The One That Got Away
K Hanna Korossy
Sam had a lot on his mind, on his heart. Really he did. Besides Bobby being in a wheelchair, things between him and Dean still being off since Sam had nearly killed him when choosing to trust a demon over him, and Lucifer whispering in his ear while he slept, there was also the little issue of the world ending around them thanks to Sam.
And that was before two of the few friends they had left, one of whom Sam looked up to as kind of a second mom, gave their lives for a failed attempt to stop Lucifer. To fix the damage Sam had done.
So, yeah, he had a lot to think about. And self-flagellate, excoriate, hate, and punish himself for, but whatever. Point was, he was busy.
And yet, all his mind kept slipping to was Dean.
Throwing the guy in question a side glance as he silently drove, Sam noted again the frequent shrugs of the shoulder inside his jacket, the glances out the side windows, the occasional finger-chewing. Sam didn't have to have known his brother all his life to get that something was making Dean squirm.
Again, it wasn't like they were short of candidates or anything. Dean had cared about Ellen, sure, but there'd been something more between him and Jo. Love, and Sam didn't know if it was sibling or lover or some complicated mix of both. Wasn't even sure they knew. But it had ripped something out of Dean to lose her and her mom, something Sam was pretty sure he wouldn't bounce back from the loss of. Add to that the fact that Dean was still coming off a devil-induced concussion and that their plan to plug said devil had failed, sending them back to square one, and just about anyone besides Dean would've probably crawled into bed and never come out again.
Some sleep and a little meltdown afterward by Sam had apparently been all he'd needed to regain his equilibrium, however. Not twenty-four hours since he'd huddled with a half-frozen and catatonic Sam in front of Bobby's fireplace, Dean had rousted Sam from bed with a slap of his feet and declared they were leaving, no explanation.
That had been that morning. And ever since then, Dean had been looking over his shoulder like he was afraid Bobby was rolling after them to demand rent.
"You think he's following us?" Sam asked quietly. His voice had rust on it from not having been used in hours.
Dean's eyes jumped over to Sam. "Who?"
Sam's mouth contorted several different ways, but he couldn't get the name out. He stared hard at Dean. "You know."
"Lucifer?" Dean's mouth warped, too, as if the word were as barbed as Sam imagined it. "Naw. We're hidden, remember?" He patted his ribs. "'Sides, I don't think he's ready for you, not yet."
Sam nodded and looked away. Right, they weren't in Detroit. And Lucifer still had a few more horsemen to raise. Sam took a deep breath, but his lungs always seemed tight these days. His body felt like it didn't fit right, and he didn't know if that was the effect of the demon blood, Lucifer, or his own belabored conscience.
"Why?" Dean's reluctant question drew him back. "He hasn't, you know, said anything to you, has he?"
Sam snorted. "What, like that it's my destiny to be Satan's suit of armor? Not since Missouri, no."
"He's just monologuing, dude," Dean said absently. "He's stuck without your okay and he knows it." Another glance at the mirror, a rub of his lower lip.
Sam's eyes narrowed. "Right. So…nothing's following us then, right?"
It took a second, but then Dean blinked and looked at him. Really looked at him. "Like what?" It didn't come across like a brush-off, though. Dean sounded…worried.
Sam's mouth opened, closed. He leaned forward a little. "Dean, man, what's going on? You've been acting weird since Bobby's—you think something's coming?"
"Like the end of the world?"
The bluff was so flimsy, Sam didn't dignify it with a response. "What's going on, dude?"
Dean's eyes lost focus. "It's just…like…" He snapped out of it. "Nothing. It's nothing, Sam. End of the world's just making me paranoid, go figure."
Sam winced. "You, uh…you'd tell me, though, right? If something was going on?"
Dean gave him an utterly guileless look. "Yeah, of course."
Right. Sam didn't believe that any more than Dean did.
But he had a lot on his mind and it was only fair that Dean did, too. And if he didn't want to share it…well, Sam had kinda lost the right to insist, hadn't he? He just had to trust that Dean would tell him if it was something he needed to know.
Dean's eyes pulled to the mirror again, a faint frown furrowing his brow.
