First appeared in Road Trip With My Brother 9 (2009), from Agent With Style
K Hanna Korossy
Northern Michigan wasn't the coldest place Sam had ever been, but in early January, it was up there. Or down there, more precisely, the temp hovering around zero. No wonder Dean hadn't put up much of a fight over Sam going alone to pick up dinner from the diner down the street. Sam snuggled a little more into his parka, the paper bag a pleasant warmth against his chest, and turned the corner of the small motel that was their home for the week.
Despite the northern climate, however, the Honeyspot Motor Lodge had large glass doors facing the outside corridor instead of the brick and plaster Sam would have expected. It was the kind of place Dean usually didn't go for—too open, too exposed—but outside a small Midwest town, it wasn't like they'd had lots of choices. It was either this or a lavender B&B that Dean couldn't look at without snorting.
Sam hurried past several dark and empty rooms, the light spilling out from theirs up ahead like an enticing beacon: warmth, food, brother. Sam broke into a lope.
Then stopped, the Michigan freeze momentarily forgotten.
The thin gauze curtains were drawn in their room, but Dean's shape was clearly visible, sitting on the edge of his bed. Whereas he was usually all motion and distraction around Sam, alone was an entirely different story. The strong back was bowed, shoulders rounded. The dark blond head bent between them, almost hanging. The only movement was his fingering something at his neck, no doubt his amulet. Without Sam there to put on the act for, Dean had become stillness, despondency. Bent by the weight of grief and guilt.
Sam swallowed, faced with the proof of what some part of him had known all along. Dean had cracked that façade a few times since their dad's death, shared small glimpses of his pain with Sam, and seemed to improve a little bit for it. But the full brunt of his burden remained hidden, Sam had been sure of it, kept carefully even from him. It was a lonely, suffocating way to grieve, for both of them. But it was all Dean seemed able to do.
And Sam was pretty sure they were breaking under the strain of it.
Sam gulped down the rough lump in his throat and strode the last few steps to their door, unlocking it with stiff, sharp movements and stepping inside.
Dean was already moving, off the bed, shoulders back, face turned toward Sam with polite interest. Not quite an act; it wasn't so much about trying to fool Sam, the younger Winchester had realized somewhere along the way. This was just the way Dean coped. The only way he'd ever known. And if that constricted Sam's chest a little more, well, that was his secret to tuck behind his game face.
"They didn't have pie," Sam started, smiling a little as Dean's face fell. "But they had some incredible-looking peach cobbler. Even if I have no idea how they got peaches out here in January." He pulled the bag from inside his coat and began shrugging off the heavy clothing.
Dean seemed happy to take the food. "Hey, cobbler's like, pie's hot older sister. It's even better."
"Careful, Dean, I think you're verging on some kind of blasphemy here," Sam answered contentedly. He hadn't forgotten the scene from a moment ago, but unable to do anything about that now, the easy back-and-forth between them was the next best thing, soothing his heart.
Dean looked less tired, less worn, too, when they slipped back into the roles that were comforting in and of themselves: hunters, brothers, best friends. Those demands he knew how to meet. "Dude, blasphemy's those weird pastries you got in Seattle." He had the bag open and was breathing in the warm smells, and Sam was grinning now. "What were they, spinach-flavored or something?"
Sam dropped into a chair, gratefully toeing boots off his numb feet. For once, the carpet didn't look too disgusting to walk on in socks, and the warmth of the room was already seeping through the layers of fabric on him. He took the paper box Dean handed him and dug appreciatively into steaming lasagna. "They were tea- and mango-flavored organic cookies, Dean, and they were good," he said around a full mouth.
Dean blinked at him. "You've got no taste, you know that? Nada."
Sam shared a mouthful of masticated food with him, and got a French Fry lobbed at his head in return. He plucked it out of the air and ate that, too. Beggars and choosers and all that, and fried food had its place.
Dean shook his head, muttering something doubtless R-rated under his breath, but he was smiling a little. Sam took his small pleasures where he could get them.
Halfway through their meal, Dean shoved the laptop toward Sam. "I've got an idea about what this thing is."
Sam's brows rose as he read the screen, his chewing slowing. He swallowed quickly. "You're kidding. Another rhakshasa? Dude, the MO's totally different."
Dean was nodding. "I know, but the crime scene pictures got me thinking. Bodies torn up the same way, parts of it eaten—sound familiar?"
"Yeah, along with another dozen things we've hunted. And, Dean, no shapeshifter signs this time, no hibernation cycle, no—" Sam tried not to shudder, "—clowns."
"Lucky for you," Dean said with a grin, then shook his head. "Keep reading. There's more than one kind of rhakshasa."
Sam went on. Shapechangers, kidnappers, cannibals—they were formerly wicked humans—venomous fingernails, blah, blah. He straightened a little as he got to the part about forest-dwelling rhakshasas: feeding on single wandering people, whisking them away for later eating, living and hunting near rivers. A little like wendigos except for the last, and those had been Sam's primary candidate so far. But he sat back with a thoughtful huh, absently rubbing his casted arm along his jeans.
"So?" Dean asked.
"So…maybe." Sam took a slower bite, barely tasting the food, and looked up at Dean. "I mean, yeah, it fits, but so do a bunch of other things."
"Which is why we're going out in the morning," Dean shrugged, "see if we can find some more clues and narrow it down. But me, I'm taking along the brass dagger."
They'd picked one up after the rhakshasa in Wisconsin, which as far as Sam was concerned was closing the barn door after the horses had bolted, but for Dean had been an opportunity to add another weapon to their arsenal. He was probably just itching to use it, and Sam gave him an indulgent look. "You just want revenge for that rhakshasa slicing up your shirt."
"Man," Dean grumbled, "I didn't even get to kill it."
Sam snorted into his pasta and kept eating.
They watched the evening movie on the one channel that came in clearly—License to Kill, with Dean making fun of Dalton's Bond every step of the way—then went to bed, preparing for an early morning.
And Sam pretended he didn't see that Dean's eyes were open, staring at the ceiling when Sam woke up at three, just turned over and stared at the wall instead until he finally drifted back to sleep.
"Is the coffee to wake you up or warm you up?" Sam asked whimsically as they trudged through the barren Michigan landscape. The ground was frozen under their feet, making tracking next to impossible even for Dean, their resident expert, and the evergreens were the only color in sight. Mostly it was bare trees and grey sky and breezes that knifed across Sam's face.
