A/N: Previously published in Brotherhood 7 by Pyramids Press.
Sometimes Sam wondered if they were even speaking the same language.
Like that moment, for example. Hell, that entire day. From the moment Sam had gotten up, everything between them had fallen into an argument. Breakfast, the car, the weapons, the research...every topic had been started off warily and had simply degenerated from there.
Sam was desperately hoping it would end soon. They had a hunt they needed to focus on, and they still couldn't agree on what the damn thing even was, and the last thing they both needed was to be pissed off at each other. They needed to be at the top of their game, instead of fighting over who got to take the shotgun like children, and speaking of which-
"I'll take the shotgun, Dean."
"I said I got it," Dean said. He finished loading it up and pumped it once, giving Sam a look as he did so. Sam pursed his lips and turned back to the trunk, breathing out his frustration as best as he could. He would not fall into another argument with his brother. Not when they'd already fought over dinner, everything from the type of Chinese food purchased to chopsticks. This had to end.
They'd been on edge all week; he knew that. The last hunt had gone bad fast, and they'd barely gotten out of it alive. Sam honestly didn't remember much. He'd shoved Dean out of the way of the oncoming desk, thrown courtesy of the spirit who didn't want to go. The next thing he remembered was the hotel bed beneath him, and Dean's scratched, worried face above him.
Two days later, they'd headed for Pennsylvania, and everything had started falling apart, slowly but surely. It was only today that things had finally culminated into fights, one of which had almost been a shouting match. The only thing that had stopped it had been Dean storming out of the room.
Which wasn't a lot better than shouting, really, but it meant they had a hotel room to come back to, as opposed to being kicked out for noise.
Sam double checked his handgun, purposefully keeping his gaze on the weapons. He reached for the holy water the same time Dean did, and with a snort of irritation pulled away. Dean paused, his hand hovering over the bottle, before taking it away. "Sorry I stepped on someone's toes," Dean muttered, and that was it.
"If you've got a problem with me, just say it already," Sam snapped. Dean was already facing him, shotgun dropped into the trunk. He'd known exactly what he was doing, provoking Sam like that. He wanted this fight.
Good. Maybe they'd get this all out in the open, and Sam would get his brother back.
"Oh trust me, Sam, if I had a problem with you, you'd damn well know about it."
"Really? Because you've started every single fight today-"
"Not every single fight, don't give me that crap-"
"-and I'm tired of it, Dean," Sam finished, throwing the handgun back into the trunk. Dean glared at him, fists clenched and chin tilted up as if he was daring Sam to throw the first punch. "I'm tired of you being pissed at me, and I don't even know what the hell it is I've done. So just say it already, and let's get it out in the open and done so we can finish this damn hunt. You haven't been this angry and upset since..."
Sam stopped himself, swallowing and lowering his voice before continuing. "Since Dad," he finished softly. Dean's lips pursed together even tighter, but he said nothing. "What's going on, Dean? Look, I know the last hunt was a close one, but..."
"Really? You sure about that?" Dean answered, sarcasm heavily laid into his voice. All the sympathy Sam had started to feel slid away in an instant. "It was more than close, Sam; we almost got killed because you tried to be a hero."
One blink, two blinks, and then Sam was able to answer his brother without exploding. "Excuse me? A hero? Dean, if I hadn't shoved you out of the way, you would've gone flying out the window from the force of that desk!"
"I had the book, Sam," Dean shouted, suddenly up in his face. "I had the book the spirit was attached to. I had the friggin' lighter, and all I needed to do was bring the two together. I could've finished it if you hadn't-"
"Hadn't what, Dean? Saved your life?" Sam snapped.
Dean narrowed his gaze. "I would've been fine. Instead, you threw yourself at me like you were Superman, and I had to scramble for the book because you screwed up!"
If he didn't back up from Dean, he was going to start hitting something, and he didn't want it to be his brother. Not really. He grabbed the shotgun from where it'd fallen in the trunk and the holy water bottle next to it, then stepped away. "Yeah, I'm really sorry about that, Dean. Sorry I saved your life and screwed it all up."