Yeah, Sam thought bitterly. Sure he would.
Dean stopped for gas and bathroom and food breaks only when Sam pushed. It didn't escape Sam's attention that even then, his brother always sat by a window, gaze pinned to the road beyond, knee jogging irregular rhythms under the table. He ate fast and less than usual, dragging Sam quickly back to the car with boxes of take-out and roaring off again like they had to get somewhere fast.
Thing was, they weren't going anywhere particular as far as Sam knew. No new case awaited, and they had no backup plan now that the Colt hadn't worked. Rushing to get nowhere seemed kinda pointless. Sam got that Dean had become antsy at Bobby's, with all the memories there of friends hurt and lost. But if he thought he'd outrun his grief or fears…well, they had a lot of driving ahead.
Sam sighed, weary to the bone, and begged off to the bathroom at the next gas station they hit.
"Dude, I'm leaving in three, ready or not," Dean called after him.
It was getting ridiculous. It would be dusk soon and then, what, they'd drive all night? Keep going until Dean fell asleep at the wheel and wiped them out on some back road? Sam was bulletproof courtesy of Lucifer, but Michael had made no such promise to Dean yet, and Sam, for one, wasn't going to press their luck. He stopped and turned back, hands on hips. "Why? Where're we going that's so urgent, Dean? In case you haven't noticed, the whole world's burning down around us—where can we go, huh?"
Dean started to say something, stopped. He finally flapped a frustrated arm at Sam. "Just…hurry up, okay?"
"No." Sam shook his head, coming around the trunk. He knew he had little grounds on which to demand Dean tell him anything but, screw it, the Harvelles had been his family, too, and Sam had meant it when he said he and Dean needed to be on the same page now. He was the living embodiment of how costly secrets could be. "No, no, man, you don't get to do this. If something's going on with you, it affects me, too. I need to know."
Dean yanked out the hose from the back of the Impala with obvious frustration and jammed it back into the pump. "I don't know anything, okay?" he growled. "So…hurry up and get back in the car, Sam."
"What do you feel, then?" pressed Sam, verbally and physically, as he crowded his brother. He didn't often use their size differential against his brother, but if he had to bully the answers out of him, he would. "Why are we in such a rush, Dean? What are you so worried about?"
Dean gritted his teeth. His feet were set, his hands clenched. The tension was screwed so tight in him, he looked like he was going to explode. It set Sam's teeth on edge just being near him.
Dean's eyes darted to both sides, then back to Sam. He finally seemed to settle something, and while his frantic buzz didn't fade, his eyes cleared, just a little.
"I don't…I don't know, okay? I would tell you if I did. I just…it feels like something's…coming. Like when my deal was ticking down and I knew the hound was gettin' close."
Sam could see his startle reflected in the shine of hazel, just before Dean's gaze dodged away from his again. Hellhounds—of course. Any dog made Dean jumpy ever since his return from Hell, but in Carthage they'd faced down an actual pack of Hellhounds. Jo had been torn apart by one just like Dean had. If that didn't set off some major PTSD and fight-or-flight instincts, nothing would.
Dean finished the credit card transaction and then swallowed, hands jamming into pockets. He looked like he wanted to run and it was taking everything in him not to.
Sam nodded. Okay, this he could deal with. Dean had gotten him through his own visceral reaction to the bloodbath of Carthage. He could do the same for his brother. He cleared his throat and gripped his brother's shoulder. "Dean—"
Dean's eyes widened.
It was all the warning Sam had before a deep growl thundered through the air and an invisible but clearly massive force hurled Dean out of his grip and to the ground.
Hellhound. Here. Now. Hunting Dean.
There was no feeling, no rush of terror and desperation like there had been the year before. Then, Sam had been pinned to a wall, helpless to watch, and Dean had been pinned to a table, helpless to resist.
Everything had changed since then.
Even as Dean jackknifed off the gas station tarmac, mouth open in a soundless cry and arms shoving at unseen bulk, Sam's gun was already clenched in his hand. He aimed above the blood that bloomed over Dean's thigh, pressed the trigger, and kept pulling, emptying the clip.
