This story first appeared in Rooftop Confessions 4 (2009), from GriffinSong Press, and brings back the character Ben from "Rest Your Weary Head."

Fault Lines
K Hanna Korossy

He didn't realize immediately what had happened, which was something he would never quite forgive himself for later. But when you had a gorgeous woman kissing you, breathing the most incredibly hot things into your ear, stuff tended to come…undone. He barely registered the tiny clink of the metal charms on the tile floor.

And when he did, it was already too late.

He opened his eyes, to stare into coal-black ones. The painted lips turned up in a bright smile, then dove forward to slam against his. There was nothing seductive about this kiss, though, as thick, twisting darkness poured out of her mouth into his, forcing his throat wide, freezing his struggles into blank shock.

The next time she whispered to him, it was inside his head.

Howdy, Dean. Missed me?

00000

Sam had never told him a lot about when he was possessed, for which Dean could never really blame him. Some of it was just too terrible to dwell on, such as executing a fellow hunter with his bare hands, memories that made Sam go quiet and skittish and withdrawn. But a lot of it he simply couldn't seem to remember. Meg had shut Sam out, leaving him with giant gaps to obsess and gnaw over later on. They'd filled some of them in in the time since, eliminated some especially bad possibilities. But parts of it he'd probably never know, and Dean hadn't been so sure that was a bad thing.

He had no doubts now.

The woman died quickly and messily, gurgling in her own blood. His leering face had been the last thing she'd seen, and there had been stark terror in her eyes.

Dean knew how she felt. Get out of me, bitch.

Or what? Her voice was the smooth, playful tone he remembered, whether coming out of Meg Masters' mouth or his own brother's. Really, Dean, never were good on the follow-through, were you? Always leaving a girl unsatisfied.

Sent you back to Hell, didn't I?

He—they—were walking, out of the back entrance of the bar, toward the car. Dean fought her steps, her every movement, and felt his mind catch occasionally, stilting her usual glide, only to lose his hold again.

Not taking my car, you black-eyed freak.

He felt his mouth stretch slowly. Oh, I'm going to take a lot more than that, handsome.

She found his keys, slid inside. Dean raged at the invasion, and just felt her push him into a more distant corner of his mind, passenger inside his body as much as in his car. Watching as she fondled the steering wheel, the vinyl seats, then finally turned the engine on, gunning the motor.

A sneering laugh. "Overcompensating much, Dean?"

He threw himself against the mental cage, growling his anger, and she just kept laughing.

Behave, or I won't let you see what I do to Sammy.

That stopped him like a freight train. Even as she plucked the location of their current motel from his memory, Dean leaned in as close as he could. Leave Sam out of this.

She laughed again. Oh, baby, Sam's already in this up to his neck. See, last time I made the mistake of thinking you loved little brother enough to put him out of both our misery instead of watching him go evil. This time, no more talking, no more chances. I'm going to do what you should've done a long time ago.

The fear came in waves, staggering and cold. Dean quit fighting completely, went to his knees, quiet. Begging. Please. You got me, you got the car, the weapons—do whatever you want. I won't fight you. Just leave Sam alone.

Right. Her voice instantly swung into anger. How stupid do you take me for? Your brother will be on my tail in hours, and not in the fun way. No thanks. We're going to end this right now.

They were pulling up in front of the motel room. The room where his brother was waiting for Dean to come back so Sam could share his research on a reported vanishing spot the next state over. The room Sam had stayed behind in because Madison's death was still too fresh and he wasn't up to socializing yet. Where he was a sitting duck, unsuspecting, undefended.

Dean threw himself at the virtual bars with a howl of rage.

Meg's steps stuttered, Dean's ringed hand darting out to the hood for support. He felt a moment of triumph—take that, bitch—pressing harder, willing himself to turn away from the door. There was a twitch to the side, a hesitation, and Dean fought even harder, tooth and nail and with every bit of him for Sam.

ENOUGH! The scream tore through his head like a shockwave, bowling him over as if he were a kitten. The next moment, Dean was being shoved down into some place deep and dark. It was like being sucked down into mud, his every motion suffocated, quelled, restrained. Even as he opened his lips to cry out, the blackness boiled and writhed inside him just as Meg had, filling his mouth and throat.

It was his worst nightmare, and panic rose in Dean like a force of its own, filling every crevice, every free space in him, crowding out everything else.

Everything except the faint light in the distance. Through his eyes dimly, he saw the motel room door, his own hand with the key. The door opening. Sam looking up at him in surprise. The glint of his own gun before she snatched a pillow to bury it in, the muffled report.