Dean cursed, low and angry, before grabbing the handgun Sam had had before and slamming the trunk shut. "I don't get it, Dean. I really don't," Sam couldn't help but add. "It's totally okay to save my life, but the instant yours is saved, you explode with rage and fury everywhere. Why can't you accept that your life is worth-"
"Don't even go there," Dean growled. Sam pursed his lips shut and waited until his brother had walked past him into the darkened trees of the forest, before following behind.
That was what infuriated him the most: Dean was fine with saving Sam. Anything for Sam's life; no price was too high. He'd shot the window of his own car to save Sam once, threatened humans who'd dared to try and hurt Sam.
The instant someone else tried to save Dean, though, it was like someone lit a keg of dynamite. He'd been this way too, right after their dad had died. Angry and edgy, trying to start a fight and deflect from whatever was really going on deep inside. It'd taken time to pull Dean out, to find his brother underneath the fury, but Sam had finally done it.
He didn't relish the thought of the next two months being like that all over again. His stomach was already twisting into knots at the memory of Dean, furious and always lit to go off. He swallowed and swallowed again, trying to rid himself of the feeling in his gut and the idea of losing his brother again.
Dean had his eyes ahead of him, fingers tight around the handgun. Sam grasped the shotgun in his own hands and forced his thoughts away from the fights and the tension he could practically see between them. The hunt was the only thing he needed to think about. That, and watching his brother's back, because he knew damn right well that Dean wouldn't watch it for himself.
He breathed out slowly and went over everything about the hunt in his head. Three people dead, various ages, two men and a woman, various ethnicities. No patterns lunar or otherwise, no strange marks left on the bodies, no connections between the victims. The attacks were random, sporadic, and deadly. The bodies had been torn apart, mutilated by teeth and claws.
It'd been classified as an animal attack, a bear mauling by local authorities. The attacks were spread out, random numbers at random dates that didn't match up every few years. The only thing out of the ordinary was the fact that while the claws clearly belonged to an animal, the teeth didn't match any beast on record. In fact, authorities were fairly certain they were human, if anything.
Dean seemed to think it was a bunyip, seemed almost hopeful it was a bunyip. No special way to kill it necessary: just aim, shoot, and burn the corpse. Anything corporeal and easy, and Dean was happy.
Sam hadn't agreed, but hadn't felt confident with his own idea which had been a harpy. If it was a harpy, it would take a little more than just any bullet to rid the forest of it which had been the first reason Dean hadn't liked it. The second reason had been because Sam hadn't even been one hundred percent behind it.
And the third reason had simply been because Sam suggested it. Sam gritted his teeth at the memory of that particular argument-turned-fight.
Right then and there, Sam didn't really care what the hell the thing was so long as it gave him something to shoot at. Something that wasn't preferably his brother who still continued walking deeper into the forest, his back turned to Sam.
Ten minutes in, and the tension was shifting to awkward rolls in Sam's stomach. This wasn't how they hunted: they never went in with something between them. Not when there was a given chance that this would be the last hunt for either of them. It just wasn't a smart thing to do. He licked his dry lips and parted them to speak. "Dean..."
If he hadn't tipped his head back to take in a deep breath of air before continuing on, he never would've seen it. Bright, blue eyes that glowed in the darkness of the trees locked with his gaze, then immediately jerked away from Sam. Jerked towards Dean, and Sam knew whatever verbal warning he had wasn't going to be enough.
He shouted anyways, the panic forcing it out of his lungs. "Drop!"
Dean was still a hunter through and through, despite probably being steamed at Sam for whatever reason. He dropped immediately, automatically twisting his body towards the threat, but the creature was already moving fast. It roared before it dove straight for Dean, the sound piercing Sam's ears.
Sam pumped his shotgun and fired ahead of the creature, running to reach his brother. The creature twisted away suddenly, back to the trees, and Sam turned around to follow it. Even before he made it all the way around, he felt the air behind him brush his hair, a testament to its speed. He turned and fired off a shot without really seeing the creature. The resounding roar of pain was immediate and satisfying all at once.
