and again they hushed him, again the girls clung to him, and again he was trapped, helpless, unable to move.

That scream was starting to sound like more and more of a good idea.


"Dean, you have to stay awake. Keep your eyes open. Stay down and keep your gun out."

"Dad, I..."

A confusion of green and brown. He's leaning against something rough, bumpy, and damp. A log. Green foliage surrounds him on all sides. It's dark. He hurts.

"I know you're not feeling like yourself. That's what we call a concussion." Dad's voice is wry, and his hand on Dean's shoulder is firm. "You have stay alert. I'm gonna take it out, but you gotta buck up, soldier. Keep your eyes open."

"Dad. Where...?"

A rough hand claps his cheek, thumbs at his eyes to prop them open. Dad's voice is stern. "Dean. I can't protect you and go after that thing at the same time. I need you to be a man. Can you do it?"

Dean wants to cowboy up, he does, disappointing his father is the last thing he ever wants, but Dad's voice is fading in and out and his head just hurts so much... "Dad, I can't, I'm sorry, you... You hafta stay, I can't, I..."

To his horror, he starts to cry. It's stupidly loud and messy and completely beyond his control. He sounds like a mewling cub separated from its mother, crying without hope of reunion. He brings his shaking hands up to his face, trying to hide, but he can't stop the noise, the tears. "'M sorry, 'm sorry..."

Dad sighs, loud and exasperated, but his hand on Dean's face is gentle. He slots himself in next to Dean, sitting with his back against the log. One arm slings around Dean's shoulders, and the other holds his shotgun. "'Sokay, kid. It's the concussion. Maybe it will come back around this way and I can get it from here."

"I'm sorry, Dad, I just..."

"Shh." Dad drags him closer, muffling Dean's noise against his shoulder. "It's okay. I'll stay with you."

I'll stay with you.

Dad's never coming back again.


The tornado lifted maybe twenty minutes after Sam found shelter with this family, but it felt like an eternity. As soon as the voice on the radio offered an all-clear, as soon as the tornado siren outside finally wound down, Sam headed for the stairs. Martha and Grandma Sophie had managed to coax the little girls off him at last, and Thomas and his sons came with Sam. Strangers at his back when all he wanted was his family, but at least they were something. He set off down the street at a brisk pace, soon turning into a jog, and they kept up with him. All he could hear was his own fearful pants echoing in his ears.

On this street the damage looked light—shingles and tiles torn from roofs and patios, warped siding, a few downed tree branches. Everything was standing, though, not even a roof missing from a shed. When Sam turned the corner into the street where he'd left Dean, though, he stumbled to a halt, breath shuddering to a ragged stop, painful in his chest.

The house where they'd found the girls, killed the rawhead, the house where he'd left his brother to die was half-collapsed. It sagged on its side in a jumble of wood and brick, like a Lincoln Log house kicked by a petulant toddler.

Oh, God. Dean.

After a moment of horrified shock, Sam ran.

The second story of the house had...it had slid down into the first, it looked like. Sam halted again by the rubble, hands digging into his hair, mind blank. He didn't know what to do. "My brother's in there," he babbled. "He was stuck, he couldn't get out, a tree fell in the window, there wasn't time, the two girls, he said I had to save them, I don't know, what will I do without him?"

"Sam..." A voice tried to get his attention but it wasn't Dean's and it wasn't Dad's and Sam didn't care. He was already moving to the corner of the house where he'd last seen his brother, reaching out to drag at a fallen timber with his bare hands because Dean still had the axe and he didn't have time to get a shovel from the trunk even if it would be of any help—he had to get to Dean now.

A hand landed on Sam's shoulder, and he jerked, instinctively turning on his heel to slap it away. It was the younger teenage kid, looking startled now and backing away with both hands raised in surrender. "Hey, man, keep cool. Dad's calling the fire department right now, and they'll send a truck and we'll get your brother out, okay?"

Sam cast a glance over, saw Thomas with a cell phone to his ear, talking seriously with one arm folded over his chest. Even in rural Kentucky, cells were damn near ubiquitous. Sam drew in a shaky breath, in no mood to be grateful for modern technology. He had to get to Dean.

"Let us help you, okay?" the kid said, eyes big and earnest. "You saved those two girls from a pedo or a monster or whatever—let us help you save your brother."

The Winchesters had never been good at accepting help from others. That was their job, their mission, riding in and saving the innocent, slaying the monster, then riding out again as soon as they could. Sam's vision blurred and shook, skating over the two teenage boys and their father, standing there offering to help him. Their hands were open and their faces were earnest. But Winchesters didn't take help from strangers.

Except in tornado weather. Sam craned his head back to look at the sky, still chased with thready clouds, gray and overcast, but no longer dominated by a whirling black cone of destruction. In tornado weather, Winchesters took help from strangers.

"Okay," he said. "Okay. Help me get my brother."