Dean's cry was voiceless, choking, the shudder of impact traveling through his own trapped soul.

There was blood. Sam staggered, disbelief in his eyes. Then fell, sinking to the floor.

And Dean sank with him.

00000

She pulled him back to watch, and he didn't, couldn't fight her.

"Such a shame, Sammy. Together, we could've painted the town red instead of the hardwood, but you had your chance." She crouched down next to Sam to press against the wound under his ribs, making him gasp, then shook the blood distastefully off her hands.

He was awake but gaping like a fish, brow faintly furrowed. "Meg," Sam managed.

"Not today, baby. Today I'm big brother. And I've got plans." She rose fluidly, moved to the bag of supplies they had at the foot of the bed, and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. She smiled back at Sam. "You see, like I was just telling Dean in here—and he says hi, by the way—I learned a few things from last time. Like, taking one of you out really gets the other one in the right mood, all that fighting and cursing and energy. You should've heard him, driving here. Poor baby, so frustrated."

She stroked the cuff up Sam's arm, then snapped it on his wrist. He didn't look away from her, didn't even flinch, just glared at her, breathing heavily.

He did groan when she jerked his arm up, and Meg's smile widened. "And the other thing I learned is, patience isn't a girl's best friend. I wait too long, and you two smart boys figure something out to ruin all the fun. So, here's how it's going to be."

She locked the other end of the cuffs to the radiator by the wall, stretching Sam's arm above his head to reach. Then she drew one finger down his chest, circling the growing red, wet stain on the left side above his jeans. Sam's body trembled, eyes fluttering from the pull of his restrained arm. He gasped quietly when she dug through his pockets, pulling out wallet and keys and lock-pick set and a few other odds-and-ends, tossing them carelessly behind her.

"I figure, gut shot like that, you'll be dead in…what, one, two hours, tops? No need to rush things on my account, though, baby, you take your time. Dean and I'll just go out meanwhile, have a drink, maybe shoot a game of pool, a pool player or two, have a little fun. Come back in time for the big finale—I think Dean would like that, don't you? Watch his little brother drown in his own blood. I'll even let him tell you how sorry he is first."

"He…doesn't have to," Sam forced through clenched teeth. "Knows…not his fault." He was gulping, grinding his head back against the floor in a useless attempt to escape the pain.

"I'm not so sure about that," she purred, then stood fluidly. "Of course, you can always try screaming—someone might hear you and come help. Bet the cops won't even be surprised when Dean turns himself in and admits to shooting you…and about a dozen other people over the years." She cocked her head. "But at least you'll be alive, right?"

Sam swallowed, unrestrained hand hovering over the bullet wound as if gathering the courage to press down on it. His gaze rolled away from Meg.

"See you later, Sam," she said, and walked away.

His bitten-off cry reached her even through the closed motel room door. It only made her grin.

She did go get a beer, at the other watering hole in town. Played "Bitch" on the jukebox, and had a down-and-dirty quickie with one of the waitresses in the alley behind the bar. Teased and taunted Dean in the silence of his mind, and he fought until he had nothing left, thrashing uselessly against the oily thick bonds that held him as he screamed and raged in silence.

Somewhere along the line, though, fury turned to despair.

Sam had been gut shot. Even with quick treatment, wounds like that were insidious; if the infection didn't kill you, the shock probably would. It was one of the most painful places to get hit, an experience Dean was just as happy Sam had missed out on thus far.

Until his hand had pulled the trigger.

Sam had been bleeding a lot, though, and there was only so much volume the body could lose. He could be…they'd been gone a long time, at least a half-hour. He might not even be…

Slowly, Dean crumbled, tremors of rage becoming silent sobs.

Aw. Want to go back, baby?

Dean shut her out, grief welling and pressing him down as hard as her darkness. Sam had survived Meg's violation of him, had nursed Dean through his gunshot wound, had been unbeaten even when Madison's death had bowed him. He'd gone through so much those last few weeks, the last few years. And while he'd become more serious, more sober, he'd remained Sammy, with his stupid pranks and awful taste in food and his blinding smile and damn dewy eyes, and a quiet strength that had awed Dean. He probably had no idea how much he'd saved Dean in the previous months, when Dean was the one who was supposed to be looking out for him. Sam was the real backbone of the Winchester team.

And one moment of inattention, one idiotic mistake, and it was all gone, Sam dying, possibly already dead, with Dean helpless to do anything about it. He had no strength left to deal with that.

