Ben had heard the phone ring a couple of hours ago. He knew it had been Dean, and that he was on his way here, some kind of emergency. Mom had called Matt, told him she had a friend in trouble, and hospitals were out of the question, could he please come? Ben had asked what the problem was, but his mom had told him to go upstairs, and don't come down. This wasn't something for him to get involved in.
Ben had gone upstairs, but he'd sat just off the landing, near his mom's bedroom. He could see the front door, but no one could see him. Mom and Matt were talking quietly, but there was tension in the air, for sure.
Matt knew about Dean, that he'd lived here for a year. Mom was pretty open about things, but Ben didn't think she'd told Matt what Dean did for a job. Ben did hear Mom tell Matt once that she and Dean were still 'friendly.' Yeah, right. Could've fooled me. You don't call him, he doesn't call you. He never comes by, anymore. So, maybe you're confused about what 'friendly' really means, Mom.
Tonight, Ben was nervous to see Dean. Didn't want to see him hurt enough to need a doctor. He'd been pretty mean to Dean, the last time he'd come. But, he'd wanted Dean to come and tell Mom to get rid of Matt. Come back and be where he belonged. But, Dean hadn't done that. He'd just walked away. Again.
All Ben wanted was for all three of them to be together. To be a family again.
Before stupid Sam had come back and ruined everything.
So, now Dean was on his way, hurt pretty bad, and Ben was feeling sorry for the things he'd said, the way he'd left things between them. It's not that he wouldn't have said them, just, he wished it hadn't been the last conversation they'd had. Because Ben was still pretty pissed off that Dean wasn't here. That he'd just let some other guy come in and take his place with Mom.
He heard the unmistakable growl of the Impala getting closer. Mom did, too, and she and Matt went to the front door, opened it and went outside. The engine cut off, and Ben could hear voices, recognized Dean's gravelly, serious voice above the rest. He sounded tense. Then, they were all coming in the front door. Dean and Matt were carrying a bloody body.
It was Sam. Good. Ben knew it wasn't nice, but he was glad Dean wasn't hurt. Dean carried the top half, his hands covered in blood, and Matt had the legs. Mom lead them back toward the family room. Ben crept down the stairs, and while they all worked to get Sam settled, Ben went behind the lounge chair in the corner and sat on the floor. He could just peek around the side and see them lay Sam on the couch.
Mom had put a shower curtain down on the cushions, then an old blanket on top of that. Sam was laid out on his back, his long legs barely fitting on the huge sectional sofa. His neck and whole upper chest were a gory mess. Matt was using towels to clean away the blood, Mom was squirting a bottle of water or something over the wounds, and Dean was sopping up the rest. Ben stayed quiet. If no one noticed him, they couldn't tell him to leave. The whole thing was sort of surreal. Sam bleeding everywhere, Dean trying to stop it, Matt assessing, his mom standing behind Matt, looking at all of them with a worried look on her face.
Matt was working fast, asked Dean, "Jesus, what the hell did you guys run into?"
Dean folded a towel and wedged it under Sam's side. "Big ass bear."
Matt glanced at him. "Really?"
Dean glanced back. "Yeah. Really. Does it look like I'm lying?"
Matt sighed. "Ok. Bear it is. I'm going to have to cut away some of this torn skin. I don't have a lot of anesthetic. You sure you don't want to take him to the hospital?"
Dean looked grim, but he shrugged. "No. S'okay. Just, do it quick. We gotta start on the stitching. He's been bleeding for a couple of hours. I tried wrapping it up, kept pressure on all of it, but that bite at his neck won't stop…"
Matt lifted the folded cloth over the wound on Sam's neck.
"He's lucky the 'bear' missed his jugular. Another inch or two…"
Dean sighed. "Yeah."
Mom brought a kitchen chair in, placed it by Sam's shoulders. Matt rinsed his gloved hands in the same stuff mom had been pouring on the wounds. Then he looked over at Dean. "Can you hold him? This isn't going to be comfortable."
Dean moved from where he'd been leaning over the other side of the couch. He came and sat by Sam's hip. Ben noticed, for the first time, that Dean's left shoulder was all bloody. The blood had soaked the whole back half of his shirt. Still, he didn't seem too bothered by it. He leaned in, spoke in Sam's ear. "Sammy? Hey, you in there?"
