Written for a charity auction for lems, who requested a hunt in New England woods, a get-Dean...and a certain creature.
Under Your Spell
K Hanna Korossy
As Sam's gun descended toward his face, Dean's last thought was that maybe, urgent or not, they shouldn't have gone on this hunt, after all.
"You sure about going with me, man?"
Sam's question was casual, no guilt-trip or accusation, and Dean made himself shelve his automatic defensiveness. This wasn't Sam doubting him; this was his brother's reasonable worry. Considering that a week before, Dean had rolled the car on a mountain road and needed his frightened little brother to go for help, the concern wasn't exactly unwarranted. But, "leg's ninety percent, Sam. I can run on it if I have to. And we agreed we can't wait, right?" He glanced over at Sam in the passenger seat, the question just as sincere.
Sam nodded reluctantly. They had. While a year ago Dean would have just declared he was going on the hunt and that was final, a lot had changed since then. Dad was…gone, Sam could see past his grief now, and Dean finally had to admit his brother was a grown man. The obligatory love of childhood had given way to the tentative friendship of adults, then to real partnership. Dean would always be the oldest brother, but they discussed plans and decisions now, and sometimes Sam even won him over with logic instead of just those dewy eyes.
But they'd both agreed on this one. The fact was, people were walking into Connecticut's Salmon River State Park and not walking out again. Not being found at all, actually. Sam had heard about it while Dean was in the hospital being checked out after the accident. Since they were already in New England, they'd headed to Connecticut as soon as the Impala was put back together, Dean sleeping most of the way. Normally, they would have holed up for a while, let Dean heal and have a chance to give the car a thorough going-over like he wanted. But even while they'd been on the road, a six-year-old girl had vanished into the woods, the sixth person to disappear. There just was no time to take it slow.
Sam had insisted on a night's sleep in a motel first, however. And considering he'd done all the driving and looked it, Dean had acquiesced. He was the one who'd taken the wheel that morning to go out to Salmon River, and while his left leg and head still ached, he felt up to the hunt. The thought of something snatching kids was amazingly energizing.
And there was no way he was letting Sam go alone.
Dean slowed as they reached a T in the road, and a map on a post. He squinted at it, still feeling the light thump of a concussion behind his eyeballs, and chewed his lip.
"Left," Sam said confidently.
Dean turned the car left.
"Lindy disappeared down this way," Sam continued without needing to be asked. "They're coordinating search parties from one of the lots over here."
Sure enough, they soon passed a small parking lot jammed with police and park ranger cars, civilian vehicles, even a food service cart. Several people were crowded around it, sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups and studying a map plastered on one side of the cart. Dean slowed as they both looked the group over, but he didn't stop. They weren't going where the civilians were; the well-meaning folks would just get in the way.
"Right," Sam directed. Then, eventually, "in here."
They pulled into a nearly deserted lot about a mile down from the search staging area. Another Plexiglas-covered map was posted at the far end of the lot, next to several paths that snaked out into the woods. The string of disappearances had scared most people away from casual hiking and fishing in the park, however, and besides the searchers, they probably had the area to themselves. Which was just fine by Dean.
He parked in the most hidden corner of the lot, behind a huge bush Sam probably knew the name of. All Dean cared about was that it hid the Impala from casual passersby. He climbed out, stiff from the drive but forcing himself not to limp, feeling Sam's eyes on him as he went back to the trunk. But his brother didn't say anything, and Dean was grateful for it.
"So," he said, lifting the false bottom of the trunk and propping it with his favorite shotgun. "What kills an enchanted fox? We talking animal, mineral, or spirit?"
"Iron shot?" Sam hazarded. "The only lore we've got is that Native American arrows never seemed to hit it."
"Yeah, which basically tells us nothing," Dean grumbled, looking over the contents of their armory.
Even the Fox was just a guess, but it made sense. Dean had thought he'd remembered Salmon River from Dad's journal, and Sam had found the reference: there had been cycles of sightings of the Salmon River Black Fox for hundreds of years. The MO matched, too. The fox didn't attack, wasn't carnivorous or aggressive. It just led folks deep into the woods, where they were either never seen again or, if they were lucky, from which they stumbled days later, exhausted and dehydrated. No one had reported any black foxes this time around, but everyone who'd disappeared so far had been alone. Besides which, those who saw the Fox didn't usually have the chance to talk about it.
Another reason Dean wasn't letting Sam solo on this one. The ill-fated deerwoman hunt was still very fresh in his memory.