Dean always seemed to suffer the extremes of temperature less, not huddled in his parka like Sam, not even wearing a hood. Although that last might have been more vanity than comfort, Sam conceded. Still, besides looking wind-flushed, Dean didn't seem particularly cold as he sipped from the insulated cup they'd picked up in the motel's meager continental breakfast spread. Sam had opted for coffee over tea, too, needing the caffeine after a restless night, but any heat he'd gotten from it had seeped out of him a long time ago.
Dean shrugged, eyes moving alertly from ground to branch to Sam and back. "It's all that height, Sam. Too much surface area for heat to escape."
Sam sputtered. "You're saying I'm cold because I'm tall?"
"Hey, don't see me shaking in my boots, do you?"
"Wow, I had no idea you needed to justify being short so much."
Dean paused to glower at him. "Six-one is only short next to you, Hulk."
"And that redhead you were talking up last week, Pee-Wee," Sam said gleefully, rarely able to one-up his brother and not about to lose the chance.
The glower changed to outright withering. "Dude, that was for the job. It's not like…"
Sam's smile faded as he watched Dean catch himself and turn away. Not like he was taking much of an interest in women those days, nor anything else fun, Sam silently finished. Sam had briefly thought Jo, for all her verging on jail-bait, had stirred something in Dean, but no. His brother still responded to him, briefly letting himself forget with Sam, and babied his car, but everything else had seemed to lose its joy for Dean.
But in this, like so many things, Sam took his cue from Dean. From the patient way his brother hadn't pushed in the months after Jess, to the small ways he eventually had started nudging Sam back toward life. Sam's own sense of loss for their dad was still heavy and sharp. Dean's had to be far worse, and Sam wouldn't be hurrying him anytime soon to let go and move on.
"Anything?" he asked softly instead, nodding at the terrain in front of them as Dean threw him a startled, confused glance.
"Oh. No. Stupid frozen ground. How far are we from the site of the first kill?"
Sam was navigator, both by way of not having a cup of coffee in his hand and by the fact that he'd never gotten them lost by reading a map upside-down, unlike some Winchesters. Dean's sense of direction was innate; he could find his way along any road, and always seemed to know where Sam and the Impala were. Sam, on the other hand, was good with tools. It kinda summed up their lives.
Sam traced the map. "About a half-mile to go."
Dean's eyes scanned the quiet woods around them. "We're probably in its hunting territory already. The kills cover about a dozen square miles, Sam." Despite Dean's suspicions it was a rhakshasa, they'd agreed not to head for the river right away, to collect more information first from where they knew it had been.
"You want to split up?" Sam asked uncertainly, peering at him over the top of the map.
"No," Dean answered bluntly. "But might take us all day if we don't."
Sam chewed his lip as he assessed terrain, map, Dean. With all the things that were wrong with them, their hunting skills hadn't suffered. They were still in synch and in shape. Despite Dean's withdrawal into himself, he was there heart and soul with Sam when it was a matter of watching his little brother's back. Sam just wasn't as sure Dean put nearly the same effort into looking after himself. If anything, he'd veered into a reckless bloodthirst a few times that had scared Sam down deep.
But trust was trust, and his drive to keep an eye on Dean could turn into liability as much as asset. Especially with Dean eyeing him back, the dark hazel eyes seeming to know what he was thinking and waiting blankly for the verdict.
"Okay," Sam said, and saw a flicker in Dean's gaze he wasn't sure how to interpret. "Just…stay close, man, all right? I don't wanna be dragging your heavy ass back to the hospital any time soon." Don't do that to me again, was the silent corollary.
He saw Dean hesitate, then nod. "Shouting distance—sound carries around here, so a mile either way, max. And shoot if you can't yell. Got it?"
Sam's turn to nod.
And still they hesitated.
"Dean…," Sam finally murmured.
Dean drew himself up. "Don't get lost," he said quietly, casting a glance at Sam that looked almost angry, but Sam knew better. He nodded in silence, and they turned their separate ways.
If Dean looked back after him, Sam didn't turn to see it.
He counted off distance in his head as he went, but his senses were cast outward, looking for any sign of passage, blood, lairs or hunting grounds. The breeze picked up, a soft whistle through the bare branches, pulling tears from Sam's eyes with their bite. He wiped at them impatiently; he'd barely cried for his dad. He wasn't going to cry for the wind.
The emptiness around him mirrored how he felt inside, what he saw in Dean's eyes. Everyone Sam loved was gone now except for his brother. His Stanford friends, Sarah, Bobby, and a few of the other hunters they knew well: there were still a lot of people in his life whom he cared about, who cared about him. But that he loved, that truly knew and loved him back? Only Dean was left.
That was the part that was the most scary. Sam's world rested on one person, someone for whom he was also the sole reason to live for now. It was a frighteningly fragile balance. They'd always had their dad before, and Dean someone to look after him. Now, that job had become all Sam's, and the responsibility, frankly, was terrifying.
Behind him, Dean yelled something.
Sam turned back, scanning fruitlessly for his brother. They had to be over a half-mile apart by now, and even the bare trees were dense enough to keep visibility limited. "Dean!" he called back, and held silent, waiting for an answer: a summons, an all clear, even a cry demanding back-up.
Nothing. The wind sounded mournful as it whipped up a few dried leaves.
Something dark settled over Sam's heart, and he started running, retracing his steps.
It was only a few minutes before he reached the point where they'd split, and Sam kept going, calling for Dean at interims as he ran. No voice answered his increasingly panicked yells, however; no sound of struggle or even pain reached his ears. There was nothing but the wind and his own breath and footfalls, as if he were the only person left in the world.
Him, and Dean's backpack, lying on its side by a particularly gnarled tree trunk.
Sam's heart stopped for a second; he could feel it. And its painful hammer as it started again, echoing his steps as he tripped over to the pack and grabbed it up.
No blood. No rips or cuts, no damage whatsoever.
"Dean!" Sam bellowed with the full reach of his lungs.
The wind died down, and Sam was alone in silence.
"Okay, rhakshasa. By rivers, right? That means…"
Sam's mumble trailed off into silence as he spread the map out on the cold ground and knelt before it.
"Escanaba…cuts through…" He traced the line with one gloved finger, calculating distance. About two miles of river passed through the rough hunting grounds area Dean had figured. More than Sam wished for, but doable, even for one person.
One person. Sam's jaw shifted, and he concentrated on the map again, committing the route and terrain to memory.