Her laugh had him straining feebly once again, pain giving him new strength. But this was no corporeal struggle to be fueled by adrenaline and desperation. He had no advantages here; humans would always lose this fight. And she had him trapped worse than any cage or prison ever would.

Let's go see how Sammy's doing, shall we?

The bar was about a mile from the motel. They passed the other honky-tonk on the way, several police cars parked out front, and Dean thought with fleeting bitterness of the dead girl in the bathroom. God only knew how long she'd been Meg's ride before she'd died. His face, his hands. His brother.

Dean floundered, drowning in hopelessness.

Then they were stepping through the door, and Dean strained to see despite the sheer terror at the thought of what would meet his eyes.

Sam lay in a small puddle of blood. His head was turned away, his hand limp in the cuff, and there was no sign of movement or life. The arms of his shirt were torn off and tied into a hasty compress, but that was also soaked.

Dean couldn't even think anymore, numb and lifeless. Sammy.

"Hmm. Maybe we missed the show. Seems our Sammy wasn't as strong as I thought." Meg crossed the floor in languid steps to crouch down on the rag rug beside Sam, and reached for him.

Her fingers froze inches from Sam's body. Dean felt the stammer of her sudden confusion.

Then Sam's head rolled their way, eyes heavy and clouded with pain but still aware. "Don't call me Sammy," he whispered, and slipped immediately into halting, weary Latin.

Oh, God, and That's my boy, and You're losing it tumbled through Dean's head as he stared dumbly, stuck watching on the sidelines as his brother fought for both of them.

Meg shot to her feet, her anger flowing over Dean like a hurricane wind. When she stepped back, however, she ran into another invisible wall. Shouting her rising rage, she pulled at the carpet under her with one booted foot, to reveal the edge of a small devil's trap. Painted in blood.

Dean's heart pounded…somewhere, real or phantom, and he pushed himself up, struggling anew.

It wouldn't have done any more good than before, except that Meg's power was beginning to wane. Latin kept rolling off Sam's tongue between ragged breaths, and Dean could feel the hold on him slip inch by clawing inch. He threw himself harder into the fight, wrenching himself from his bindings, spitting her bitterness out of his mouth, cursing long and low but with rising volume as he shrugged his arms loose, freed his legs. He felt his own limbs twitch, not just in his head but his actual body, and Dean stilled, focusing on expelling his intruder, reclaiming himself.

Sam's words were slowing, his strength clearly fading. Dean couldn't touch him, but his gaze bore down into what he could glimpse of his brother's eyes, willing Sam to see it was him.

Sam blinked and stared back. Then drew a weak breath and shoved the last few lines out. Something inside Dean tore like a piece of cloth.

Meg screamed. Then Dean's mouth was falling open, dark smoke pouring out of him with a violence that threatened to dislocate his jaw. He felt the pull, and wondered briefly if a person could get sucked into Hell with a demon.

Then dropped to his knees, abandoned here on Earth in his own Hell.

Sam sagged back to the floor with the end of the exorcism, as if he'd used up all his strength for it. He probably had. Stunned, Dean shook his head clear and reached for him, then hesitated, reeling with uncertainties and pain.

Sam put an end to that. Huffing out what sounded suspiciously like a little brotherly sound of exasperation, he clasped Dean's outstretched arm and pulled him closer with a strengthless grip.

"Don't," he murmured. "Don't. If…wasn't me…then s'not you." There was a hot spark in his eye despite his frigid fingers.

Dean's mouth twisted as he dug into his pocket for the handcuff key. "But you're never gonna let me live this down, huh?" he asked, shaky and almost surreal. He rubbed Sam's reddened wrist apologetically with a thumb while he lowered his arm, pretending not to hear the resulting moan.

Sam sputtered a breathless laugh, then his fingers spasmed on Dean's arm. "Dean…can't…I can't…do this much mo—" He flung his head back, long neck working. "Oh, God!" he gasped

"Okay, easy, I'll take care of it, just give me a minute." Dean was already leaning to the side, to the far bed where Sam couldn't have reached, and he dragged the first aid kit down to him. "Devil's trap—smart move," Dean noted, carefully feeling around the makeshift compress to see if the bleeding had stopped. If he concentrated on the here-and-now, helping Sam, maybe he wouldn't scream.

"Plen'y of…paint." Sam blinked rapidly, chin dropping again. "Dean?"

"Here, dude," Dean said quietly. He patted Sam's hand, still clinging to his arm. "I'm gonna give you something for the pain until we get you some help, okay?" He'd never been able to stand to see Sam suffer, and the sweat drenching his brother's hair and gleaming on his skin, the white-knuckled grip and taut muscles, told him exactly how Sam had spent the last hour. …drown in his own blood… A wave of self-recrimination washed over Dean again, but he shoved it away. He couldn't do that now.