"No, but it makes sense," Sam was saying as he grabbed a shotgun, checked the load, and put some extra shells in his pocket. "It's not a classic spirit, so salt probably won't hurt it, but iron will get it if it's corporeal or ethereal."
Dean turned his head to give Sam a look.
"What?" Sam asked self-consciously.
"'Ethereal'?" Dean echoed. "You been reading poetry again?"
"Dude, that was one time, and Robert Frost's good—you should try him sometime."
Dean rolled his eyes and filled his own pockets, iron rounds in one, salt in the other. Just in case. "If they didn't make a movie of it, I'm not interested."
Sam slipped a silver knife onto his belt, Dean noted with approval. His brother wasn't taking any chances, either. "Girls like poetry."
Dean added silver rounds to the third pocket inside his coat. Some "animals" were really shapeshifters. He threw Sam a sly grin. "There once was a girl from Nantucket…"
"Poetry, Dean, not pornography," Sam said flatly.
"At least porn makes sense," Dean muttered back. "You set?"
Sam breathed out. "How 'bout those protection charms Bobby gave us?"
Dean considered that. They were really to protect against spell work; he wasn't sure vulpine enchantment counted. "You think they'll help?" Not that they really had a plan for how to avoid the Black Fox's influence besides not looking at it full on, but sometimes that and back-up you could rely on were all you had.
"Mesmerizing is basically casting a spell," Sam said with a shrug. "Anyway, can't hurt."
Dean let the four-syllable word pass this time and conceded the point by digging into one of the pockets under the false bottom. He came up with the pair of charms and reached one out to drop into Sam's cupped hand. "Anything else?"
Sam shook his head. "You got your phone on?"
"Yup." Dean automatically checked it anyway. They'd recharged the night before, knowing they'd need the navigation tools and, if worst came to worst, maybe the GPS. Sam, the eternal Boy Scout, also had a paper map of the park tucked into his pocket. They were as ready as they were going to be, short of several more days to rest and recharge. Dean grabbed the shotgun from its place as prop and slammed the trunk shut. "Lead the way, Kemosabe."
Sam made a longsuffering face, but Dean saw the amusement in his eyes as he turned toward the woods. It made him smile, too.
Sam had asked him, after the whole thing with the crossroads demon, if Dean had considered making a deal to bring back their dad. And Dean hadn't answered because he would have been lying if he'd said he hadn't. What Sam would probably never guess, however, was that the reason Dean hadn't dealt had nothing to do with right and wrong, or not wanting to go to Hell in ten years, or fearing that what he'd get back wouldn't really be John. It had been simply about Sam. Sam gave him a reason to get up in the morning, made him smile when things looked bleak, gave him the strength to keep going when he didn't think he could take another step. Dean had loved hunting most of his life, but when that hadn't been enough anymore, he'd still loved Sam, and that had. Sam needed him, so Dean stayed, simple as that.
They set off on the nearest path, Sam choosing the way effortlessly. He'd probably memorized all the paths, the big geek. Dean followed him, stretching his leg with every second step until it felt almost like his own again. He'd been lucky the accident had only wrenched his knee and bruised the muscle, or else he'd be backing Sam up in a wheelchair. Dean had definitely had worse. They'd be doing some light climbing, though, and a lot of walking, so he set a pace he knew wouldn't over-tax the limb and smoothed his gait as much as he was able. Sam soon fell into step, probably without even having realized it.
Sam led the way, consulting his phone as needed, but Dean was the one who was more at home in the woods. He sometimes stopped to examine tracks or listen for out-of-place sounds. Once he chivvied Sam off the path into some nearby brush, only to have a gorgeous buck dash by a minute later. Dean pursed his mouth in a silent whistle, and saw the quiet awe in Sam's face.
It was just mid-spring, but it'd been an unusually warm week for New England. There were still drifts of snow in the more shady, protected spots, although the paths were mostly clear, if muddy. The air was bracingly cold but not freezing, and they hadn't even bothered to unpack the parkas they used for northern winter hunts. The snow was also good for tracking, but so far Dean had only seen small-animal trails and one delicate set of hoofprints from a doe.
"Well, at least there's one good thing about a hunt in the woods," Sam said out of the blue about a mile in.
Dean cast him a sideways glance. "Yeah? What's that?"
"I don't think the rabbits and deer are going to recognize you from TV," Sam said with a grin.