The map was soon stuffed back into his pack, and then he was going through Dean's. "Brass blade. Holy water. Shells…" He had to say it out loud, fill the quiet, or else he'd maybe go crazy. "M&Ms," and his snort was less derision than pain. "Kni—"
Dad's pocketknife. Sam knew Dean had it but he hadn't seen it since the hospital. Here it was now, nestled at the bottom of Dean's pack. Sam's eyes blurred instantly, the rush of memory and love and grief almost knocking him over with its intensity.
"Please. Please please please…"
Sam stuck the knife in his pocket, found places for all the other weapons, then tucked his brother's pack in a natural hollow at the base of the tree.
"I'll be back," he whispered to himself. "We'll be back."
They still had no proof it was a rhakshasa doing the killing, which was why Sam was armed with lead, silver, salt, and blessed water. If he had any sense, he should've been calling Bobby and Ellen to see if there were any other hunters in the area who could back him up on this. The wind was picking up again, blowing some stray, dry snowflakes into Sam's face, and this was not a good area to get caught in a snowstorm.
He kept going.
Dean had been pretty sure it was a rhakshasa, however. And while Sam had the knowledge and skills for this job, he trusted his brother's instincts and experience more than his own. Michigan had one of the highest populations of Indo-Americans in the US, and it wouldn't be the first time immigrants had brought their legends and monsters with them. The state was also prime wendigo territory, but wendigos had hibernation cycles, Dean had patiently reminded him. Were-creatures were cyclical, too. Baykoks ate livers, Native American animal-women stomped their prey to death, adlets kept their prey alive a long time to play with them, griffins clawed to death, and leloko and shedim probably wouldn't have left much trace of their meals. There were dozens more possibilities, but Dean had argued them all in favor of his hunch, and Sam was going to play it now. Which meant running water and brass blades.
The river was only about five miles in from the road, and while Sam didn't run it, needing to be rested and ready when he reached his goal, he moved at a fast enough pace that it didn't take him long to cover the ground. He wasn't even breathing hard as he hunkered down behind a larger tree and assessed the riverbank, following it in either direction with his eyes.
The bank was clear of trees, only scraggly scrub lining the banks, brown and desiccated. It was, for the most part, not dense enough to hide anything bigger than a rabbit. There were no descriptions of a rhakshasa lair, but they took their prey captive and kept them a day or so before mealtime, so Sam was looking for something at least big enough to hide a person.
Nothing. The cold water moved sluggishly along its bed, a soft burble of sound, and something small and furry ran from the cover of one tree to another on the opposite bank, but otherwise there was no sign of life.
Sam traced the map in his head, realizing he had about a half-mile to cover to the east and one-and-a-half to the west. He could see at least a quarter-mile down either way, and there was nothing promising to the east. Staying low, Sam turned westward.
He followed the water stealthily, reviewing what he'd read the night before. Rhakshasas were shapeshifters, able to blend into the background like a chameleon, although their red eyes betrayed them. They often kept their prey for later eating, a characteristic Sam was counting on now. They lived by running water, or at least the forest-dwelling kind did, and were corporeal and susceptible to brass. Poisonous fingernails, according to some lore. And…that was about it. On a normal hunt, Sam would have gone back to do more research once his suspicions were confirmed. But this had ceased being a normal hunt the moment Dean had vanished. Maybe, with all the past they had carried into it with them, it had never even been a normal hunt.
"Shouldn't've split up," Sam whispered to himself, too aware he was practicing one of Dean's habits. "Stupid, he needs you." And, God, Sam needed him back. "Don't you friggin' pull this again on me, man." Sam winced. Now he was talking to his brother, and he shut up. Focus. Listen. Look for the breaks in the pattern, the out-of-place.
Like the huge pile of what looked like water-tossed debris that was about twenty feet from the river's edge.
Sam crouched behind a broken trunk and examined the construction. Because, indeed, on closer inspection, it wasn't an accidental conglomeration of branches and leaves and mud. The wood was woven, the mud an airtight sealant. Something had built this.
And it was big enough for two.
Sam gripped the brass knife tightly in his left hand, his casted right not providing enough control, and slunk forward.
There was no sign of life around the small nest, no movement whatsoever. Even the grass around it seemed dead, and Sam made a mental note to add that bit of info to the journal, then grimaced at the thought. If he got Dean back, the journal didn't matter, and if he didn't…the journal really didn't matter.
When he judged it safe, Sam moved forward, keeping to the trees, staying down. Pressed against the tree closest to the lair, Sam paused again, waiting, watching.
Almost missing the red eyes that suddenly blinked in his peripheral vision from what had looked like bark.
Sam hissed and jumped back, fingers tightening their grip around the knife's hilt. As the air shimmered around the tree, something liquid and invisible peeled itself away from the trunk. Sam lunged forward and slashed out with the brass knife.
He felt the air displace as the rhakshasa moved. The red eyes blinked out of existence, then reappeared ten feet to his right.
Sam threw the knife this time, only to have it embed itself in the tree just past the creature, the red eyes disappearing a moment before.
"I hate clowns," Sam muttered absently and grabbed for the knife, only to feel a violent push from behind slam him into the tree. Bark scratched his face and palms, and he wondered briefly if this was what had made Dean yell, a sudden invisible attack from behind. And what had followed.
His anger came loose along with the blade.
Sam whirled, knife extended, feeling small satisfaction when the knife caught on something and the creature screeched. It was a cut, not a stab, but anything that upped Sam's advantage was a good thing. Besides, just like the clown rhakshasa, this one bled visibly.
Sam advanced on the growing stain of red, vision tunneled in his rage.
The creature was fast, and while Sam ducked the whistle of its raking nails, it managed to shove him away twice more, once into a tangle of thorns that barbed the skin of his thighs and knees. But it had lost its advantage and it was losing the battle. Sam doggedly pressed on, growling low in his throat as he channeled his brother's protective fury.
The rhakshasa, sensing a turn of the tides of fortune, became frantic. It was still mostly invisible, and Sam couldn't follow all its movements. Sharp nails managed to rake across his right arm at one point, sliding off his cast but embedding into the soft skin below Sam's elbow, and fear suddenly entered the mix. If the nails were really poisonous, Sam's time was limited. He had to get to Dean fast.
Sam feinted left, watched the bloodstain follow, the red eyes dart that way. His leg was already whipping up in a sweep as Sam dove in from the right. His blade sank into the center of the amorphous blood pool, feeling flesh and organs give way beneath the brass edge.