Dean was back on his feet, moving predictably to stand in front of Sam, handgun up and aiming. "The trees," Sam told him, right before a branch cracked to their left. Dean swiveled and fired twice, then cursed loudly when the shots missed.
"The hell is it?" Dean shouted. "It's not a harpy!"
"And it's not a bunyip," Sam retorted. Dean made a face but kept his eyes on the trees. "It's corporeal, though. I got a shot off."
"Good," Dean said, narrowing his gaze. Another branch cracked, this time above them, and they both backed away, guns at the ready. Another crack, a louder crack, and a large branch fell between them, sending them further apart.
Sam didn't even have to see the eyes again to know they'd made a huge mistake that was possibly going to be fatal. It was up in the trees, at an awkward angle from Dean's point of view, but perfectly in Sam's. It moved its gaze to Dean, who was watching Sam to make sure he was okay. The stupid idiot wasn't even seeing the eyes that were moving down the branches at an alarming rate, too focused on Sam, and couldn't his big brother instincts turn off just once?
Sam pushed himself forward into a run as his brother turned to the threat at last. The gun was already up, the trigger was pulled at last, but the thing wasn't slowing. It was moving down, down, down, and Sam dove over the fallen branch in a high tackle. He hit his brother mid chest just as the creature roared again, the piercing, high pitched tone going straight through his ears. There was a burning sensation suddenly in his calf, and then he was hitting the ground, Dean underneath him.
In the seconds it had taken to reach Dean and guard him, Dean had managed to get another two shots off. The creature was making some sort of horrible noise, sounding like a mangled trumpet, keening and howling. Dean rolled Sam away from the creature and raised his hand, firing once more. The ear splitting noises stopped, and Sam closed his eyes with a sigh of relief.
"Sam?" Dean asked, but his voice was distorted, as if underwater. Sam frowned and opened his eyes again, surprised by the amount of conscious thought it took to do so. What the hell...?
He moved his legs around to stand, feeling lethargic and dizzy. "M'fine," he slurred, and cleared his throat to try again. "S'not a-"
The instant he put pressure on his right leg, everything went white. There was another high pitched keening, a scream of pain, and once he was able to remember the creature was dead, he realized the sound had come from him.
Other sounds slowly began to filter back in. "...mmy? Sammy! Stay with me, talk to me dude." Dean's cajoling voice held an edge of panic in it that slowly brought him back to focus. When he could see again, everything was blurred. Dean's worried face was the most blurred. "Sammy?"
"Leg," he managed to get out. The pain was intense, shooting through him, and Dean's hasty scrambling to pull Sam's leg onto his lap wasn't helping. He moaned at the sudden shift in pain and watched Dean's face even out into horrified realization. He managed to look down enough to see the dark spines sticking out of his calf before he let his head fall back against the hard forest floor.
Or against the arm that was obviously supporting him. He closed his eyes then, letting Dean take in what Sam had guessed at.
Manticore. All the signs had led to it, but they'd both been wrong. He snorted in amusement at the irony before the pain shot through his body again. Human teeth, lion's claws, and the poisonous spines at the tip of the tail. Sam wasn't forgetting that part.
If he hadn't tackled Dean, though, the spines would've hit his brother directly in the chest. Lungs and heart would've been pierced, and he would've been a brother down. And that wasn't happening today or any day in the future if Sam could help it.
"Sam? You with me?" He was shifted slightly, and Sam couldn't help the whimper of pain, forcing his eyes open. Dean was hovering above him, but Sam couldn't make out any real features. "Sammy?"
"M'not sorry," he whispered. A low curse as Dean tried to shift him again, causing Sam to jerk. "M...m'not."
"We're gonna get you to the car, okay?" Dean continued as if he hadn't heard Sam. Maybe he hadn't. He parted his lips to ask, but the sensation of being lifted, albeit carefully, hit him, and he suddenly felt nauseous and too lightheaded to speak. The white hot pain engulfed him, pushed him away from Dean's fearful voice calling him, and into a void.