Dean groaned under his breath, but there was something to that. He'd been trying to lie low since that mess in Milwaukee, when his face had been on national TV and he'd caught the FBI's attention. The car accident hadn't helped, and he knew fear of discovery was something Sam had struggled with the whole time Dean had been in the hospital. The heat would let up as it always did, but in the meantime, it didn't hurt to have a hunt in the middle of nowhere.
Speaking of which, "Search party," Dean murmured to Sam, who'd already picked up on the approaching noises himself. They slunk silently off the path once more, careful to avoid leaving visible footprints, and waited out the intruders. The party didn't come any closer, however, veering off toward the west. In wordless agreement, the Winchesters emerged and continued on eastward.
An hour passed. His leg was holding up pretty well, considering, even though Dean knew he'd be wrapping the knee that night. His head still hurt but the nausea and dizziness from the crash were gone. He was already getting tired, however, injury continuing to impair endurance. Dean fished some jerky out of his pocket and absentmindedly chewed, considering how soon he could call a break without Sam totally motherhenning him over it.
That was when Sam stopped dead.
Dean pulled up short to keep from running into his back, then frowned at his brother's ridiculously tall frame. "You hear something?"
Sam didn't answer.
Anxiety leached into his bloodstream. "Sam?" Dean tucked the jerky away as he stepped carefully around his brother, checking out their environment, what Sam had—
Sam was staring, his gaze nailed to something at two o'clock, pupils so wide that his eyes looked black. His mouth hung slack, and every joint seemed to strain against forward, like it was being…pulled.
Crap. Hand sliding into the trigger guard of his shotgun, Dean slowly turned his head.
There: the black was just a flicker in the corner of his vision, and Dean caught himself before his eyes automatically darted over to take a good look. He knew what it was, though, had known it really the moment Sam froze. Still looking at the Fox only sideways, Dean raised his shotgun.
Sam suddenly jerked into movement, pushing past Dean hard enough to nearly cause a misfire. He moved robotically off the path in a straight line toward the Fox. Bushes, logs, nothing blocked his way; Sam forged ahead like they weren't even there.
"Sam!" Dean was already in motion, too, swiftly reaiming and firing even as he snapped his brother's name.
But Sam's motion had also set the Fox off, and the flash of sleek ebony had already moved on. Even as Dean tried to find it again without looking at it straight on, Sam was already a dozen feet ahead and gaining fast.
Dean cursed, dropping the shotgun to his side and darting after his brother. "Stop, Sam!"
Sam ignored him or, more likely, didn't even hear him. He didn't react to his name, nor to Dean's pained grunt when the uneven footing wrenched his leg. Already Sam had closed half the distance to where Dean figured the Fox was standing, waiting to draw Sam even deeper into the woods.
"Sammy! Listen to me—I need you here, all right? Look at me, dude, over here."
Sam skirted a tree and kept going.
The obstacle slowed him just enough that Dean was finally close enough. Talking hadn't done any good, and he kinda doubted just grabbing Sam's arm would do it, either. Taking a breath, Dean tackled his brother, sending them sprawling forward.
It was like ramming a slab of marble. Sam went down, but Dean was the one whose breath was driven out of his body. Especially when Sam immediately rolled them, putting Dean on his back on the forest floor while Sam tried to climb off him. He never once looked down.
The oddly stilted body language and rigid muscles were scary enough. But the vacant look on Sam's expressive face was what really sent Dean's heart racing. From one second to another, Sam—nursemaiding, soft-hearted, God-trusting, psychic-boy wonder Sammy—was gone.
"Sam," Dean heard himself pleading one more time, and grabbed again for his brother before Sam slipped completely away.
Sam pulled at his grip, just for a second. Then, without even glancing at him, without any emotion at all, he lifted the shotgun he'd hung on to and brought it down on Dean.
Dean's last clear thought as the gun descended toward his head was that maybe they hadn't been ready for this hunt, after all.
And then it was all pain and darkness.
The feeling of choking woke him.
It was an exceptionally miserable way to come to, even for someone who was used to concussion hangovers. With a deep groan, Dean rolled onto his side and started retching.
Maybe he passed out again. He was a little hazy on the whole time thing.
It was indeterminately later, at any rate, that he became aware of lying panting on the forest floor, contemplating the joys of unconsciousness.
His head felt like a friggin' rocket had gone off inside it, brains splattered against the lining of his skull. His mouth tasted foul and kinda mossy, and he was pretty sure that was a leaf inside his cheek. His stomach was bouncing around like a car without shocks and… Crap.