The creature keened, sounding so much like its cousin, Sam did a momentary double-take.
And then its struggles ceased. The blood that had welled in the blade's wake settled, no longer pumping.
Sam twisted the knife and, getting no response, let go of the hilt and stood. He wiped at his mouth, the trickle of blood above his eye, then turned and staggered toward the creature's lair.
It was dark and dank and smelled of death so strongly, Sam nearly gagged. But in the dimness, he saw a figure hanging against the back wall, and that was enough to defeat any obstacle. He pushed inside, ducking his head to fit, and reached for the swaying form.
A half-eaten face, clearly well on its way to decay, greeted him under a shock of black hair.
Sam's gorge rose so fast, he barely made it outside the rhakshasa's lair before he bent and vomited. It wasn't Dean. It wasn't Dean and wasn't going to be, and there was some tiny bit of comfort in that. But if Dean hadn't been there, where was he? And what had taken him?
Weakness and nausea curled Sam forward on his knees, and he bent his forehead to the icy dirt, exhausted with despair. Was this the beginning of the effects of the poison? But his arm wasn't burning that badly, and the nausea had already started to settle. No, this was fear. Because if Dean wasn't here, Sam had no place else to look.
He just…he needed a minute. Sam dropped back on his rear and peeled his coat off, then gingerly rolled his sleeve up. "Nice," he mumbled at the three shallow scratches that cut diagonally down his forearm. A little holy water poured on them made them foam and bleed, but Sam grit his teeth against it, and by the time the water was gone, so was the burn. If this was poison, it was the slow-acting kind.
Panting lightly, Sam wrapped a roll of gauze from the pack around his arm with one hand and his teeth. Then he shoved everything back into the pack and shakily pushed himself to his feet.
The scenery wavered. Sam wobbled with it a moment, then went down with a yelp.
Okay, so maybe there had been something on the claws. Sam pushed up doggedly, managing to balance on both knees before again crashing to the ground. He pounded the frozen ground with his fist in frustration, cursing into the quiet.
Come on, Sam, move it. Funny how the voice in his head sounded like Dean. Sam's next attempt used a tree as a crutch, and he finally made it to his feet, if shakily. One dogged step became two, then actual progress, even though his head felt light and his body shaky. But he kept going.
Dean, his mind pleaded. This was where his brother was supposed to come to the rescue. But Sam was supposed to be the rescuer now. Of both of them.
He kept going, leaning on trees as he went, sometimes bending over a minute just to breathe and stop the scenery from swaying. And slowly, slowly his head cleared, his steps firming. Apparently, the poison was yet another exaggeration of the lore, or maybe the holy water had done its job. Or maybe desperation was the best cure possible.
The sun was high in the sky when the dark metal and chrome caught Sam's eye. Some part of him had hoped with foolish optimism that Dean would be there, waiting for him, and disappointment warred with relief. Relief won as Sam fumbled the door open, then sank gratefully into the seat that still smelled of Dean and home.
He might have passed out a little there.
The drive back to the motel was on auto-pilot. Sam's thoughts were already jumping forward to the hunt; he'd have to start almost from scratch again, look at the lore of the area, older deaths and disappearances, the possibilities Dean had discarded. The task was daunting and, God, he was so tired. But he had to find Dean. It wasn't even a choice.
Sam hauled himself out of the car, locking it with care and a stupid reluctance to leave it alone in the lot. Then he turned and stumbled to their door, fighting a moment with the lock before he made it inside.
It was funny how much colder and dimmer the paisley room seemed now. For all Dean's recent struggle, there was still a life in him, a joy in their being together, that vanished into shadows without Dean there. Flicking on the switch by the door merely made the shadows starker and painted the rest of the room with a harsh white light. Sam flinched from it as he slung his satchel onto the nearest bed—Dean's—and realized he'd never gone back for his brother's pack. It felt like another failure.
Okay, he had another hour or so until the mid-afternoon sunset. There wasn't much he could do before darkness fell, but he could make sure he had a plan and was ready to go with morning's first light.
Except…the paisley was fading in and out before his eyes.
Sam sank onto the edge of Dean's bed with a groan. His arm ached distantly, his stomach felt rocky and tight, little pins and needles stabbed into hands and feet he hadn't even realized had gone numb, and even opening the laptop seemed like an insurmountable challenge. He had to rest, just for a little bit. He hated himself for it, although Dean would've understood, even encouraged him to take care of himself first. One of them had to be ready for what came next, though. Sam's breath caught painfully in his chest as he slid down sideways on the bed, kicking his bag off and curling into the pillow that still smelled faintly of Dean's aftershave.
Sam woke before he even realized he'd gone to sleep. His head was loggy and empty of dreams, signs he'd slept hard and deep. Another second, and he remembered why he was stretched out fully clothed on top of the bed in a dark room. Sam sat up quickly, fumbling for the bedside clock.
Three thirty-three. He'd slept nearly twelve hours, while Dean was God-knew-where. Sam cursed and clambered to his feet.
On the upside—because there had to be one when everything else was so abysmally down—the sleep seemed to have cleared the dregs of the poison out of his system. He was still tired, his arm still sore, but the room was rock steady and his thoughts sharp as they shrugged off the sleep.
Especially the urgency that rushed through his veins and made his heart pound.
Sam pulled off his jacket as he made his way to the table on the far side of the room, snapping on a floor lamp as he went and dropping down in front of the computer.
All right, they had a list of candidates for the local deaths. The rhakshasa could account for them all, but if there was something else hunting in tandem, or in competition with it…
Sam stopped to make some coffee after filling a page with notes. Realized two more pages later that he'd drunk the whole carafe. Another page, and the first fingers of sunlight crept wanly across the scrawled lines. He was supposed to be getting ready by now, heading out after Dean.
But Sam was no more sure where to look than before.
Most corporeal supernaturals were territorial. They didn't like to share their prey. Non-corporeals—spirits, poltergeists, will-'o-wisps, projections, curses—sometimes overlapped, uncaring about the material world, but they didn't tend to drag people off. There had been no indication of two different M.O.s in the recent disappearances and deaths, anyway, which meant…either something brand new had come out of hiding just for Dean, or there were two rhakshasas.
Because the area was clean. No previous cycles of deaths, no unholy ground, no suspicious lore. There hadn't even been Native Americans here before immigrants had settled the land. Which left precious few possibilities.