The nod was jerky. Sam opened his eyes to look at Dean. "No h-hospital."

He'd found the morphine single-dose, torn off the sterile wrapper, and swiped alcohol over Sam's biceps. "It'll be okay, we'll use fake IDs, come up with a good story. I'll go—"

Sam's head was rolling vehemently. "No. Can't risk it. Dean." He hissed as the needle went in, the nails of his free hand scraping at the wooden floor.

Dean flinched and looked at him. "Sammy, I don't— The bullet's still in there, man, probably tore things up inside. I can't fix this." It hurt to admit it.

The breath sawed in and out of Sam, but his eyes were aware as they locked on Dean's. "No."

Dean swore quietly and eased the tie of a pressure bandage under Sam's arched back. "Okay, okay, uh…" He was talking to himself more than anything now, Sam concentrating on breathing even as his body started to feel the drug and relax. "Rick's too far away, Jill's north… Hey."

Sam blinked blearily, features starting to go lax.

Dean leaned over him, patted his cheek. "Stay with me a few more minutes, dude. Your friend Ben, the doctor with the clinic, he's somewhere around here, isn't he?"

Sam was trying to focus on him, but his eyes kept slipping. "Where?" he slurred.

Dean made a face, positioned the pressure bandage, then set his jaw as he pulled it tight.

Despite the morphine, Sam jolted, swallowing audibly. "Deeean."

"Sammy, listen to me," Dean ordered as he knotted the ties. "Ben, that doctor who patched us up once, he lives in west Tennessee, doesn't he?"

"Ben?"

"Yeah, Ben. C'mon, Sam, focus."

Sam's eyes were struggling to stay open. "Not y'r fault, Deeean…"

Dean blew out an exasperated breath. "Great." He glanced around the room, spotting Sam's phone in the far corner. He started to climb to his feet to get it, only to have Sam's grip on his arm tighten, nearly frantic hazel eyes pinning him. No way should Sam have been that aware, and guilt ate at Dean again. "I'm just getting your phone, gonna find us some help, okay?" he soothed. "I'm not goin' anywhere."

Sam stared at him a moment. Dean was just starting to wonder how much he was really getting of what was going on, when Sam's eyes slid shut and he mumbled, "Don't leave."

Dean swallowed, remembering walking away from his bleeding brother, Sam's cry on the other side of the door. "I'm not," he repeated.

Sam mustered a pathetic, lopsided smile, and his hand slid off Dean's arm.

Dean shook his head, feeling the forgiveness almost as pain, and scrambled for the phone.

Sam did, indeed, have the middle-aged doctor programmed into his cell. Dean tucked the phone against his shoulder as he adjusted the bandage and started bundling Sam up for transport.

"Hello?"

"Hey, doc, this is Dean. Winchester. You know, the guy you shot?"

Sam grimaced, and Dean didn't know if it was from the conversation or pain.

"Oh, I remember you just fine, Dean," came the wry response. "Hard to forget someone who tried to ransack my clinic." Figured the guy would remember that. Dean had just been trying to borrow some supplies to fix Sam up; the doc was the one who tripped over the cat and shot him. "How's your brother?"

Dean had to swallow before answering. "Not too good. We need your help."

He filled the doc in, hearing the reservations in Ben's voice when he learned the situation. But Dean could be pretty persuasive when Sam's life was on the line, and after a brief discussion, the guy promised he'd be waiting for them. He was about two hours away, closer than Dean had dared hope, but still too far, he feared. Sam rolled pliantly in his grasp, and that was only partly the morphine.

Dean snapped the phone shut. "Sam." He shook his brother's shoulder, then patted his cheek, giving his chin a squeeze. "Dude, front and center."

Sam pulled his eyes open with effort.

"Two choices," Dean said clearly and simply. "Ben's two hours away. Hospital's ten minutes."

Sam blinked. "N'hosp'tal."

Dean leaned closer, combing damp hair out of his brother's eyes so he could stare into them, make Sam feel the weight of this. "Can you hang in there for two hours? Sam? I'm not risking you on this. Two hours—no dying on me, you hear me?"

He could see Sam struggle to surface in the swimming chestnut eyes. Really look at him. "Stayin' here, man. Prom'se," he said tiredly.

Dean nodded, breathing a little easier. "All right, little brother, I'm gonna hold you to that."