Sam's eyes flickered. "Yeah. You okay, man?"
"I'm fine. We've gotta do some fixin' up on your neck and chest. Hold still, okay?"
Sam sighed. "Yeah…kay. You sure you're alright? Thought he had you."
Dean sighed. "No, your Berserker routine pretty much got his attention."
Sam seemed to relax at that. "Good. That's good."
Matt had a pair of shiny, sharp scissors. He looked at Dean. "You got him?"
Dean nodded. "Here we go, Sammy. Hold still." Dean didn't hold him down. He just put his good hand on Sam's head, and leaned in to talk quietly to him. Matt cut and snipped and pulled pieces of Sam's skin together, and Sam didn't flinch. He breathed heavily, but stayed still. Ben was reluctantly impressed. He was also a little jealous of Sam, to be the focus of Dean's care like that. Dean was not a touch-feely guy. But, he kept his hand on Sam's head, gently stroked it when Sam pulled in a sharp breath or winced at what Matt was doing. And, Ben noticed, the other hand was just resting on Sam's knee. Looking closer, Ben saw Sam had a grip on the bottom of Dean's t-shirt. He watched Sam's knuckles for a while, tensing and grasping when the pain got bad, relaxing and releasing when it was bearable.
Mostly, it was quiet. And bloody. There were red towels in a pile on the carpet, and it ran from the wounds being stitched up. Mom came in out, wiping up what she could, taking towels away, bringing new ones. She must have been running them through the laundry, cause Ben didn't think they owned that many towels. She brought Matt a Coke, Dean some bottled water. Considering the high drama going on, it was pretty quiet, everyone working efficiently, no real talking going on or anything.
Ben just sat there in his hiding place and watched. The longer he sat, the more he noticed. Like, Dean kind of glared at the back of Matt's head if he made a move that caused Sam to wince. Dean watched Matt's hands and Sam's face. That's it. He didn't fidget, didn't seem bothered by his own torn up shoulder. He was just focused on what was being done to Sam, like he had to guard him or something.
Matt must have been getting irritated, even though Dean didn't say anything. He glanced at Dean's set face, and sighed. "I've got this, Dean. Why don't you go get some rest and tend to that shoulder? I'll let you know when I'm done."
Dean had glared at him, "I'm fine. Keep going."
Matt had shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Some more time passed. Dean, Matt and Sam stayed where they were, Dean watching, Matt stitching, Sam gasping occasionally, but staying still.
Finally, Mom came in, put her hand on Dean's head. "Hey, how about we get you fixed up, too?"
Dean didn't glare at her, but still, didn't look happy at the interruption. "I'm okay, Lis, thanks."
Sam spoke up, then. His voice was weak and soft. "Dean, let her fix you up."
Dean sighed. "Sam, we'll get to it-"
Sam looked up at Lisa. "Now, okay? Please?"
Lisa nodded. "Come on, Dean. Matt's got this."
Dean still didn't move. Sam let go of his shirt, unclenching his stiff fingers slowly. "Dean, please. I'm fine." He tried for a smile, didn't quite make it in Ben's opinion. "Doc here has pretty good technique. He's got this. Go on." Sam's eyes were blinking slowly open and closed, but Ben could feel him trying to stay with it long enough to convince Dean to go with Mom.
Even from across the room, Ben could see Dean's reluctance to leave. His hand clenched once at Sam's knee. They exchanged a long look. Sam's eyes stayed open and on Dean. They communicated a lot in that look. Ben could see it. Almost like they had a whole conversation without words.
And, it struck Ben, like he'd been an idiot until now, that Sam and Dean were really brothers. He'd known that, of course, but, he'd never thought much about it. Never seen it. He knew they were hunters, partners in their work. But, he hadn't really keyed into the other part. Sam was Dean's little brother. Not just the quiet, giant, scary dude who had come back from wherever he'd been and taken Dean away.
Their mind-meld over, Dean finally sighed, let go of Sam's leg. "Fine." He put his hand on Matt's shoulder, pushed himself to his feet. "Let me know if he gives you trouble, Doc."
After Dean was gone, Sam seemed to sort of deflate. His breath got a little choppy and his jaw clenched. Now, Ben could see his pain. Sam hadn't done any of that while Dean had been sitting with him.