Sam nodded to himself. Fine. Then he had to assume it was another rhakshasa. He'd only explored a fraction of the riverbank. He could go back to where he'd killed the Indian demon the day before and start from there, heading further west. Dean had to be out there.
Maybe if he said it enough, it would be true.
Sam packed with steely efficiency: blades, hand and shotgun, another bottle of holy water. It had been a mistake leaving the brass knife out there, but he would find it. Blanket and first aid kit, just in case Dean needed it. Sam glanced one more at the empty, lifeless room, and headed out, determined not to return alone.
Dawn was cold and clear in the air, the Impala gleaming in the light. Sam opened her door and tossed his satchel in the back, then paused, his hand resting on the cold metal. It'd been twenty-four hours since he'd last eaten, and the coffee was acid in his stomach. If he spent the day hiking, then had to drag Dean back home… Grimacing, Sam slammed the door and headed down the street to the diner.
He couldn't help remember just…two days before? The small joy of finding cobbler for Dean. Of sharing a meal with his brother. Things he no longer took for granted since Dean had almost died and Dad really had, for all the good that had done. Sam had still managed to lose everything.
But he was going to get Dean back. If Sam didn't believe that, he'd fall right there and not get up again.
The waitress had looked Sam up and down skeptically but slid a steaming plate of eggs and meat in front of him. He ate without tasting, the food only fuel for the hunt for Dean. The answer had to be in those woods. Maybe there really was a second predator out there, something that cleaned up after the rhakshasa, perhaps. A ghoul or something else that fed on the dead as well as the living. The food was getting his brain moving again, and Sam pulled a napkin over and started scribbling notes.
The early-morning crowd was starting to trickle into the diner. Conversation behind Sam washed over him in a soft murmur. He shifted in the booth, vinyl squeaking under him, and added "revenant" to the list.
The word, a name, snagged in Sam's ears like barbed wire.
His head shot up, and he forgot his list, turning so he could better hear the man who was talking to a companion over at the counter.
"…but you know how they are. Barely civilized, them Benders. If they could avoid people altogether, I'm pretty sure they—"
He didn't even remember moving.
Sam's fingers digging into his arm shut the guy up, and Sam registered briefly that the man's eyes were wide with fear as he loomed over the guy, giving him a shake. "Who?"
"Wh—who what?" the man gasped.
Someone pulled at Sam's arm, and he shrugged them off, growling deep-voiced, "Who are you talking about?"
"Family out in the backwoods. Benders. Don't know any first names…"
His head spun, and Sam slapped a hand down on the counter to keep his balance. It couldn't be. No way. God, no. And yet, part of him defiantly hoped. "Where? Do you know where they live?"
Five minutes later, he left with a fifty on the counter, a dozen pair of eyes pinned to his back, and scrawled directions in his pocket of where to find his brother.
He only stopped briefly when he got back to the car. Sam knew his prey and its weaknesses now. Gone was the silver and salt and holy water, Dean's Colt and Sam's blade and one of the rock salt-loaded shotguns in its place.
Gone was also any weakness or uncertainty. Adrenaline, determination, and belief had burned away the dross, leaving only purpose in their wake. Sam dropped the shotgun onto the seat beside him, then slammed the door and peeled out onto the road.
His destination was about ten minutes away even at the highly illegal speed he was traveling, and it gave Sam time to clear his head and think.
Benders. Here. One state away from where the Winchesters had run into them last, but still, what were the chances? Or that they'd find Dean, or that they were just as twisted as their Minnesota kin? And now, of all times, when Dean was already on such shaky footing with life. Another battering-and-burning session like the last time, and Sam wasn't sure how hard Dean would be fighting them. Especially when Sam's life wasn't at stake now.
Not physically, anyway.
Sam floored the gas, smoothly compensating for the Impala's fishtail as it took a fast corner.
The sun was already beginning its ascent. It'd been over twenty-four hours since Dean had disappeared. Twenty-four hours in the hands of a murderous, cannibalistic family out for revenge. If Dean wasn't here, Sam didn't know where to look, but he couldn't quite wish his brother in Bender hands again, either.
Could be a totally different family, of course. Totally unrelated. They'd done a job once for some Benders up in Connecticut who were incredibly nice people, sent them off with a basketful of homemade food.
But it wasn't. Sam could feel it.
The driveway was a rough dirt road off a packed dirt road. He parked the car just before the turn, hidden by a copse of trees, then for the second time in two days crept forward, hunting those who hunted his brother.
The house could have been by the same architect as the Benders' home in Minnesota: sagging wood, unpainted, untended. There was no barn next to this one, but a smokehouse belched grey wisps into the sky, and Sam's stomach turned at the sight. He slunk closer, hand gripping the shotgun so tightly that the metal's design was probably imprinted in his skin. Like a wraith, he flowed up to the closest window and peered in.
Nothing. Empty room with dilapidated wooden furniture. Sam stepped back, looking the building over again, reconsidering.
It dawned on him a second later. There was a pick-up truck outside the door, and smoke was coming out of the chimney, but there were no lights on in the house despite the canopy of trees that made the early morning nearly night-dark.
Sam kept moving, rounding a corner and finally glimpsing light. It was low, a basement or cellar storm window. He duckwalked to it and peered inside.
Two men, dressed in somewhat cleaner clothes than their cousins, stood to the right, grinning at a third, large man who had his back to Sam. He was crouched in front of something, and Sam couldn't quite see what it was. He breathed out, glancing around the room. There was a fourth shadow in one corner, but it was small, with white hair. No one else seemed to be inside.
The large man moved a little to the right then, and spiked dark blond hair became visible over his shoulder. Dean, sitting on the floor, head hanging. Not moving.
Sam flinched, throat growing tight.
Then the man slid aside even more, and Dean came into full view.
Sam felt a cold prickle of fear pass over his skin at the sight of the torn and red-stained clothes. But it was as he followed his brother's arms down to the floor that the world screeched to a horrified halt.
One arm was clearly tied to some sort of peg stuck in the floor beside him. The other…that one was pinned to the ground with a knife that stuck obscenely out of the back of his hand.
Sam thought the fury he'd felt facing the rhakshasa had been powerful. It dwindled to nothing in comparison to the rage that slammed into him now, drenching his vision with red and his soul with black.
Sam vibrated with the desire to kill.
He launched to his feet with an inarticulate growl and took off for the front door. No point in being quiet; the more people he could draw away from Dean, the better. Sam kicked the wooden barrier in without bothering to check if it was open and stomped in.