The rest of breakfast made an appearance, as well as the remnants of dinner the day before, the pie he'd had last week, and probably pieces of his stomach wall.
"Jus'…kill me now," he muttered to the forest floor, wiping a shaky hand across his mouth. "S'my?"
Dean blinked. Sam. Black Fox and…Sam. He…couldn't remember the rest, but he could feel it as clearly as he felt his broken brain: Sam was in trouble.
It was better than a shot of adrenaline. Dean shoved up in alarm, ignoring the way both head and stomach threatened to stay behind, bleating, "Sam!"
The forest spun, or maybe his head did.
Dean lay facedown in leaf detritus, trying not to breathe in the smell of someone having been sick. Why was he there again? Sam…Sammy was in trouble. Dean pushed up—
He was lying facedown on damp leaves. It smelled lousy, and he had no idea where he was or why. "Sam?" he croaked without moving.
There was no answer. Dean swore, very, very softly.
Something was really wrong. The pain was just…bad and all over, and he didn't know what was damaged, so he moved slowly. Hands under him. Push up. Lock elbows. Spit, close eyes, and groan. Sit back.
Thank God the tree was there, or he would've ended up supine this time.
This time? Felt like he'd done this before, but he couldn't remember. Where was Sam…?
Dean tilted his head back against the bark and squinted into the piercing shafts of light filtering through the treetops. Sam was…was the one in trouble, not Dean. The…the Fox? No, the Fox wouldn't hurt him, but other things would if Sam was out of it, and he was… Dean was pretty sure he was lost, no food or water. Sam had had the weapons, carried the heavier bag for Dean, shotgun slamming into his temple…
Dean squeezed his eyes shut, trying to sort through the litter of thoughts. Concussion…it was the concussion. Second one on top of another from…something before. Two concussions: bad. That was bad. Should go to bed and no magic fingers because his brain hurt but maybe a hot nurse, except even the thought of sex was nauseating right now and how messed up was—?
Sam. Sam was in trouble.
The jumble of his mind quieted around that thought. That was what mattered; that was what he had to do before everything. Save Sam. Always save Sam, or have to kill him.
Dean ground the heels of his hands into his eyes. No. Sam wasn't dying, not on his watch. He'd save Sam. Gank the Fox and…and the shapeshifters, and the priest-angel, and anything else that stood in the way. Save Sam.
Gritting his teeth, Dean pressed a hand against the bark of the tree behind him and shoved up.
His head didn't like the elevation change. Legs refused to solidify. Bile lurched up against the back of a throat that burned like this wasn't the first attack of nausea, and there were pops and sparkles in his vision he was pretty sure weren't really there.
Sam was in trouble. Save Sam. Dean kept pushing, repeating the two words to focus himself, to not risk forgetting the most important thing. Save Sam save Sam save sam save sam…
He gained his feet, if not his balance. The tree was holding him up, rough bark pressed against his face. There were these…sounds Dean was pretty sure were coming from him, little wounded animal noises that were probably attracting every predator in the area and there was blood—blood?—sprinkling on his shirt and he'd fallen to the bottom of the food chain and…and Sam was out there, needing saving. Dean couldn't remember why or what had happened, but he knew that much and that was enough.
He took one wobbly step away from the tree.
There was a stick poking his cheek and something wet and fuzzy rubbing against his throat. Dean opened his eyes and squinted fuzzily at it. Green—moss? What the—?
Sam. Save Sam.
His body was obeying the directive before his mind could even try to figure out the details, or why getting up was a bad idea. Dean groaned, retching weakly as he made it to his knees, then pushed up by inches.
His bad leg buckled. Dean cursed and fell, arms flinging out hopelessly to catch himself.
They tangled in something…soft. Strands. A solid wall of shifting muscle covered by short hair that held his weight as he lurched against it.
Dean peered through watery, half-open eyes.
Black hair an inch from his face. Short hair on the wide body. Longer trailing up a graceful neck.
A white horn at the top.
"Holy crap," Dean breathed, fingers tangling in the mane. "You're a—"
The black unicorn turned its head to look at him and whinnied.
Concussion. When your brain had been stuck in a blender, this was what came out. "S'not real," Dean muttered to himself, even as he dropped his face against the sun-warmed hair. Smelled like horse. Maybe it was a…stray horse in the Connecticut wilderness? Yeah, 'cause that made so much more sense.