Sam opened his eyes. "How's he look, Matt?"
Matt was leaning close from his chair, still stitching. At Sam's question, he sat up straight, worked the kinks in his neck. "Dean? Well, he's coherent, he's on his feet, not too pale, breathing is steady. He's better than you, let's put it that way."
Sam sighed with relief. "He'll be okay?"
Matt nodded. "Yeah. He'll be okay. Let's worry about you, hmm? I'm just about done. The wound at your neck I'm going to leave open for 24 hours, it needs to drain. The skin tears are just about all stitched up. You'll both need antibiotics, and to stay still for a few days if you want to reduce the chance of opening up again." He leaned back in, pulled another stitch through Sam's chest. "I don't know what the hell you boys got tangled up with, but, you're lucky it wasn't worse than this."
Sam sighed, "Yeah. Lucky. That's us. Really appreciate your help, though. Thank you."
Ben had another realization as he watched Sam lying there, being quietly grateful for Matt's help, worried about Dean, in so much pain and not bitching about it…Ben kind of couldn't hate him anymore. Because, honestly? Ben mostly blamed Sam that his mom and Dean weren't together anymore. Mom said that wasn't it. She said it was because of Dean and his job. But, Dean had been with them, Sam had shown up, and then Dean had left. So, it was easier to blame Sam than anything else. But he was hurting and all brave about it and it made Ben feel guilty.
Matt finished, put his things away in his bag and stood up to stretch. "Okay, Sam. All set. Don't do any dancing, and drink a lot of water over the next few days."
Sam was nodding. "Yeah. I know. Thanks, Matt. You've been really cool about this whole thing."
Matt nodded. "Well, I'm not a fool. I know there's more going on here than anybody's going to tell me. But, I trust Lisa, and she wouldn't have let you in the house if you were dangerous."
Sam turned his head to look up at Matt. Ben got his first full-on look at him. Man, he really looked terrible. Pale and sweaty and kind of hollowed out. "Lisa's a lucky lady."
Matt gave a soft laugh. "So I keep telling her."
Sam nodded and closed his eyes. Ben stayed where he was, hidden in the corner, and just watched.
For some reason, Sam still wasn't sleeping. Ben had done nothing but watch him for the last 45 minutes. He should be asleep. It was around 11 at night, and he'd been through a ton of stuff today. His wounds must have taken a lot out of him, made him tired. But, he just laid there, shifting slightly now and again, trying to get comfortable. Every once in a while, he'd open his eyes, like he needed to see where he was. He was sweating and shivering at the same time, but still, he was quiet.
Finally, Dean came in, cleaned up and in different clothes, but with the t-shirt sleeve torn off to accommodate his bandaged shoulder. There were a few red spots visible through the white, but he seemed to be moving okay. Ben felt himself relax, didn't realize he'd been so worried about Dean. But, he was okay. Dean was okay.
Dean sat on the couch, taking up the spot at Sam's hip where he'd been before. Sam opened his eyes. "Hey."
Dean's hand went back to Sam's knee. "Hey, yourself. How you doin'?"
Sam sighed. "Ow.'"
Dean chuckled. "Yeah. I bet." He held a bottle of water to Sam's mouth. "Here. Drink."
Sam took a couple of sips. "How's the shoulder?"
Dean shrugged. "Just a scratch."
Sam gave a tired smile. "Sorry 'bout that. I shoulda had better aim, shot him before he got you."
Dean nodded. "Yeah. The invisible Black Dog, that you couldn't see…should've used your x-ray vision to take him out before any of this shit happened."
Sam closed his eyes. "There you go."
Dean shook his head. "Sam, what were you doing?"
Sam shifted, tried to hide a grimace. "What?"
Dean sighed. "You threw yourself in front of that thing and let it tear you up. I told you to run. To get the car. But, you wouldn't quit. You just held on to that thing while it-"
Sam opened his eyes. "Dean-"
Dean's voice got a little firmer. A little more pissed off. "No, Sam. He was already on me. You should have gone to the car for more bullets and that goofa crap. What the hell were you thinking, putting yourself practically in his mouth? We-"
Sam's soft voice interrupted. "It was on you. I couldn't…it was too much like the hellhounds. I sort of stopped thinking. Just heard the growling and saw the blood. I couldn't stop it before, Dean. When it really mattered, I couldn't do a damn thing." He gave a tired laugh, closed his eyes. "I just really wanted to get that thing off you."
