The Desperation of the Dying
K Hanna Korossy
One of the many, many consequences Dean hadn't seen coming from his deal was that, for the first time in both their lives, Sam didn't have the luxury of being a little brother anymore.
Yeah, okay, so they'd had a year left. Then six months. Now two. Dean was still there, was still looking after him. But they were both keenly aware that that probably wouldn't be the case much longer, and Sam had been trying to…brace himself. Toughen up. Become the Great White Hunter who didn't need anyone else or some crap like that, Dean didn't even know. What he did know was that Sam seemed to look out for him more than the other way around these days, all hard-eyed and stoic, and no longer seemed to need his big brother much.
Which, sure, was awesome. That was what he'd been aiming for, right? Meant Sam would be okay when Dean's marker was called in eight more weeks, and that was what mattered.
It also sucked. Nothing like making his last few days on earth feel totally useless by seeing his brother moving on without him, Dean's family doing just fine on his own.
Except for now.
They'd even been in the same frickin' room this time, Sam not more than six feet away. No rhyme or reason why he was the one picked, either, as far as Dean could tell, except for the fact that Sam attracted trouble like their kind of motels did cockroaches. Who knows, maybe his shining was involved—didn't matter. What did was that one minute Sam was standing there, the next he was gone, ghost-snatched.
Dean was so toasting this ghost when he found him, it wasn't even funny.
Going through what they knew about the dead son of a bitch led to the Cold War, which led to bomb shelters and the basement. Dean didn't much care that the door slammed after him, as long as he was on the right side of it. Two minutes later, he was shoving aside a cabinet and then crashing through the hidden door, into the birthday party from Hell, yelling for his brother.
A figure loomed behind Sam, who was sitting tied up and bloody. That was all Dean had to see in order to point and shoot, scattering Daggett's spirit into smoke.
From behind, he vaguely heard Spruce moan something about Corbett. Dean didn't look, didn't honestly care at that moment, too busy rushing to get to Sam, check him out, and get him away from this freak show.
He was tied to the chair around his chest and his ankles and wrists. Simple but effective. There was dried blood under his nose, but the gash below his left eye was still trickling red over a spreading bruise. Daggett had probably smashed him in the face to get him tied up, and Dean growled another epithet at the ghost under his breath as he pulled a knife and attacked the ropes.
"Dean? Dean, man, he killed Corbett," Sam suddenly burst to life after a moment of silent shock. "Just shoved this, I don't know, metal rod through his throat. He was looking right at me, man, he was looking at me, begging me to—" His voice was churning out of him as if the contents were under extreme pressure.
Dean paused, fingers slipping off the ropes. It shouldn't have surprised him so much to realize that Sam was verging on hysterical, but it did. His brother had been so locked down lately, so I gotta be tough like you, Dean had almost forgotten this tendency toward diarrhea-of-the-mouth when he was scared. Because Sam was completely and undeniably freaked out.
Dean dropped into a crouch in front of him, hands laid palm down on top of Sam's bound ones. Sam's eyes were frantic, mouth still moving, and Dean felt himself correspondingly calm down, adrenaline leaching out of his system now that the unknown had been replaced by something he could fix.
"Hey, Sam, come on, stay with me. Right here. Look at me, Sammy."
Sam was breathing too fast, the whites of his eyes showing, but he latched on to Dean's face like it was an anchor in a tossing sea. It probably felt like it; most of the fear on their job was momentary, flashes of terror during a fight or worry when they lost sight of one other. Sitting tied up for an hour in a roomful of grinning corpses while someone was killed in front of you and you were next? Didn't matter who you were or how much experience you had, that kind of long-term panic was a whole other animal. It sapped your rationality and strength, and left you…well, like this.
Sam heaved at the ropes, sweat mixing with the blood on his lip to turn into a pink dribble down his chin. "Dean, get me out. Get me out of—"
"I am, okay? I am. I just need you to calm down a second 'fore you hurt yourself. Come on, Sam, slow it down, just breathe, okay? Breathe."
Sam hiccupped in air, his chest still pumping like bellows. His eyes flickered to the side, and Dean let go of his right hand long enough to tug his chin forward again.
"Eyes on me. Just you and me here, all right? Nothing else to look at." Which wasn't exactly true. The salt would only disperse Daggett for so long, and Dean kept his senses tuned for the ghost's return. But he needed Sam to calm down first or neither of them would get out of here. "I need you here, Sam—you with me?"
There was a long moment of Sam panting as his eyes darted over Dean's face. Then his throat bobbed and he jerked his head in a nod, tongue flickering out over his lips.
"That's my boy." Dean smiled and leaned closer. "Don't want these Ghostbuster-wannabes feeling sorry for us, right?"
Sam shook his head automatically, the ridiculous party hat sliding down to the side of his head. Probably still not quite tracking what Dean was saying, but enough to be responsive again. His eyes were back to normal size, pulse no longer a gallop under Dean's fingers, and that was good enough. It wasn't how afraid you were that really counted; that was just biology. It was how fast you got over it, and Sam had never given his brother any reason not to be proud on that count.
Dean nodded, satisfied, and rose to his feet, thumping Sam on the shoulder. "Let's get these off you. I think the party's over."
The ropes were sliced through easily enough, the party hat tossed aside in disgust. Sam no longer demanding his full attention, Dean noted Spruce's quiet murmur to what Dean guessed was a dead Corbett, and the fact that the room's temp had started inching downward again. Wouldn't be long before Daggett put in another appearance. Dean fully intended for them to be out of there by then, however, getting Sam away from the visual reminder of how he'd almost ended up a permanent party guest, and letting him plant his feet solid.
Sam swayed when he stood, stumbling as circulation returned and blood pressure dropped. Dean kept firm hold of his arm, maneuvering him around the table and out of the suffocating concrete room. And, sure enough, by the time they were out and Daggett reappeared, Sam had steadied and was ready to fight again.
It wasn't exactly the Grand Canyon, but they'd saved the Ghostfakers, cleaned out the infamous Morton House, and come out mostly in one piece. Not a bad night's work.
It was only the next day in their motel room that Dean let himself think about it.
The blinds were drawn against the early-morning sun, and Sam was sprawled in sleep over the bed, feet hanging off the end. His face was bruised but clean of blood, a half-melted ice pack squashed between his cheekbone and pillow. One of his socks had a hole in it, Dean noted idly as he took another swig of beer, and there was blood on his jeans. He already looked like an orphan.
Soon he'd be the last remaining Winchester. Was Sam really ready to go it alone? Or would he always be a little brother expecting his big brother to ride to the rescue?
Dean sighed, draining the bottle in another pull and chucking it wearily into the trash before he rose and headed for his own bed. At least he knew which of the two he hoped for now, because turned out there was something a lot worse than not being needed.
But lying in the dark, staring at the ceiling, it was hard not to feel like he hadn't saved his brother quite as much as he'd thought he had.