The body beneath him trembled as one hoof pawed against the ground, the unicorn nickering softly. It took a careful step forward, like it didn't want to dislodge Dean's grip, then turned back to look at him again. Dean didn't have to open his eyes; he could feel the thing's gaze.
He didn't know where he was. Trying to remember was like wandering into a fog, and Dean mentally stepped back, unwilling to risk losing himself. Didn't really matter, nor did what was wrong with him. He had to save Sammy from…something, and he was on his feet now. He could do this.
A soft equine snort and another flowing move forward. Dean's feet stumbled along as he clung to the broad back. His knee gave out again, but he caught himself against the…unicorn's flank.
"Don' exist," Dean muttered against the velvet neck. "S'not real." Anyway, weren't they supposed to be attracted to—? "Notta virgin, dude," he declared.
The creature didn't seem to care. Another careful step. The…the unicorn was gliding more than stepping. The sleek blackness reminded him of the Impala, and Dean's mouth twitched.
It was waiting for him, calm, patient. Dean wasn't sure of a lot just then, but he was positive none of this was natural. But that was kinda their norm, so…maybe it could help him save his brother.
Unicorn. Fine. If it would get him to Sam, Dean would believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.
"Okay," he mumbled into what really felt like horse mane. He wove the fingers of one hand in a tighter grip on it, then slung the other over the strong, wide neck. "Okay, jus' for now. Gonna b'lieve jus' today."
The horse—unicorn—tossed its head gently and made a sound like a laugh, then started walking for real.
"Gah." Dean clenched his teeth and hung on for dear life. "Son of a…"
This sucked. Yeah, he was standing—or at least leaning vertically—and moving, and he was pretty sure—or hopeful, anyway—that they were doing so in the direction Sam had gone. The stupid horned horse seemed to know what it was tracking, anyway. But Dean's head jiggled with every step, his feet tangling beneath him, bad leg buckling every second step. His internal gyroscope was totally screwed, leaving him constantly confused about what was up and down. And his stomach was edging into his throat again, although he was pretty sure if he upchucked on the unicorn's back, his free ride would be over. Dean swallowed convulsively and turned his face enough to gulp the fresh air and will himself together.
The unicorn clopped on, apparently uncaring about the internal struggles of the passenger hanging on to its side.
Despite the rugged terrain they were crossing, the unicorn's stride was regular, almost hypnotic. Dean's eyelids slowly sank to half-mast, watching the blur of the forest pass by. The trees were just starting to come alive again after winter, and everything was that light green color that testified to new life. Was kinda pretty, in a fuzzy way. Sammy always loved spring, always drawn to life instead of to death as hunters were.
"S'not a hunter…doesn' wanna do this. But…got these visions…crap finds him, y'know?" The unicorn seemed to, Dean thought. "Can't be normal…always gettin' in tr'ble…"
Dean let his eyes drop shut. Was there…? Something about a fox. A fox and Sam. Not the good kind of fox. Mesm…mesmiz…memer…hypnotizing. Got Sammy, and Dean had to save him. Save him or kill him. If Dean didn't save him, they were both dead anyway. Sammy was the heart of the Winchesters. Dad, the brain, was already gone. Didn't leave anything else. Muscle wasn't worth scratch without the heart or the brain.
"M' little brother. Notta freak, jus' S'mmy. Gotta help…" Muscle flexed and pulled under him. "Good horse," Dean mumbled, rubbing his cheek against the fine hair. It was softer than a horse, which just figured. No wonder the Hello Kitty bunch loved unicorns. "Notta virgin," Dean repeated, just so they were clear. "Not s'posed t'…"
What was he saying? His head really hurt and it was hard to think. Hadda think straight to save Sam. Dad said. Sam needed. Unicorn probably showed up for Sam, the big girl. Sam's cherry was popped, too, though, Jess and all. Probably the only time he got laid in his life. Was that why the horse was black instead of white? Or did only girls get the white ones? Maybe it was a boy unicorn. Figured he would get the gay unicorn, Dean chortled before abruptly sobering. Oh, God, he was losing it. He needed to find Sam and get some help. Needed to find Sam to make sure he was okay. Needed Sam…
A strange sound. Dean blearily lifted his head. Wha—? Oh, right, unicorn. Whinnying and looking back at him. Dean blinked, struggling to keep his eyes open. It was important. Sam was…
The horse made an impatient noise, then swiveled its long neck back to nudge him in the shoulder.