Ben was watching Dean. And, the look that Dean gave Sam, after hearing Sam's reasoning for getting between the thing and Dean? It was a look he'd never seen on Dean's face. It was sadness, regret, sympathy…but it was something else, too. It was gentle and open and soft. Love. Real, no hiding or making a joke, love. From Dean. And, it really threw Ben. It was a Dean that he had never gotten to see. Not in the whole year he'd lived with them.
But all he said to Sam was. "Yeah."
Sam nodded. "Yeah."
It was quiet then, like, they both understood whatever it was they were thinking about, didn't have to talk about it. And, it occurred to Ben that there were probably a lot of nights like this one, for Sam and Dean. All their lives, hunting evil, dealing with monsters and spirits and whatever, they must have had a lot of hunts that got them hurt. Because even Ben knew, after his own experience with the child-sucking thing that tried to get him, sometimes things got you. Even if you fought your hardest, they could still get you. Tonight, seeing both the Winchesters bloody, and neither one of them thinking it was a big deal, it was pretty clear that this was routine. This really was their job. Like Matt worked at the hospital, and Mom worked at the Wellness Center, Sam and Dean hunted horrible creatures that tried to kill them on a regular basis.
Ben also realized, sitting there watching them, that Sam and Dean shared something no one else could possibly understand. It wasn't just that they were brothers, or friends, or partners. It was that, what they did was so intense and so out of the realm of regular life, that almost no one else could relate to it. They were in a world that few people understood or even knew about. And, they were in it together. So, now Ben actually had to feel grateful to Sam. That Dean wasn't out there facing all this stuff alone. It was like he and Sam were in their own little bubble of understanding. And, they were perfectly comfortable there. Like, they were maybe at home there.
Sam was Dean's real family.
As much as Lisa and Ben had been to Dean, as much as they had all shared over the last year and a half, Sam had been in this with Dean since they were born. Ben had known one aspect of Dean. He had known the protector, the father-figure who wanted to teach him about growing into a man. Who wanted to keep them safe. But, even being a dumb kid, Ben could now see that a big part of Dean had been sad and lost when he'd been here. And, that, he wasn't anymore. Even all torn up, seeing his brother all torn up, he was happier. He wasn't pretending to be anything. He sat there, checking his brother for fever, giving him another drink of water, just little stuff, nothing earth-shaking. But, the look on his face, his whole demeanor while sitting with Sam, was different than Ben had ever seen. His body was relaxed, not tight, not on guard. His face was open, not sad or tense, as it had been so much of the time while Dean had lived here.
Sam spoke softly. "You should get some sleep."
Dean raised a brow. "You first."
Dean frowned at that. "Come on. At least try."
Sam let one side of his mouth lift. "Too much waiting for me, if I do."
Dean nodded. "It's harder when you're hurt, huh?"
Sam opened his eyes. "You, too?"
Dean shrugged. "Hell…the gift that keeps on giving."
Sam just sighed again, patted Dean's arm. "At least stretch out. We'll have to take off soon."
"Sam, you shouldn't be going anywhere."
Sam looked directly at him. "We're not staying here. I'm fine. All patched up. Just, try to sleep a little? Cause you're drivin'."
Dean watched him back. Then, blinked, and nodded. "Anything for my princess."
He got up off the couch and opened the closet. He pulled out a couple of blankets and a pillow, threw them on the floor next to the sofa. He took some time to get everything situated to his satisfaction. He went to the duffle he'd had over his shoulder when they'd come in. He took a large knife out of its holder and placed it under his pillow. Finally, he lay down, put one of the blankets over him. He was facing out, toward Ben, but Dean didn't spot him. His eyes were already closed. The room was dark. His voice came, softly. "Couple hours we'll see how you're doin.'"
Sam reached down, wincing as he pulled the blanket up over Dean's shoulder. "Sleep, man. We'll head out in the morning."
Dean let out a long, slow breath. Sam closed his eyes.