He'd piled every blanket and sheet in their room, plus the ones he'd swiped from the empty room next door, into the back seat of the car, making a nest so Sam could lie down as comfortably as possible. Their belongings were impatiently tossed into the trunk, then Dean darted back into the room after a quick glance around. But there was no one around to watch as he staggered out with Sam bundled limp in his arms.

His brother didn't make a sound, hardly reacted more than with a few small tremors as Dean shifted him from room to car. When Dean slid into the driver's seat, he couldn't help reaching back and checking the rapid pulse, then planting a palm against Sam's chest to feel his lungs working. Everything was all off, too fast and labored, but Sam was hanging on.

Dean flexed his jaw as he started the car, then peeled out onto the road, praying under his breath as he kept watch in the rear view mirror and drove.

00000

He woke Sam at the half-hour and hour mark, checking his feeble lucidity, risking a sip of water when that was the one thing Sam said clearly. Otherwise, Sam dozed fitfully as he sought relief from the pain even in his sleep, and Dean drove like he was running from a demon. Whether those were the cops, Sam's last breath, or Meg's voice still in his head, Dean himself couldn't have—wouldn't have—said.

He shaved some time off even his own best estimate, veering onto the gravel driveway in a little less than ninety minutes. The doc's place was kind of remote, no other houses in sight, but Dean scanned the area anyway as he got out and hurried around to Sam's door.

Ben had apparently been watching for him, and he crunched down the walk as Dean leaned into the car. "You need some help?" he called.
"I got him," Dean said tersely. "Get the doors."

Sam groaned as Dean slid an arm under his neck. The morphine was wearing off, and Dean was so tired of seeing his brother hurting. He pressed his own warmer body closer to the shivering, shaking one, marveling that after everything, Sam still trusted and seemed comforted by Dean's proximity. He dropped his head onto Dean's shoulder as Dean sat him up, relaxing despite his injured muscles.

"We're here, Sam. Gonna get you fixed up, all right?" Dean lifted with a grunt, trying to settle his brother so he wouldn't drop him.

A nod against his neck, convulsive swallowing of any sounds of pain. "Ben?"

"Yeah. And if you do your whole Luke Skywalker 'Be-en!' impersonation, I'm dropping you right here."

Sam snorted softly. "Jus' don'…shoot him."

"No promises."

He was kidding…mostly. The fact was, while the good doctor had shot him first, what had followed was an unexpected stay while the guy took care of them both, and an odd sort of friendship, mostly between Sam and the doc. Not that Dean held a grudge or anything, but still, someone putting holes in him tended to put a damper on a relationship…well, with one exception. But Sam trusted the man, and Ben had looked after Sam then, too, and so Dean was trusting him to do it again.

Mostly.

Ben was holding the screen door open, and Dean turned sideways to fit Sam's long body through. The toes of his boots still brushed the doorjamb, and Sam gave a sickly hiccup. Dean juggled him a little higher, his arms already feeling like they were about to fall off, and followed the doc down the hallway.

"You said he's been shot?" Ben called back over his shoulder to Dean.

"Yeah. Left abdomen."

"How long ago."

"'Bout three hours."

They turned into a room Dean remembered vaguely, complete with diagnostic table. Ben waved him over to it. "You two take turns getting shot or something?"

"Or something," Dean said, laying Sam out gently, legs first, then slowly easing his upper body down. Sam clenched his jaw and rolled his head away, breathing rapidly.

"You give him anything?"

Dean reeled off dosage and time without conscious thought, peeling blankets away from Sam, rubbing the top of his head like he used to when they were kids. Sam was shaking and grey, however, beyond childhood comforts, and the compression bandage was stained wet.

Ben was pulling at him. Dean had to make himself let go and allow the older man to manhandle him away. He watched starkly as Ben checked Sam's wound, hesitating when Sam gasped loudly. Then Dean stepped around the doctor to the head of the table, bent low over Sam's tousled bangs, and laid a hand across his forehead, stilling the tossing head.

"Hey. Sam, listen to me. Just focus on me, okay?" Dean licked his dry lips. "You remember that time we went to the beach? You were about four, and I don't think you'd seen the ocean before. Scared the crap out of you—you kept hanging on to my leg like a leech."

Sam drew in a few sharp breaths, tilted his head back a little. Dean thought he was just squirming until he whispered, "S'big. Always thought you'd…go out an'…get lost in it."

Dean smiled. "Which just proves you were a wuss even then."

Sam was panting now. "Got…sand in…my… God, Dean!"

That was it. Dean reached his threshold for worrying about his image or keeping things light or just about any concern besides helping Sam. Taking Sam's hand, he pulled it up so it rested just above where Ben was working, and let Sam clutch, squeezing back just enough so the kid could feel him. "Easy, Sammy. It'll be over soon."