The two men who poured out of a door to greet him weren't the ones he'd seen in the basement. No matter. Sam shot one mid-charge with a chestful of rock salt, and swung the shotgun's butt to break the jaw of the second. They both fell, writhing, and he passed them without a second glance.
The door they'd come out of seemed to lead to a back parlor. It took two tries to find the cellar door. One of the men he'd seen through the window was just coming up the stairs. He tackled Sam to the floor before Sam could react, driving a punch into his face.
Another time, it might have dazed him, or made him lose his hold on his weapons. This time it just made Sam smile.
He backhanded the guy with the Colt, knocking him off him. The guy tried to trip him with a clumsy leg-sweep as Sam got to his feet, but Sam quickly righted himself and launched a kick at the man's temple. The Bender rolled away from the full brunt but caught a glancing blow to the back of his head and went limp.
Eyes narrowed, Sam headed again for the cellar stairs again.
This time he surprised the guy on the steps, the second man he'd seen through the window. Before the guy could more than gape at him, Sam picked him off with a second round from the shotgun and watched him tumble off the side of the stairs.
The tackle from behind nearly sent Sam after him.
It was the guy from the first wave, the one Sam had gotten with the shotgun stock, if the torn cheek was any sign. Sam bent under his weight and let the man's momentum carry him over Sam's shoulder.
Instead of tumbling down the steps, however, the Bender found his feet and immediately swung at Sam.
Sam ducked the punch and dropped the spent shotgun to swing a fist of his own, putting his body weight and the cast's solid bulk into it. Even Dean usually ducked his roundhouse punches rather than blocking them when they sparred. The guy pulled back, and it flew past his face with an audible whistle.
"You," the man growled, as if they'd met, and threw two more punches in fast succession.
Sam spun away from one, didn't quite manage to miss the other, some of the air whooshing out of him.
It just fueled the fire. Sam bared his teeth at the guy. "Me," he agreed as he cracked the Colt hard against the same cheek he'd hit before, then brought it down barrel-first with both hands on the guy's wheezing back. Sam could feel the blow up his bad arm, and the man dropped like a stone and rolled loosely down the steps.
Sam followed him down warily, gaze swinging to the corner of the room. But what he'd taken for a white-haired figure turned out to be a girl in a dirty kerchief. It only took a second to place her.
Missy. Suddenly, Dean's snatching started making sense.
Missy growled like a wild animal, then lunged across the room for him.
Sam found himself aiming the Colt at her, pulling it up only at the last moment. He couldn't, not a kid, not even her.
She had no such reticence. His shin caught one of her kicks, his arm her small flailing fists.
Sam grabbed her in his free arm, trapping her arms to her side, and snapped, "Stop it." But Missy was beyond comprehension. She only fought harder, screeching inarticulately, stretching to bite at Sam's hand like the feral thing she'd been raised to be.
Tightening his jaw, Sam slammed her against the cellar step railing. Missy instantly went limp, and Sam laid her down on the floor, forgetting about her as soon as he turned away toward the center of the cellar.
Dean was only a dozen feet away now, still slumped as if he wasn't aware of his surroundings. Sam's heart stuttered for a moment, fear swelling up like bile in his throat. And then he saw his brother's chest hitch and fall in ragged rhythm, and he started breathing again, too.
Sam's brow drew together as his eyes moved to the large man who was now crouched behind Dean. The eldest Bender held a knife, already slicked with blood, to the side of Dean's throat, and murderous dark eyes met Sam's.
"You're the other one."
"I'm his brother," Sam seethed.
"Filthy animal." The man spat to one side. Up close, Sam could see the family resemblance to Pa Bender, although this man was about ten years younger and a hundred pounds heavier. But he had the same look in his eyes: evil. "Go to Hell," he snarled.
"You first," Sam answered in a clichéd bit of repartee that would have had Dean grinning and rolling his eyes. He raised the Colt.
Dean suddenly made a choked sound and threw his head back, catching Cousin Bender in the face. The older man stumbled back, lurching to his feet.
Sam fired at the same moment.
There was a second of frozen time. Sam stared at the two men in front of him. Dean was hunched, tense, waiting for the unseen blow to fall. And his captor gaped at Sam, then down at his bloody thigh, just before his leg gave way. It crumpled him to the ground with a cry.
Sam sucked in a breath, then shoved the gun into his waistband and slid forward to Dean's side.
"Hey," he said, and his voice trembled as it hadn't when facing down threatening Benders. "Hey. Dean." Sam reached out, hesitating, scared to touch. He felt like he was deflating, all the strength of fury bleeding out of him to be replaced by the trembling weakness of relief.
Dean's head bobbed. "Get it over with already," he growled.
"No, man, it's me." He slid his hand under Dean's cheek, cringing at the feel of dried blood coating the skin, and raised his brother's head carefully. "It's Sam."
Dean's face was pulped. Someone had not only worked him over, they'd done it long enough ago for the bruises to rise, the flesh to swell. His eyes were almost too puffy to open, but they squinted at Sam. He offered a wobbly smile in return, especially when Dean's voice fell, dropping its bravado to a far more tentative, "Sammy?"
"Yeah. I'm here."
Dean's tone hardened. "Get out of here. 'Fore they come—"
"It's okay, Dean, they're gone. You're safe, all right? We're safe."
Sam nodded thickly. Always the soldier, his brother. "Yeah, six of them. I got them, Dean."
Dean stared at him a moment longer, as if trying to read the truth in his face. Then his head sagged into Sam's grip. "Show-off," he whispered.
Sam huffed a weak, wet laugh, berating himself that he could have ever thought Dean would just give up with his little brother still out there. "Yeah. Jerk." Sam brushed his thumb over a bruised cheekbone, traced a trail of blood into Dean's hairline with his ring finger. "How are you?"
Dean's chest fluttered with what might've been a snicker. "Hangin' out with some old friends. You?"
Sam huffed a laugh. "Doin' better now." He slid one hand down to the back of Dean's neck and felt the crusty blood there and, a little higher, the split lump. Probably how they'd taken him down. "You just make friends wherever you go, dude."
"Can't help it." Dean groaned as Sam's hand traced down his back, feeling patches of heat, bruises and welts, but thankfully intact bones. "When y're as good-looking—God!"