There was a snarl. Dean gasped, leg jerking away as it was released. He wheezed a "Sam!" as his hands fumbled at his belt for the knife he kept under his jacket.
It wasn't dead. Sam felt a second of sheer horror before he jumped back to the matter at hand. The Hellhound wasn't dead; bullets wouldn't kill it. Sanctified iron rounds, maybe. Holy water would hurt it, but not lethally. Machete—maybe Sam could find its head?
A snuff fluttered Dean's hair. And then he jerked to the side, crying out as blood appeared in a wide slash of tooth marks across his upper arm. The knife was in his other hand and he was slashing and jabbing with an incoherent mix of war cry and pained yell, but the Hellhound wasn't dying, or letting go.
Sam slammed back to the Impala's trunk, yanked it open as soon as the key turned. Machete, machine gun, crucifix, herbs—
—Dean's homemade flamethrower.
Dean screamed. It was the same sound he'd made when the hellhound had torn him apart in that nice dining room in New Harmony.
"No! Dean!" Sam thought he yelled. Maybe not; memory and reality, fear and determination were getting all tangled up. There was no thought; when your brother was being ripped into shreds, there was only instinct and action. Sam didn't bother shutting the trunk, just whipped back to the front of the car.
He was just in time to see Dean's t-shirt tear as a claw snagged in it and pulled.
"NO!" Not happening again, not—
Sam aimed at the air above Dean and let it rip.
The yelling and howling was deafening. He didn't know anymore if it was he, Dean, the Hellhound, or all three. Probably at least the hound, the way its invisible coat was suddenly outlined in fire. Sam could see as it reared up and staggered away—not toward the gas pumps, thankfully—roaring its outrage and pain.
Sam blasted it again for good measure, feeling not the slightest bit of remorse for something that was, essentially, a well-trained but dumb pet. The dog-like whimpers that rose now weren't softening him up any, either, especially when he heard Dean's thick moan in the background.
For a second, the hound turned toward him, and Sam could see red eyes lit with fire. It was like looking into Hell, and he wondered sickly if that was the last thing Dean had seen. And then the eyes closed and the flaming wreckage dropped to the tarmac, the fire beginning to die down.
Sam turned away from it and bolted to his brother's side, flamethrower clattering to the ground.
Dean was ashen and bloody. His thigh and arm were soaked, ragged tears showing where teeth had punctured fabric and flesh. But it was the dark red of his shirt that tightened Sam's throat. He peeled up the sodden material with shaking hands, to see a single claw had stabbed into Dean's belly and then been ripped out. Blood leaked from the wound like a bubbling spring. This was bad. Really, really bad.
Sam's eyes darted up to his brother's face. Dean's eyes and mouth were open, but all that came out were tears and guttural sounds of pain.
"No, no, no. Okay. Okay, we can fix this. Just…" Sam's shirt was off and bunched in his hand before he was even aware of doing it. He balled it up and pressed hard against Dean's stomach.
Dean made a sound no human being should ever make, arching up against Sam's torture.
Sam didn't look up at the unfamiliar voice. "Call 9-1-1," he barked to the human shadows that were falling over him and Dean. "And find me a blanket." He could feel the bystanders creeping closer but dismissed them as non-threats.
Unlike what Dean had obviously been sensing breathing down his neck.
"You stupid son-of-a-bitch, you should've told me sooner. Dean. Dean, can you hear me?" Sam bent the injured arm in so he could apply pressure to both wounds at once. He pressed his shin to Dean's thigh and immediately felt the blood seep through his jeans. "Dean, c'mon, man, look at me."
Dean's focus was shot, his eyes open but attention drifting. Shock did that to you, dumped you in a limbo of distant pain but also distant everything else, including pleas for you to hang in there. But as his eyes drifted past Sam, they paused, struggled to latch on.
"That's it. Focus on me. Stay with me, Dean." The shirt in his hand squelched with blood. He could feel every pump of Dean's heart, the way his body shook with trauma.
Dean's mouth moved, only garbled sounds tumbling out. But his eyes still hadn't moved from Sam's.
He made himself smile, even when he could see his own tears join Dean's on pallid cheeks. "That's it, that's it, stay with me. You're not checking out that easy. It's gonna be okay—this is gonna be okay. I'll fix it, all right? Just don't give up on me, man, all right? Need you to help me here."