"That's…what…'m 'fraid…of," Sam gasped back.

"Dude, you're not gonna let some girl take you down, are you?" Dean said with a shaky grin. His hand, his gun.

Sam was too busy breathing to answer, soft animal sounds of pain slipping past his control.

Dean's smile melted and he looked up with tight eyes. "Doc?"

"I'm not really equipped for this, Dean, I told you that over the phone," Ben answered him tersely. "Don't have the right equipment for lavage, not a lot of nitrous…"

"Can you help him or not?" Dean demanded.

The doc looked up at him. "I don't think I have a choice, kid." He contemplated Dean a moment. "You got hurt recently, too, didn't you."

Dean frowned. "How—?"

"I'm a doctor," Ben said briskly. "I was going to tap you, but I'll have to raise his volume another way."

"Screw that," Dean snapped, already pulling his jacket off. "I can help."

"You can, just not that way." As Dean opened his mouth, Ben added more gently. "I'll ask if I need it, all right? But right now, I think we can get along without it."

Dean took a breath, reining in everything that was about to burst out of him. "What do you need me to do?"

Cool dark blue eyes studied him. "Go out to the kitchen. Have some coffee with lots of sugar, raid the fridge, and wait."

Sam muttered something, and even as Dean tilted his head down to hear, he realized it was Latin. He immediately let go of Sam's hand, and his brother's fingers twitched against his chest. "I can do this," Dean insisted weakly.

"I know." Ben nodded. "But he needs me right now. Go get ready for when he'll need you."

It was logic he couldn't argue with. Dean looked at the doctor a moment more, then down at Sam, who writhed mindlessly now, eyes squeezed shut. "Okay. Okay. Just…he's all I've got," he mumbled, only half to Ben.

"I'll take care of him," Ben said kindly. "Go on. Coffee with lots of sugar, before you pass out on me, too."

Dean stumbled out the door.

He made it three steps down the hallway before he sagged against the wallpapered wall, pressing his forehead against it. I'm going to do what you should've done a long time ago. Meg's voice was so clear, Dean curled his hand into a fist just to make sure he could, that he was back in control. Hurt and disbelief in Sam's eyes as the bullet hit him. Control: what a laugh. Like he controlled Meg when she'd stolen Sam before? Like his damage control when the first woman Sam had let himself care about needed to be put down? Like the control Dean had just given away to a beautiful woman, a flesh-and-blood trap? I think Dean would like that, don't you? Watch his little brother drown in his own blood. He raised his fist and slammed it against the wall.

Knows…not his fault…

Dean turned and slid down the wall, knees folding, hands shaking in his hair. Helpless, trapped, and once more waiting for Sam to pull them through.

00000

When the door opened, Dean scrambled to his feet, empty mug clunking unnoticed to the linoleum beside him. He'd positioned himself right in front of the clinic door, so the doc stood less than two feet from him, his head tilting up a little so he could look Dean in the face.

"He's all right, sleeping off the anesthetic now. He was lucky."

Dean scoffed at that, but felt all the dammed tension in him break loose. "Infection?"

"That's pretty inevitable at this point, but for such a large-caliber bullet, it did surprisingly little damage. I didn't have as much clean-up as I thought I would. The antibiotics should kick the rest, just give it a couple of days." He canted his head. "How close was Sam to the shooter?"

Dean gaped a second, thinking trusted him with his life, until that moment, when he realized what the doc was actually asking. He cleared his throat. "'Bout ten feet."

Ben shook his head. "Amazing. That bullet should've punched right through him, taken out a chunk of his intestines with it. I'd say someone was watching over you two."

Dean would have derided that, too, except that if anyone deserved a break, it was Sam. And the thought of someone else looking after him, too—You're just one person, Dean—was something Dean realized he needed desperately just then. He nodded.

Ben pursed his lips. "You never said who shot him."

Dean's eyes slid sideways, to the closed door behind him. "An old enemy," he said softly.

Ben nodded. "Well, I see you found the coffee, but I'm guessing no food, right?"

Dean pulled his eyes, and attention, back with effort, but still blinked in confusion at Ben. "What?"

Ben smiled. "Go see your brother. I'll make some sandwiches and get the La-Z-Boy ready."

None of it really made sense to him except the part about seeing Sam, but that was the part that mattered, anyway. Dean ducked his head gratefully and moved around the doc to go inside.