Ben was lying down on the rug, an old afghan wrapped around him, when he came suddenly awake. He didn't know what time it was, but his mom was standing over Sam. She was giving him a water bottle and some pills. "Take these, Sam…fever's up."
Sam swallowed the pills down, let out a long breath. "Thanks." His next word was, "Dean?"
Lisa sat on the back of the couch, glanced down. She put a wet cloth on Sam's forehead, spoke softly. "Sleeping."
Mom remained where she was, and the room was quiet for a while. Ben let himself drift. Then, he heard Sam's voice. "Lisa, I'm sorry for this. I know I'm the last person you want to see. But, thank you. For helping us."
Mom gave him a soft smile. "No problem."
Sam continued. "And, I never had a chance to say…thank you, for what you did for Dean."
Mom's smile disappeared at that. She looked down, shook her head.
Sam reached up, put his hand on her arm. She looked back down at him. "If you hadn't been here for him, I think he would've…well, he wouldn't have gotten through the last year. I know it didn't go well at the end, and I'm sorry for that, but, I think…you really…you saved his life. So, just, thank you."
Lisa considered him. Finally, her shoulders dropped, and the tension went out of her. "You know it wasn't pity or anything, right? I really did love Dean. Or, tried to love him."
Sam nodded. "And he really did love you. Does love you. I really wanted want this for him, too, you know?"
Lisa's face went stern at that. "It was his choice to leave, Sam. I would've-It was his choice."
Sam sighed. "Well, it's not my business, but I think you're wrong about that."
Mom sighed, and tried to stand up, but Sam reached out as if to grab her arm. It must have pulled all the stitching, because he lay back down with a soft gasp. "Sam, I gave him the choice. He chose to leave, to follow you. He left. Not me."
Sam sighed. "It's not that simple, Lisa. It's just not." There was quiet between them for a long time. "Did you know I had someone once? A beautiful, sweet, fantastic girl named Jessica. We lived together for two years. I had left hunting, left my father and brother, pretended I was normal and that I could have what everyone else had."
Lisa watched him. "What happened? Did you leave, go back to hunting, too?"
Sam looked right at her. "She was killed by a demon. Burned to death, cut open, in front of me. Because of me. If I had never come into her life, she would probably be married with a baby or two by now."
Lisa put her hand on his leg. "Sam, I'm sorry."
Sam nodded, kept his eyes on her. "It was, in no way, shape or form, my choice that she died. But, it was my fault. This life…what we were raised to do, it's sort of…I don't really know how to explain it. It's like…if there were some horrible disease out there…And, you were one of only a handful of doctors who could treat it? You'd have to go, right? It would be your responsibility to go to the hot zone, where ever it is, and risk getting infected in the hope that you could save some of the victims. You know you'll still lose a lot of people, but, maybe you can save a few, so it's worth it. If you could help, you'd have to leave your family, your home, your life behind, and go wherever the sickness was, right?"
Mom didn't answer.
Sam's soft, raspy voice continued. "And, that's sort of what Dean and I were raised to do. We know there's evil out there, and we know how to kill it. So, we keep looking for it, keep fighting. We never let up. We can't. And, it isn't fair. I mean, if anybody deserves a chance to get out of this life and get a break, it's Dean. But, he won't. Because, he's a great hunter, Lisa. And, he knows it doesn't make you a warm and cuddly person. You have to be hard, you have to be stone-cold vicious sometimes. And, every now and again, even that isn't enough. Sometimes, the things we hunt? They get you before you can get them." Sam's voice got thick, and his words got a little wobbly. "It's in you before you can stop it. And, that? Is bad, Lisa. Really bad. The only thing worse than that, worse than having real evil under your own skin? Is having anyone you love get touched by it. Get hurt or killed because of it. It fuckin' breaks you."
Lisa wiped a tear from her cheek. She nodded, but didn't speak. Sam's cleared his throat and got control of his voice again. He seemed to be wearing out, but he kept talking. "Dean didn't choose anything over you and Ben. He didn't choose me, or the job or some adventure on the road. It's not like that. He just, he chose to let you go so you could live. He made the worse choice for himself, to make the best choice for you and Ben. That's who Dean is. So. I just wanted to make sure you knew…it may have been his choice, but it wasn't what he wanted."