He'd accidentally moved his impaled hand. Sam immediately grabbed his wrist and immobilized it, and gripped the side of Dean's neck as Dean writhed and coughed. Sam watched the muscles in Dean's hand spasm and contract, fingertips scraping convulsively at the wood floor, and grimaced in sympathy. He couldn't imagine how that hurt.
"…as me," Dean continued faintly. "Sam…"
"I hate to tell you, big brother…" Sam said gently as he let go of Dean's neck to wrap his hand around the hilt of the knife. You weren't supposed to remove penetrating objects, but short of working the blade out of the ground with Dean's hand still on it, Sam didn't see a way around it. And there was no way he was putting his brother through that further torture. Sam pressed his shoulder up against Dean's and gritted his teeth. "…but you look like crap, man." And he yanked smoothly up on the knife. It was buried deeper than it looked; no wonder Dean hadn't gotten himself free, although from the blood and bruising around it, it sure looked like he'd tried.
Dean cried out, reflexively clutching his dripping hand to him and curling around it, and Sam let him. He just kept one arm on Dean's shoulder to hold him upright, whipping a handkerchief out with the other.
"Let me see, Dean," he coaxed after a moment, prying it away from Dean's stomach. He held it in gentle hands, curling the fingertips in with a light stroke. "Can you move it?"
Dean dropped his head and made a loose fist, then slowly opened it again.
"You feel all your fingers? Nothing's numb?"
"No." A terse whisper, his brother nearing the end of his limits.
Sam nodded, swallowing hard. If nerves and blood vessels and bones were still intact, they'd stay that way. "It'll be okay then. Looks like you got lucky," he said with deliberate black humor, winning a hoped-for snort from his big brother. He carefully reclaimed the limb and began wrapping it one-handed. It was difficult, even using his own good hand, and Sam finally leaned Dean against him so he could use both.
Dean grunted out vague curses when the pain got too great to swallow. Sam let him take back the limb when it was wrapped and went to work on freeing the other one, sawing at the rope.
Which was when Cousin Bender reared up from behind Dean with a yell, crazed and bloody.
The gun was in arm's reach, but the piledriver that snapped Sam's head back threw him away from it. Three hundred pounds of angry backwoodsman followed, driving the air out of Sam with a whoosh.
Sam immediately slammed his elbow down into the wide nose, hearing it crunch, following it up with a sideways blow to his attacker's injured leg.
Bender howled, grabbing a handful of Sam's hair and slamming his head hard into the floor.
With more leverage, Bender might have done some real damage. Instead, Sam shook off the bolt of pain and aimed for the guy's neck next, but the wide chin came down defensively and took the hit. Sam cursed, trying to roll them over but at a disadvantage both in position and weight.
Dean, who could never just stand by when Sam was in trouble, took the opportunity to ram his booted foot hard into the side of Bender's head, twice.
Bender's grip loosened on Sam but didn't let go. With a snarl, the older man shot a fist out, striking Dean's injured hand where it was pressed protectively against his middle.
A cry of pain tore out of Dean as he fell back.
Sam's outraged bellow followed him.
Bender turned back to Sam. His smugness wavered, sliding into fear at whatever he saw in the younger Winchester's face.
Snarling low, Sam broke the man's grip and jerked his knee up emasculatingly hard. Even as Bender managed a strained yelp, Sam was already bucking him off. A second later and he was on top, straddling Dean's torturer, pinning his arms to his side. It left him wide open to a casted punch in the face. Then another. And another.
Dean's moan was what got through to him. Sam's upraised fist faltered, and he glanced to the right to see Dean struggling to sit up, face tilted toward Sam's. A glance down revealed Bender was not only unconscious, but soon would be as swollen and bruised as Dean if not more. Sam was pretty sure he'd heard more than his nose break somewhere in there.
Suddenly nauseated, he pushed himself off the man and swayed like a newborn colt to his brother's side.
Dean dropped his forehead to Sam's thigh with a sigh. "Y'all right?"
Sam swallowed, glancing at Bender, then nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay." He brushed the blood off his hand onto the wooden floor, then rested it on the middle of Dean's back. Tight muscles released in a long breath under his touch. Sam wearily retrieved his dropped knife and started on the remaining rope. "You?"
"Oh, I'm peachy." Dean turned his head just enough to bring the eldest Bender into view. "Friggin' psycho freaks're everywhere."
Sam chuckled. "I was thinking we should check to make sure where they send Missy this time," he agreed. The rope finally unraveled, and he pulled the last few strands free with his fingers, then chafed the abraded wrist.
Dean pulled his free hand in to himself, too. "Yeah. Saw Miss Bad Seed."
Sam turned to look at the object of their conversation, but Missy lay as motionless as the other two bodies near her. The family patriarch wasn't moving. There was no sound from upstairs.
Sam bent down to meet his brother's gaze. "You wanna visit a little longer, or you ready to get out of here?"
"Ha, ha," Dean said breathlessly. "Good thing…good at rescuing 'cause…humor sucks, Sam."
"Dean? Can you stand?" Sam asked in all seriousness. He missed the eye contact that told him how serious it was when Dean wouldn't. Selfishly, he also missed being seen.
Dean sucked in a breath, then grabbed a handful of Sam's shirt with his good hand. "Only one way t'find out."
Sam did as much of the work as he could, but he still saw Dean pale underneath the flush of heated skin. His cast pressing against Dean's back, the other arm helping him hold his hand immobile against his chest, Sam got Dean on his feet, murmuring a soft whoa! when his brother swayed. Sam propped him up, ran a hand along his back once. He figured he could get away with that much with Dean looking like he wasn't sure which way was up.
Dean finally nodded, and Sam turned him toward the stairs. Dean's gaze briefly caught on the guy sprawled next to the railing, and he muttered something too low for Sam to hear. Sam gently reeled him in, and Dean let it go, focusing instead on moving his feet.
Sam looked back at Missy one more time, feeling only emptiness inside at the child he'd knocked unconscious, and silently reiterated his intent to follow her wherever she landed next. This would end here.
Sam helped his brother sidestep the guy at the foot of the stairs and slowly climb, talking softly just so Dean could hear his voice. They were both breathing hard by the time they reached the top, Dean heavy weight against Sam's side, Sam weak-kneed with the drain of adrenaline and the aftermath of hunting and fighting. Dean stumbled to a stop, and Sam thought he'd run out of steam until he realized Dean was staring at the two forms sprawled in what passed as a living room.
"Dude," he said breathlessly. "What did you do?"