The light was dimmer, and not just because the shadows outside were getting long. It still let him see Sam plainly, very, very still on the table, a sheet pulled up to his armpits. He remained pale, but his skin had lost its earlier translucent tone, and the deep lines of pain had faded to soft creases, as if he were just puzzled over the discomfort. Best of all, his chest rose and fell gently under the sheet, regular and easy and the best friggin' thing Dean had seen in a long time.

He moved over to the side of Sam's bed, watching him a long minute, then laying a hand over his ribcage. Sam's breathing didn't even hitch, continuing its steady cadence. And if that wasn't some kind of miracle right there, Dean didn't know what was.

The door opened to Ben wrestling with something that looked like the Sam Winchester of easy chairs, long and clumsy and flopping all over the place. Dean hurried over to help him before he really knew what he was doing, raising an eyebrow at Ben's gasped "La-Z-Boy," like that explained anything. It took him probably too long to grasp that this was going to be his bed while Sam was in the clinic, but Dean gave the doc a grateful nod once he got it. He was the one who manhandled it over beside Sam's bed, second eyebrow going up as he figured out all the different settings of the chair. He finally settled in it gingerly, grunting his approval, then leaned forward to slip his hand under the sheet and over Sam's wrist. Not like there were heart monitors or temperature gauges here, right? Dean would just have to fill in.

He sat back in the chair, and let the sound of Sam's breathing and the feel of his heartbeat drown out the voices of recrimination and memory inside his head.

00000

"'s not what it's for…"

Dean blotted the rising sweat off Sam's face, only half paying attention to the meaningless words. "It's not?"

"You c'n tell…she said i's green…"

Dean's mouth tweaked. "Sure, Sammy. Now go back to sleep, okay?"

"Uh-huh…" Sam's head tipped to the side, and he drifted off again. Dean shook his head and finished wiping Sam's face, then tossed the cloth into the bowl on the floor with a sigh and rubbed his eyes.

"You want me to take a turn?"

He wasn't surprised at Ben's voice, having gotten used to the doctor drifting in and out of the room to check on Sam. Dean didn't even look up, just shook his head against the heel of his hand. "Naw, I'm good, thanks."

"He never let me look after you, either," Ben said with amusement.

Dean lifted his head. "Yeah, well, no offense, Doc, we're just sorta used to taking care of our own."

The older man nodded. "I can understand that." He stepped forward to scoop up the bowl and crossed the room to the sink to freshen the water. "I came out of retirement after your last visit, you know."

Dean raised an eyebrow at his back. "You retired? Kinda young for that, aren't you?"

"Well, mostly retired." Ben returned with the bowl, set it down next to Dean's feet, and stepped back to lean against the bed. Dean could see his clinical eye pass over Sam. "I'd lost my wife not long before, my only brother a few years before that. Didn't seem much point to continuing working."

The empathy was a stab of pain through his heart. "How'd your brother die?" Dean asked hoarsely.

Ben's eyes shied away. "Killed himself," he said, quiet, distant. "He'd struggled with depression most of his life. One day he just took his belt and…" His mouth twisted.

Dean didn't need to hear the rest. "I'm sorry," he offered, eyes darting to Sam, then back to the doc. Suicide. How did you save somebody you loved from himself? It was something Dean struggled with, too, between Sam's and their dad's fears about what Sam would become.

"Old pain." Ben shook his head. "But I still think, I'm a doctor, I should've seen the signs. You talk about guilt…"

Dean frowned. "Who said anything about guilt?"

The doctor gave him a wry look. "Oh, I recognize the signs. Seen them often enough in myself. But whatever it is you did or think you did, consider this—you still have Sam. It's not too late to fix things."

Dean narrowed his eyes. "Look, Doc, I appreciate what you're doing for Sam, I do. And I'm sorry about your brother. But you don't know anything about me and Sam."

Ben sighed, straightening up. "Yes, you're probably right." Sam groaned softly, turning his head toward Dean. "Temp holding steady?"

Dean soaked the cloth and replaced it, leaning a hand on his restive brother's shoulder. "Up and down."

"I think we'll start seeing some improvement by morning. I'll check back with you then, but wake me if he gets worse." Ben turned to leave.

"Doc?" Dean wasn't even sure why he spoke up until he had.

The older man turned halfway back.

Dean fidgeted, nodded at Sam. "Thanks. For…everything."

Ben just smiled a little at him and left.

"Dean?" Sam called out blindly, fretful.

Dean shook himself, turning his full attention back on his brother. "Yeah, Sammy, I'm here. Let's get some water in you, huh?"