Lisa heaved in a long breath, closed her eyes. She opened them, glanced down at Dean where he slept on the floor. Her voice was soft when she said, "He said he wasn't worthy to sit at my dinner table."
Sam sighed. "Yeah. I can understand why he would say that. The things we have to do, the things we are capable of…it can make you feel kind of filthy. But, Dean…what he's given to keep people safe…to keep the world safe? You can't begin to understand what it's cost him. Who he's had to be, sometimes, to get that done. But, Lisa, you get that Dean is about the worthiest person alive, right?"
Lisa's gaze lingered on Dean, then, she looked back to Sam. She gave a soft smile, turned the cloth over and pressed it back against his forehead. "Sleep, Sam."
She sat for a little longer, then left.
Ben stayed slumped against the wall, now completely ashamed of the things he'd said to Dean on his last visit. Telling him he was a dick for leaving, that he'd walked out on his family, and what kind of man does that? Maybe the little kid in Ben still felt that way. Still felt mad and disappointed that Dean hadn't stuck around. But, the part of him that wasn't a kid anymore, the part that understood that life could be complex and that choices weren't simple, had had his eyes opened. He'd seen that Sam was Dean's family. He hadn't walked out on his family, he'd returned to his family. And, he hadn't left Mom so he could have more nights like this one. He'd left so she and Ben wouldn't have to have any nights like this one - all cut up and nowhere to turn for help, hurting and bloodied by evil. Dean didn't want this life for him and Mom. That was how he could love them.
And, in a way, Sam was probably the one who would ever really know the real Dean. Because, he'd been there with him through things that were unimaginable. Between them, nothing had to be explained. Their life made sense to them, and that was enough. They had each other to face the worst of the world with. They always had and always would. Bottom line? They would die for each other. And, that was some serious stuff, right there. Because Ben loved his mom more than anyone, but would he really die for her? Take some pain or wound so that she wouldn't have to? He couldn't say for certain that he would. He'd like to think he would, but, he didn't know. Sam and Dean seemed to do it all the time, had been doing it for each other since they could walk.
So, as he lay there, watching Dean sleep and listening to Sam's hitched breaths, Ben tried to be thankful that they'd had Dean at all. Because he had been funny, strong and understanding, and he'd been afraid of nothing. No noise in the night, no jerk at the ballpark, no guy spouting off at him in traffic – nothing rattled Dean. Being around Dean had made Ben feel safe. He would really miss that.
But, he thought maybe Dean was where he was supposed to be. Sam had made a good point, after all. If you knew where the disease was, and how to cure it, how could you not devote yourself to doing that? How could you go to sleep knowing you were letting people die just so you could sleep in the same bed every night?
Sam suddenly started coughing, and it must've hurt, because he let out a gasping 'ah..fuck me…'
Dean's head popped up immediately. He put his hand on Sam's arm. "Sam? You okay?"
Sam panted, took control of the grimace he'd been wearing two seconds before. "Yeah. Fine. Stop fussin'"
Dean sat up fully. He picked the folded wash cloth off the floor, poured some of the water from the bottle on it, and put it back on Sam's forehead. "Stop being a whiny bitch, then." He put the half-filled bottle to Sam's lips. "Drink."
Sam leaned forward, swallowed down some water. "Thanks." He fell back and closed his eyes.
Dean sighed, leaned against the couch on his good shoulder. "So, scale of one to ten?"
Ben waited, he guessed Sam would come up with an 8 or 9. Cause, he didn't know much, but even he could see Sam was in a lot of pain. Sam opened his eyes, looked at Dean. "Please…s'like a paper cut."
Dean huffed out a laugh. "Right. Don't know why I asked."
Sam's lips quirked. "Cause you're a mother hen." He made a very sad, supposed-to-be-a-chicken cluck.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Must be the fever. You're even less funny than usual."
Sam closed his eyes, still wearing a bit of a smile. Then, "Another couple hours til mornin'?"
Dean nodded, sipped from the water himself. "Yeah. You sure you're okay to get going?"
Sam sighed. "I'll be ready when you are."
Dean swallowed some more water, put the top back on the bottle. "Yeah, I know." He lay back down and closed his eyes.
Ben picked up his blanket and watched them both for a minute. Then, he whispered, "Good-bye, Dean."
And, walked out of the room, finally ready to let Dean go.