They found the rawhead first, a stinking mass of monstrous flesh crushed under wood and stone where the upper story's hallway used to be, where it had fallen through to the ground floor in a broken pile. The rescuers recoiled from the sight, pressing hands to noses and screwing up their eyes, and Thomas and his sons looked at Sam with a new respect. "It really was a monster."

Sam just nodded. "C'mon...the bedroom must be over here."

The fire truck had come. More fire axes, now, strong arms and sinewed hands working alongside Sam, pulling up splintered boards and broken bricks and moving them aside. And a father and two sons, too, a family yet unbroken. They were with him, too. Sam ached for what he and Dean had lost, what they had never had. But if he could just get to Dean, if at least the two of them could be together, then that would still be something like a family.

Finally, a shout, a bundle of dark green tucked up next to the chimney, still standing. A dozen hands were there in an instant, lifting and pulling, and Sam charged down into the slight recess formed by taking away the tree without a second thought. Dean. Dean lay curled up in a still somewhat-intact corner. He'd been covered by the interlocking mess of evergreen branches when the house collapsed, protected from falling debris. His hands and face were covered with scratches from the needles, blood trailed from his hairline to cover one cheek in a gory mask, and his eyes were closed.

But he was breathing. He was breathing.

"Dean." Sam crowded down in the corner next to his brother, grabbing his hand and kneeling in crumbling plaster and warped floorboards. As close as he could get, he crouched there, both knees pressing Dean's side, the warm, yielding flesh still trembling with life. He didn't dare try to shake him or move him, and he could hear the rescuers behind him making noises he didn't bother to try to comprehend, knew the EMTs would be coming soon with backboard and braces and everything else. The ambulance had come soon after the fire truck, standing by ready to carry life or death. For this moment, though, it was just Dean and Sam, as it should be. As it always should be.

"Dean. Dean! Please wake up. Please wake up, man, you gotta wake up."

He wanted to grab Dean's shoulders and shake him back into consciousness, wanted to see those eyes, clear or dull, confused or sharp, he didn't care, he just wanted to see them. Wanted to see Dean smirk, wanted him to pull his hand away and call Sam a girl for holding hands, an old woman for worrying so much. He wanted Dean to look at the sky and see how clear and beautiful it was.

"Dean. Dean. Please be okay. You gotta be okay."

Just before the EMTs finally started to pull Sam away, Dean's head shifted on the plaster. Sam held his breath, hardly daring to hope, and the voices around him ceased for a moment, as if everyone was else was holding their breath, too. Dean grunted, a puff of air pushed past scraped and bloody lips, and one eye slid partway open to reveal a sliver of hazy green. "Uhn...Sam?"

Sam squeezed his hand in a convulsive, joyful grip, breath stuttering in his throat. "I'm here, Dean. Man, don't scare me like that."

Dean turned his head to look at him straight on, both eyes open now, though they were out of focus, barely there. "Sam..." And Sam was shocked to see a glimmer of tears. "He's gone, Sam. He's gone. He's never coming back."

Dad. Sam drew in a short breath, his chest aching, sudden and fierce. "I know, Dean. It's okay."

"S'not," Dean said. "S'not okay."

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right."

It was the concussion, Sam figured, messing with Dean's head, stripping away his layers of protection and leaving him bare and vulnerable before Sam's sympathetic eyes. The EMTs nudged him again, trying to get down there, and Sam hunched his shoulders. He didn't want to let them in, didn't want anyone to see Dean when he was like this. This was private, for Winchesters' eyes only.

"Are we gonna be okay, Sammy?" Dean asked, and his voice was small and young and so, so sad.

Sam's heart lurched in pain yet again, but he sniffed back the tears and nodded one more time. He had to gulp down the lump in his throat to make room for the words to come out. "Yeah, Dean. Of course. Someday."

"Someday," Dean echoed. His eyes went distant again, wounded and lost, and Sam finally let the EMTs push him back so they could get in there and do their jobs.

He stood at a small distance and watched them work over his brother, pressing his fists against his thighs to keep them from shaking. Thomas moved to stand next to him, put a hand on his shoulder. Sam wanted to shake it off, this hand that wasn't his father's, but he stood still and endured.

"Don't worry about medical expenses," Thomas said. He nodded toward where the body of the rawhead still rested, covered with a tarp. "You boys saved those little girls from a real live monster. The town will take care of you."

Sam nodded. The EMTs had Dean on a backboard, now, had lifted him out of the rubble and onto a gurney.

"Let me drive you behind the ambulance," Thomas said. "You got the keys for that fine-looking Chevy on you?"

Sam almost laughed. They'd left the keys in the ignition, in a such a hurry to get into the house and face down the monster. Dean would be so embarrassed if he realized. "Yeah. Yeah, we can go."

The man patted his shoulder and moved toward the car, giving his sons a few instructions as he went. Sam stood there for a moment longer, watching them load his brother into the ambulance. He raised his head again and looked at the sky.

It was blue.

Finally, he turned and followed Thomas to the Impala.

(The End)