Sweat glistened against Sam's throat as his Adam's apple bobbed. "…burning…"

Dean nodded, sliding a hand under the sweat-damp head and rubbing the side of Sam's neck with his thumb before he lifted up. "Yeah, bro. I know."

00000

The next thirty-six hours were…different.

The infection took almost three days in all to burn itself out, simmering low but steady while Sam and some heavy duty medication fought it off. Between the fever and whatever Ben was giving him, Sam continued to swing between dead sleep and twilight semi-consciousness.

Once he was out of danger, and they'd both gotten a little sleep, Dean began to appreciate the situation a little more. Sam half-asleep was amusing. Sam half-asleep, feverish, and on drugs was frickin' hilarious. After nightmares gave way to repeated themes of "no lamias," "salting her"—Dean wasn't sure he wanted to know what that was about—and something about grapefruits, he gave up trying to make any sense of it and just played along. In all, he had some awesome blackmail material next time Sam balked at doing the dirty work. Or stuff to cajole him out of his next funk over Madison.

So when Sam opened his eyes again, gaze lazily traveling the room, Dean just waited to see what it would be this time, toothpaste or Thunderbirds.

Sam stopped when he reached him, brow furrowing a little. "Dean?"

He sounded perpetually parched, and Dean was still under orders to have him drink a little every time he could manage it. "Right here." He fished now for the glass and straw Ben had left him and held it for Sam, who closed his eyes in apparent pleasure as he sipped. Dean was sorry to pull it away from him. "You can have more in a minute, man."

Sam reopened his eyes, finding Dean instantly now, again looking faintly worried. "Y'all right?"

Dean faltered. This was finally the real Sam talking, studying him. And Dean wasn't sure he was ready to go anywhere past grapefruits and lamias. "I'll get back to you on that one, okay?"

"…could start a…support group…Meg's meatsuits," Sam said with faint wryness.

Dean snorted. "Yeah, trust you to come up with a support group, Samantha."

Sam just looked at him a long moment like he got it, the dark prison and the helplessness and the watching your brother bleed at your own hands, until Dean couldn't bear the knowing anymore. He squinted away, tucking in the edge of Sam's sheet, fiddling with the La-Z-Boy's controls.

"Dude," he perked up. "This chair? Friggin' rocks. Wish I could fit it in the car somehow."

"How'd it happen?"

Dean dropped the act, not wanting to play dumb, not able to meet Sam's eyes. "Uh, turns out they can't get in you while you're wearing those anti-possession charms Bobby gave us, but they can take them off you just fine and then do it."

Sam sighed. "Girl in the bar."

"Yeah."

There was a long silence. Dean offered no defense, just sat, bowed, waiting for Sam's judgment.

"You prayed for me," Sam murmured unexpectedly.

"What?" Dean's head came up, eyes narrowing. Not what he'd expected, not even from Left-Field Sam.

"In the car, on the way. You prayed for me."

He was going to deny it, he really was. But he wasn't up to lying to Sam, either, not right now. His brother would find more comfort in it than Dean had, anyway, and he wasn't up to denying Sam that, either. He cleared his throat, one hand absently rubbing against the chair's arm. "Yeah, well, you know what Dad taught us, gotta try every weapon in your arsenal until you find one that works, right?"

Sam smiled a little, but there was more emotion in it than most of his laughs. "Thanks."

"This doesn't mean the Guy Upstairs and I are on speaking terms, Sam," Dean warned him. "I mean, what Meg had me—" He cut off, turning away so Sam wouldn't see him struggling. So not cool, not when Sam was the one lying there stitched up and drugged.

"I seem to recall some…pretty specific lectures 'bout how…'s not really you when you're possessed," Sam whispered behind him, sounding drowsy and deep…and like the Dad that Dean had always wanted to hear and never did.

"That work so well for you?" Dean asked the floor roughly.

"Yeah, actually. It did."

Dean tilted his head. "And before? You gonna tell me that wasn't my fault, either?"

"She would've found…a way, anyway…Dean." A pause. Then a soft laugh that sounded pained. "Always said…should think more with your…upstairs brain." But there was no condemnation in it, just a fond sort of resignation. Only Sam would manage to marry those two together.

Dean looked at his brother again. Who'd become a man when Dean wasn't looking, but who would still always be his little brother. And most importantly, was still there, which would always be the bottom line. The doc was right; everything else could be fixed.

"Bitch," Dean muttered gently.

Sam's eyes shut, but his smile widened into a tired but happy grin. "Jerk."

"Winchesters," Ben grumbled as he bustled in the door.

Yeah, Dean willingly conceded. That, too.

The End