It's not that I thought the car needed cleaning. I can't count how many times we boosted - um, borrowed - a car and left it cleaner than we found it just because Sam had thirteen minutes to himself and nothing else to do. So, even though the car had been in Sam's sole possession for four months, I was 110% sure there'd be nothing in the car to clean or wash or vacuum or pick up.

No, I decided to burn an hour or so detailing the car at a do-it-yourself car wash because I needed to TLC something and Sam sure didn't look like he'd appreciate any fussing. So that left my baby.

My other baby - I gave a grin to Sam as he walked away from me to the next-door sub shop to get us some lunch. Yeah, it'd been twenty years since I had to give him a bath, but I had given him baths. I'd wiped his nose and combed his hair, and helped him unzip when he zipped more than he should have, and more personal things besides.

And yeah, Sam was twenty-five years old, he was six feet four inches tall, and he weighed in at two hundred and twenty five pounds - seventy-five of which were probably all muscle. But he was still Sammy. He was still my little brother.

I couldn't help it - I looked at the man who could lift a car if he had to or would walk through fire if he had to, but I what I saw was the little boy with too much hair and too few toys who always, always reached for my hand whenever we walked anywhere together, whether we were crossing a street or walking from the diner booth to the diner restroom; the little and even not-so-little boy who always brought every pain, hurt, and disappointment straight to me.

My little brother.

So it was with understandable dismay that I pulled a blood soaked rag out from behind the back seat of the car. The rag was big, it looked like most of the back half of a shirt, and it was completely saturated with blood - dried, brown, stiff, Sam Winchester blood.

For Sam to have lost that much blood, it had to have been a massive wound. For me not to have known about it, it had to have been inflicted within the last four months. A wound that huge and that fresh wouldn't have been healed enough to take all the knocks that Sam had been taking in the last few days without coming apart again. So, when he came back with the bag of our lunch, I confronted him."HEY - when were you going to tell me about this?"His expression fell so fast I was surprised it stayed on his face. He muttered a couple of 'sorrys' and said something like,

"I thought I threw that out."

Right, genius. I'm yelling at you about medical waste.

"When were you going to tell me you'd been hurt this bad?"

Again with the face, looking like I'd hurt his feelings. Again with the not telling me what I wanted to know. Well, he was going to start telling me or I was going to start looking for the wound myself, right here, right now, in the broad daylight.

Finally though, he told me,

"It's not my blood."

That was a relief, anyway, that Sammy hadn't been hurt that bad. But someone had.

"Whose is it?"

Who was it? How'd they get hurt? Did they survive? Where are they now?

It took a few tries for him to answer me, and he looked like he was going to be sick.

"It's yours."

Mine - right. What was he talking about? I'd remember being hurt this bad. To be hurt this bad, I would've had to been pretty much rippped -

Oh.

My blood.

Oh.

I shoved the rag into my garbage bag and dug behind the seat again, really really hoping I wasn't going to pull any more surprises out. Sam set the bag of lunch on top of the cooler that was next to the car and took himself over to the bench at the door of the car wash and sat there looking like - like his feelings were hurt and he was going to be sick.

Yeah, well, he wasn't the only one.

When I first got back, Sam seemed uber-Sammy. Tall, strong, focused, in charge. I walked into that hotel room, and Sam was the Ultimate Hunter and nothing else, and if Bobby hadn't been there to hold him back, I know Sam would've taken me out.

But the second he knew it was me, really me, I saw the armor crack and Ultimate Hunter dissolved into my little brother who couldn't hug me tight enough, and my one single lifelong prayer 'please let Sammy be okay' was answered.

But that still left those four months.

Sammy hadn't really talked about what he went through when I was gone. I'd only been back a few days and we'd been otherwise kind of busy in the meantime. But even if that blood wasn't his, I'd be surprised if he'd passed those whole four months physically unscathed. We were going to talk about that.

But, for now - I was out of hell, I was with my baby, I was with my brother, and if that was all my life came down to from now on, I'd be totally okay with it. Whatever had happened to Sammy without me, he'd survived it, and now that I was back, I'd go back to taking care of him.

As soon as he was ready to let me start taking care of him again.

I shoved some quarters into the vacuum machine and gave the car one more go-over to give myself a little more time before I went over to talk to Sam.

Five months ago, I could've - would've - insisted that he show me if and how bad he'd been hurt while I wasn't around, and five months ago he would've complied, at least to an extent, taking off his shirts in the motel room before he went in to take a shower, to show me the extent of any wounds, or the lack of any wounds.

Now - I honestly wasn't sure what would happen if I insisted, or even just asked about any wounds.

Back in Pontiac, Bobby made the remark to Sam, "Who'd you think you are? Your old man?" but I knew it was worse than that. Dad had had friends - acquaintances anyway - people he could and did go to when he was hurt.

Sam wasn't like that. From all that he told me, at Stanford he only made friends because they approached him first, he'd never initiated it himself. Even meeting Jess was set up by somebody else. And that was normal life. In the hunting life, forget it. For those four months Sam hadn't contacted any of the friends and acquaintances we did have, and I couldn't see him going out of his way to cultivate any new ones. I know Sam; if he got hurt on his own, he patched himself up on his own.

So - that big mess of blood maybe had been mine and not Sam's. It didn't mean he hadn't shed any blood at all while I was gone.

When the vacuum shut off, I looked at Sam, he was studying his boots. He wasn't looking so Ultimate Hunter now. He only looked tired and unhappy. I wrapped up the vacuum and put everything away into the trunk and sat next to him on that park bench. I didn't say anything, I was still working on that, so in the meantime, I just enjoyed being able to sit next to my brother with nothing much to do but breathe.

After a minute or so, Sam looked up and over at the car. I could practically hear the wheels turning in his mind. He might be looking at the car, but he was seeing that night I died and all that blood and everything he hadn't been able to do to save me.

I looked at the car, too, and I saw the four months of Sam alone and desperate, getting hurt with no one he'd turn to for help.

"She looks great." Sam said after a few minutes. He didn't usually refer to her as 'her' or 'she.

"Yes, she does." I agreed. And not just because of the work I'd just done on her. "You took good care of her." Then, just because Sam would be expecting it I had to add, "Except for that Ipod, of course."

He laughed, which was what I wanted. I wanted him to laugh and lose that tired, hopeless look. After he laughed though, he said,

"It wasn't the same car without you."

I looked the car over again. It had hardly changed in forty years. After the accident, I'd put it back as completely and accurately as I possibly could. Pretty much the only thing that had wasn't at least nearly original was the cassette player and the license plates.

I knew Sam didn't mean that the car was quieter without me or had better music or was easier to sit in because he could push the bench seat back as far as he needed to. He meant it was too quiet, too empty, too-not-home. I knew that was what he meant because I'd felt the exact same way whenever Sam wasn't with me.

Because the only thing that ever really changed about the car was the physical and mental condition of the people inside of it.

"You ready to go eat that lunch?" I asked. We were alive and together and that was all we needed right then.

"Yep."

We walked to the car and I watched Sam for any sign that I might've previously missed that he was hurt or sore or favoring any particular part of himself, but there was nothing out of the ordinary.

Sam though, he kept his eyes on the backseat of the car. Still seeing what I wish he'd never had to see in the first place. Time to remind him - again - that I was back and okay, and he wasn't on his own anymore.

"I'm glad that wasn't your blood." I told him.

Sam looked up at me, like he was surprised at what I'd said, or that I was there to say anything at all. But then he nodded and got in the car, and I found us someplace to eat lunch.

The End