A blanket was tentatively shoved at him. He couldn't afford to let go, but he managed to manhandle it more or less around Dean's torso. Should raise the feet and lower the head, but he couldn't seem to let go of Dean's shoulders or risk losing the thin thread of connection with his brother.
Dean's hand was sliding over his wrist, fingers trying to close on something but failing. Blood trickled out of the side of his mouth, and his stammering dwindled to small, sharp pants of air.
"Dean, please don't do this to me," Sam begged. "Not again. Not like this."
Dean's eyes were getting heavier. His hand slipped off Sam's arm. There was no final message in his gaze, nothing but glazed incomprehension, but he never stopped looking at Sam.
"Please," Sam whispered.
That was when the paramedics arrived.
Dog attack, the hospital and police called it. Even if there was nothing left at the scene but ashes and a greasy stain on the cement, the witnesses, the damage, and Sam's distracted account seemed to satisfy everyone's curiosity. He was soon left alone in the surgery waiting room.
They'd let him stay with Dean to the last possible second, through transfusions and a shot into his chest and emergency bandages and one very, very frightening electrical shock when his heart started giving up. But surgery had been inevitable to repair the torn abdomen and muscle and blood vessels, and pretty soon they were wheeling a silent and still Dean away from him, promising to let Sam know as soon as they had news.
Leaving Sam to rub mindlessly at the dried blood caked on his hands.
A patient nurse urged him at one point to wash up. Once Sam got what she was asking, he went through the motions. Changed into the clean scrubs they gave him, and sat back down. There was paperwork "when you're ready," but he'd already rattled off the pertinent parts of Dean's medical history to the attendant. He ignored the clipboard, and nobody bothered him about it.
At some point, it occurred to him that a hellhound on the loose was not something they normally faced, and he called Bobby. The conversation was a monotone on his end he was pretty sure, and agitated on Bobby's, but they finally decided a hellhound must have escaped the explosion in Carthage and stayed on the trail. There was no reason to believe there was more than one; more than likely they would have arrived together. Then again, there'd been no reason to believe there'd been one in the first place. Sam went down to the car and tucked a flare, Dean's lighter, and a few other potential weapons into his jacket, then gathered every protective ward he could find. The hospital as locked down as he could make it, he returned to the waiting room and waited.
He didn't cry. Didn't run through what he could have done differently. Didn't ream himself with guilt or have to tamp down rage. The numbness that had settled inside him after the Harvelles' death and that Dean had partially thawed, had spread now into every corner of Sam's brain and heart. Still no thought, no feeling, only instinct.
He'd released the devil. Devastated his brother. Gotten his parents and his lover killed. Brought about the death earlier that week of half the friends he had left, and the two that remained were severely handicapped because of him. Dean was all that remained. The only motivation that remained in his life.
Sam had nothing else.
The surgeon came out some time later. The man was older, which was good: that meant experience, expertise. He spoke precisely about the damage he'd fixed, the ongoing fight against infection, the eventual need for therapy. They'd also be treating for rabies since they couldn't examine the attacking dog, and Sam almost laughed at that. He was pretty sure it came out wrong. He didn't realize the doctor was gripping his arm until he looked down and saw it, and made himself drag out the proper responses. Then they left him alone again.
When Dean was moved from Recovery to ICU, someone came up and got him. Sam was pretty sure she was young and pretty, Dean's type if he were still noticing things like that. Visiting hours didn't extend to family of those in serious condition, and Dean qualified. The nurse got Sam an easy chair that just fit into the cubicle, explained the monitors and what he could expect, and then left him. With Dean.
Sam stared a long time, taking in every detail. Dean's flattened hair and the still-pale cheeks under red-purpled eyelids. Bandages peeking out from the edges of his gown. The too-slow rise and fall of his chest. The way his hand looked small and cold on the covers between him and Sam.
Sam lifted his own hand, hesitated, then dropped it onto Dean's. He slid it around and under, palm-to-palm, feeling the limp, dead weight. Remembering how Dean had tried to hold on to him, to something, to keep from slipping away, even when his fingers refused to work.