"They're not dead," Sam defended himself, but now that the rage had faded, the body count stunned him a little, too. Good job he was doing, being Dean's conscience. Didn't take much to release his inner Hyde, either.
"Geez, kiddo. Glad you're…on my side."
Sam snorted a laugh, lightened fractionally, urged them forward a step.
"Gonna pass out now."
"Okay," he said softly, and wrapped his other arm around Dean as his brother went down.
With Dean unconscious, Sam finished his earlier exam. Bruises layered bruises, but Sam couldn't find any bones that were broken. Either the Benders had known what they were doing and wanted to make it last, or were totally inept and stuck to clumsy punches and kicks, and Sam thanked God for whichever one it was.
It also meant that, while it wouldn't be pleasant if Dean woke, it probably wouldn't damage anything if Sam put his brother over his shoulder. He hadn't been relishing either walking or carrying Dean out of there, but this he could do. Probably. "Sorry," he murmured, then pulled Dean up and over, and shoved to his feet.
Sam swayed dangerously. Considering he'd been poisoned with something less than twenty-four hours before and had just taken down five grown men, he was probably doing well, he conceded. He kinda kept forgetting that with everything else going on.
Then he set his feet and started walking. Feeling Dean breathe against his back, and not looking back at the wreckage he left behind.
Sam had what he'd come for.
The cold of dusk was breathtaking, and Sam was grateful he'd thought to snag his parka before venturing outside. As it was, he was shivering already as he sank onto the bench on their tiny balcony.
Dean was sleeping in the room behind him, lying stiffly on his side in what Sam figured was the position that put the least amount of pressure on his bruises. He'd known who Sam was when he'd last roused, been able to move and feel his hand, and Sam was finally breathing easier about his decision not to go to the hospital unless things took a turn for the worse. Dean looked awful, but he seemed to be resting all right, and sleep and food was all he really needed now.
Sam had also slept a few hours after he'd finished fixing up Dean, but his rest had been fitful, plagued by dreams of loved ones. Whether the dregs of the rhakshasa's poison were still in his system or he was still working through the shock of nearly losing Dean—again—something had gnawed at him until he'd finally given up on the warm bed and stepped into the freezing outdoors instead. He just needed to think, clear his head a little.
Dean was wearing Dad's wedding ring on a chain around his neck. Sam hadn't realized it until that morning, when he'd helped Dean shed his tattered clothes. It was probably what he'd seen Dean rolling between his fingers that night when Sam had watched him from outside, and Sam closed his eyes at the thought. Dean was missing Dad, too. Why couldn't he share that with the one person who knew how he felt?
Sam leaned forward, rubbing his face with his hands, trailing it back through his hair, mouth twisting without humor. God, what a mess they were. Dean had looked at him with something akin to awe at the havoc Sam had wreaked at the Bender house, but what he was capable of scared Sam. The emptiness he'd felt when he'd thought he'd lost Dean…
Dad was gone. And Jess. And their mom. Everyone he loved except Dean. And while his brother meant more to him than he could say, Sam was just one person. He was all Dean had now, but he couldn't do this by himself. Nor could he afford to mess it up. Dean was all Sam had left, too.
He missed Dad so much it hurt, like he couldn't breathe. And suddenly Sam was heaving tears.
The quiet voice from the balcony door jerked Sam's head up to see Dean leaning against the jamb, and he automatically swiped at the wetness on his face. Can't break down, can't make this harder on Dean. Even if Sam felt ready to break.
"Sam, c'mon…" Dean said softly.
Sam felt his face heat and stood abruptly, putting space between himself and his brother because he was suffocating. Sam blinked at him, raw, and saw only the bruises and the blood and the moment when he wasn't sure if he'd finally been left alone in the world. He blinked harder, throwing out a hand to grasp the balcony's thin railing, the cold metal burning his hand.
Dean took a step closer. "What—?"
And the pressure in his chest, his head and heart, crested and broke. "I know I don't remember Mom, all right?" Sam burst out. "And I-I know you were closer to Dad. I barely even saw him, the last four years, and we were always arguing…" He gasped for air. "I know this hurts worse for you and I'm sorry, man, I'm…" Sam swiped clumsily at his face. "But I miss him, too, and it hurts and I'm… Dean, I can't lose you, too, all right? I can't…I just can't do this by myself, man. I can't…" He covered his eyes with one hand, unable to stand his brother's gaze any longer.
There was a moment, a few heartbeats of pure pain. And then an arm slid around his shoulders, pulling him down a little. He bent, no resistance left, to press his nose against Dean's collarbone. His brother's arm slipped further down, encircling his neck, palm against his breastbone, and Dean's voice was a rough whisper by Sam's ear. "They were our parents, Sammy. You've got as much right to miss them as I do."
His body jerked with the force of his grief, and Dean pulled him in a little tighter. His other hand came up to rest on the nape of Sam's neck, gauze rough on his skin.
"You're not alone." A shudder ran through Dean that didn't seem like it was from the cold. "I'm here, okay? I'm here." He leaned his face against the side of Sam's neck.
Later, when he could think past his own pain, Sam thought maybe Dean was crying just a little bit at that moment, too.
Sam brought his arms up and wrapped them carefully around Dean's sore ribs, holding tight to handfuls of flannel, and grieved with his brother.
They slept a lot. Sam went out for food, avoiding the diner down the street. Dean checked his arm and fussed about the poison, not even rubbing it in that his hunch about the rhakshasa had been right. Sam rebandaged the healing hand daily and made his brother exercise it. Dean put some snow down Sam's back when the cold finally produced a few inches of white, and Sam returned the favor in his shorts. They watched TV, slept some more, talked little.
Sam had gone back to get Dean's pack and knife as soon as he felt comfortable leaving his brother, then anonymously called in the location of the rhakshasa's final victim. He'd already let the police know about the Benders' little house of horrors. Without a victim, police couldn't make arrests, but Missy was taken into custody again, and Benders filled the local hospital. Dean teased him gently about going all Terminator, but one look at his brother and Sam couldn't seem to feel any shame. He did what he had to do, he'd do it again, and for his brother he always would. Sam tagged the girl's file to keep an eye on, and they didn't bring it up again.
Dad… Sam did start talking about John. A lot. Purging, sorting, making sense, finding some peace. Dean never reciprocated, but he listened, and that helped, too. He still looked haunted and weary, but he no longer scared Sam. It was something.
They kept going.
"Dean, you know, I think Oprah did a show on—"
"Shut up, Sam."
It was what Winchesters did.