Cold. He was so cold. His leg was roasting in the fire, but the rest of him was frozen to the bone. He opened frost sealed eyes and tried to focus, but everything was shaking. Earthquake. Had to be. Where was Dean? Had to warn him, about the cold, the earthquake. Oh god, what if it'd hit Dean already? What if...what if he...
"Shhh. It's okay."
He found Dean in the blurriness of the room, trembling along with everything else. His brother was in front of him, his face close enough that even with the shaking, Sam could make out the unmistakable worry and concern. Something fell on Sam's head, something cold, and he tried to pull away without success. His lips wouldn't let him form the words, and he could only stutter a moan when the cold wouldn't stop.
"I'm right here, Sam," Dean said softly. Another swipe of the cold, and Sam tried once more to pull away. His leg brushed against something rough, and he gasped at the sudden shock of pain. The rough thing was all around him, surging upward to cover him, and he pushed at it as best he could.
The cold stopped, and hands were there, gently restraining him from moving. "Hey, hey, take it easy, I'm right here, okay? I'm right here. Nothing's gonna happen to you while I'm here."
It didn't make sense. None of it made any sense. The world was still shaking, something was trying to swallow him up and rip him to pieces, his leg was burning away merrily, and the rest of him was freezing more and more by the minute.
But Dean was there. Right in front of him, and Sam let his eyes slide shut once more, falling away with Dean's voice buffeting him as he slid back into the void.
When Sam opened his eyes next, the room had stopped shaking. The fire had faded away, and though he still shivered slightly, he was no longer chilled to the bone. He could feel something cool on his forehead, heavy and comforting, and the rough coverings, the comforter and blankets, were warm around him.
The only thing he really cared about, though, was sitting across from him at the small table in the room, eyes glued to the laptop before him. Dean's brow was furrowed, deep lines that looked like they were permanently etched there and had to be adding to the headache of sitting so close to the screen. He looked like he hadn't slept in days, and considering what Sam recalled about their hunt, he had a pretty good idea of why. Time to relieve his big brother of duty.
Sam shifted to sit up, the blankets rustling slightly, and a faded feeling of pain slowly filled his calf. He hissed softly, and Dean immediately turned towards him. The frown partially fell away as he leaned forward in his chair. "Sam?" he asked, his voice quiet but hopeful. "You with me?"
"I think so," Sam managed through gritted teeth, feeling the pain slowly subside. When he focused again on his brother, the frown was gone completely, and stark relief stood out on Dean's face.
If Dean was being this open about his emotions, it had to have been pretty bad. "What time is it?" Sam asked, pushing the other burning questions down for later. When Dean didn't look like he was going to fall over from exhaustion.
"Tuesday," Dean replied as he stood. The chair was dragged over next to Sam's bed, and Dean slid back down into it with a sigh. "You've been out for about five days."
Sam could take a pretty fair guess on how much of that Dean had spent sleeping. He winced as he tried to sit up once more. "I'm fine, Dean. Really. You should get some rest."
"You're gonna need liquids," Dean said, smoothly ignoring Sam. Sam sighed and continued to attempt to push himself up until he was back against the headboard in a slouched position. Close enough. "Gotta purge the venom from your system." There was a subtle flinch at the word 'venom'. Then it was gone, and Dean was returning with a glass of water. "Here."
Sam obediently took a few sips, then caught his brother's wrist when Dean reached to take it back. "I'm fine, Dean. Manticore poison isn't deadly."
"Most of the time," Dean corrected, a small glare on his face. "And considering you took six of the things to your calf, yeah, I'd say you got lucky. And it's still a paralysis, which means you were no help whatsoever getting back to the car."
Yeah, like that had been the reason Dean had carried him back to safety. Sam winced, this time in sympathy. "Had to be a pain."
"Just a little bit," Dean deadpanned. He stood there for a moment longer, then set the glass down on the nightstand and sighed. "Next time, you mind, oh, not jumping into the line of fire? Not that I mind the heart attack; I can always do with a few extras on reserve, but..."