Sam curled his fingers around Dean's palm, firm without being too tight.
"I'm not letting go."
His voice was hoarse again. It was also flat; the only one who would've heard the emotion in it was the one who wasn't hearing anything right now. But that was okay. Dean was alive.
Sam closed his eyes, leaned back in the recliner, and slept.
He'd woken to that same word some time ago, spoken just as weakly and despairingly.
Sometimes his brother switched his tune to that.
Dean wasn't awake, not exactly. He sometimes quieted when Sam talked, and he slipped in and out of consciousness as easily as a car shifting gears. His eyes would open but wouldn't see, and his hands fluttered without real purpose.
But he talked.
He seemed to fade out for about fifteen seconds, chest still.
Sudden deep breath. "…help me."
Dean's eyes rolled. "No."
Sam shut his own tight.
The nurse said Dean wasn't particularly in pain. He was still on pretty powerful meds, and too out of it to know what was going on anyway. A low-grade infection was burning through him as they'd expected, but not to the point of delirium. The doctor said this was the mind and body's response to trauma.
Sam, however, recognized the memory.
"I'm here, Dean," he soothed. "You're not in Hell—you're out, with me."
Dean was nothing if not a stubborn realist. The last time he'd been taken down by a Hellhound, he'd spent the next forty years in Hell. It made complete sense to Sam, if not the doctors, where Dean's mind had wandered.
Sam bowed his head, waiting through the silence, then the gasping new breath.
His eyes watered, and it wasn't from fatigue.
Dean's words battered him like waves, eroding the numbness. The year before, the blood and Ruby's lies and Sam's own oh-so-sure conviction he was doing the right thing had let him downplay Dean's post-Hell suffering. Sam had no buffer left now, though, and the reality of what his brother had been through seared him.
"I'm here. I'm here, man," he said huskily, thumb kneading the center of the now-warm hand he held.
Dean's head rolled on the pillow. "No…"
The last sheltering deadness inside him crumbled away. Sam pulled in a breath. Maybe he did have nothing left now. No pride, no self-confidence, no hope. No friends who could fly to the rescue, nor God to find solace in.
But he still had Dean. And Dean still had him. And it was time his big brother knew that.
"Help," Dean groaned.
"I will," Sam vowed. If Dean didn't believe he was away from Hell, then Sam would just have to get Hell away from him.
He lifted his hips enough to move the recliner closer, alongside the bed instead of perpendicular to it. It put Sam's head right beside Dean's, but he wasn't done yet. He wrestled the railing down between them, then leaned forward and twisted so his upper body rested on the bed next to Dean's. Then, very, very carefully, he slipped his free arm under Dean's shoulder and rolled him slowly onto his good side and into Sam. A slight jog of his shoulder, and his brother's face was tucked between them. Sam began rubbing up and down his back.
Dean shook lightly, body and mind agitated. Once upon a time, he would've been mortified at showing such weakness and need. The past few years had broken them both, however, blasting through all the posturing and secrets and pride. They had to be there for each other, had to fix each other, or they had no hope at all of saving anything, let alone the world. If that meant a little embarrassing vulnerability, so be it.
Sam felt the hot and unsteady breath stutter against his pulse point. Even the unconscious had working senses: he knew Dean would smell his sweat and aftershave, would feel the warmth of his body and touch of his hand. Sam's pleading assurances hadn't penetrated, but maybe, maybe this would be enough to tip his brain over into believing Sam was there, Dean was safe, and he wasn't in Hell.
"I know I haven't exactly been here for you since you came back." Sam paused, chortled blackly. "Yeah, okay, understatement. But things are gonna change. I'm gonna be the strong one now, all right? I'm gonna carry you for a while, just until you get back on your feet. Can you let me do that?"
Dean sighed. His last few protests had diminished to mere mumbles, then finally tapered away completely, his tremors and breathing starting to even out. A few minutes more and he was sleeping, no longer suffering.
Sam let out a slow breath. He stopped moving, just pressed his hand lightly on the back of Dean's head to anchor him there. "It's my turn to believe in you, okay?"
He had no idea how prophetic that vow would turn out to be.