"I'm not apologizing," Sam said simply, and he watched the glare return to his brother's face at full power.
"You could've gotten yourself killed," Dean snapped, his fists tightly clenched at his side. "Dammit Sam, you shouldn't have-"
"Jumped and shoved you out of the way? Saved your life?" Sam retorted. This argument had to stop already, and didn't Dean understand how much he meant to Sam? "Is this why you were so pissed at me the other day? I did what I had to do to save your life! Both times!"
"Yeah, and both times left me with a brother I wasn't sure was going to live or not!"
Sam's biting remark faded away under Dean's angry response. A step back out of the argument, and Sam could now easily see the worry and residual fear that was fueling the fury. "Dean..."
"You're all I've got left," Dean said quietly, his anger rapidly falling away. "Dad...Dad gave his life for me, and you're all I've got left, Sammy." He sank into the chair, and Sam could almost feel his weariness. A tight swallow was audible before Dean hung his head. "You keep getting hurt because of me, for me, and one of these days...I'll lose you. Just like I lost Dad."
It was his small voice that made Sam realize what he should've known before. That sometimes they fought like cats and dogs, always disagreeing about everything. Sometimes Sam really truly believed that they were speaking completely different versions of English. And sometimes, Sam forgot just how alike they could really be.
He shifted over towards Dean and reached out, his hand resting on a denim clad knee. "How do you think I feel when you dive in to protect me with no thought for yourself?" Sam said softly. Dean finally raised his head and met his gaze. "You don't try to protect yourself most of the time, Dean; you're always watching out for me instead, making sure I'm okay when you should really be taking care of you."
"And now you know how I feel," Dean said dryly. Sam snorted a laugh even as Dean cracked a small smile, and the tension between them eased.
Still, there was a critical point that Sam wanted made. "Don't ask me to not look out for you, though." Dean began to object, and Sam hurried to cut him off. "I don't care if I'm the younger brother. You're still my brother, and...and I don't want to be the last one left standing, either," he admitted quietly.
Dean was silent for a moment, and Sam added in an almost whispered tone, "You're all I have left, too. Don't make me lose the last family I've got."
After a few long minutes of total quiet, Dean caught hold of Sam's hand and squeezed it once. "You need more rest, dude. Your leg's gotta be killing you." End of conversation, Dean Winchester style.
"So do you," Sam insisted, even as he began the arduous process of sliding back down into the bed. The fabric from the comforter, even through the bandage Sam could feel wrapped around his skin, still felt like sandpaper. "I'll get sleep if you do."
"What are you, five?" Dean muttered, but he did stand and push the chair back towards the table.
"Yeah, yeah, I got it. Though I've got a better deal for you than that."
"Which would be?"
"You worry about you first. How's that?" Despite the cheerful tone, Dean was somber and serious.
Sam rested his head back against the pillow and raised one eyebrow at his brother. "Only if you can promise me the same thing."
Dean scowled at him, and Sam gave a small chuckle. "Then no deal, Dean."
"I'll watch out for both of us if I can trust you to stop throwing yourself between me and every threat. Okay?" Dean asked, a frown on his face. "The best I can do."
It wasn't everything that Sam wanted, but considering his brother's usual frame of mind concerning himself, it was a huge leap forward. "Then, I'll take it," Sam said.
The frown eased away, and Dean nodded slowly. "Good. Now get some sleep; your leg's still got a long ways to go. Next time, let me deal with the injury?"
"Yeah, I know." There was a pause before Dean shook his head. "Go to sleep, Sammy."
"I will when you do," Sam said stubbornly, then yawned, his eyes drifting shut of their own accord. Traitors.
A hand rested gently on his shoulder for a moment. "I know," Dean said, and his tone made Sam hope that he'd gotten the message. That Dean was worth so much to Sam, that he meant everything to Sam. The exact same way Sam knew he meant the world to his brother.
Maybe they'd been speaking the exact same language all this time, after all.