Dean grimaced, reaching up to push the stupid thing away, when he realized they'd stopped moving. And caught sight of Sam's fluffy hair. Sammy was moving away, but something about the way he was walking was wrong. Slow and stiff. Dean frowned. "Sam?"
Nothing. Nada but a flicker of an ebony tail beyond Sam. Dean started to turn his heavy head that way—
A wall of black suddenly filled his vision. Dean stared stupidly at it a moment before realizing: unicorn. "Move, Seabiscuit," he growled, shoving at the horse.
It blew an annoyed breath at him and stood its ground. Almost like it didn't want him to…
Wait. Black Fox. Mesma-whatever. Tricked you if you looked at it. Sam… Sam had…
Dean drew in a sharp breath. It had Sam. And if Dean looked at it, he wouldn't be able to save Sam.
"Got it." Dean started to nod and reconsidered as the scenery shifted. It was a smart horse. Maybe the horn made it smarter. Sam would know. Just had to…to save Sam first. Dean fumbled for the gun he had tucked away, hands knowing what they were doing even if his brain felt like it was oozing out of his ears. The black wall in front of him lowered until he could prop the heavy gun on it. Every time he tried to aim, however, horse rump was in his way, and Dean finally remembered. Couldn't look, not and save Sam. He closed his eyes, listening instead, separating out Sam's heavy footfalls from the light scuffing of the Fox.
And…there. Dean sucked in a breath and held it. Felt like the horse was doing the same. It was as steady as they were gonna get, and Dean squeezed off the shot.
The boom felt like an explosion in his head. There was a shriek, like the scream of a cat, in the distance, and it also pierced his ears. He dropped the gun and thunked his head down, eyes awash with involuntary tears. "Did I get it?" he gasped into the soft hair.
It felt like Sam's—where was Sam? He'd make the agonizing thing shut up.
Dean groaned as one more shrill cry drilled through him. God, his head was going to come off soon. He hoped. By the time the yowling faded, Dean was barely aware of it.
The thing he was leaning on shifted. Dean stared dully at black—Baby? No, a fox. Unicorn. Unicorn?—as it easily shook his grip loose, then danced forward a few steps.
Dean slipped to the ground, propped up only by a convenient log.
"D'I get it?" he whispered.
The unicorn lowered its head, ruffling his hair with a hard breath.
"Good." Dean's arm was too heavy to lift, but he managed to trail his fingertips against a forelock. "S'good. Thanks."
Something hairless lifted his chin, insistently cradled his face.
"God, Dean, what the—? What happened? How'd you—?"
Dean lazily peered into eyes that were inches from his own. Familiar, hazel, his flesh and blood. Sam. "S'my," he wheezed happily. Safe. Saved him.
"Are you okay? How'd—where are we? I don't remember… Who were you talking to?"
He pried his eyes open—they kept closing when he didn't notice—but no unicorn. Nothing but Sam. Dean let his heavy eyelids fall shut again. "'S 'cause you're notta virgin," he clarified.
"What?" Sam sounded puzzled and worried. Really should do something about that.
Later. He was tired. Dean slumped forward, not caring that Sam's t-shirt was sweaty and that his brother was basically hugging him now. Felt almost as good as the horse. Unicorn. Whatever. "'M notta virg'n, e'ther," he added. Just making sure there was no doubt on Sam's part. Man, it was really, really good to know the kid was safe. Drained every bit of urgency from Dean's body.
"Dean, c'mon, man, stay awake for me." Sam supported his heavy head, hands cool against the hot, tight skin of his face. "Dean!"
"S'rry," Dean apologized hazily, not even sure for what.
Before Sam could answer, however, the darkness sucked him in.
Horns and Sam and foxy and… that was a vaguely disturbing combo.
Dean sighed, burrowing deeper into blankets, not really sure what was dream and what was real. But Sam was there throughout, so it was okay.
"Just a couple sips, all right? Gotta keep you hydrated."
Something cold and sweet wet his mouth, and Dean hummed in drowsy satisfaction. He automatically turned to look at Sam, but the pressure in his head shifted alarmingly with the movement and Dean froze, anxious with pain and confusion. "S'm?" he pushed through locked teeth.
"I'm here, man." Hands encircled his upper arms, pressing him lightly against the bed. Anchoring him in midst of the waves that washed over him, tumbling him, dragging him back down away from the pain. "Go back to sleep, Dean."
He was pretty sure he was already there, but whatever.
"Hey, Dean, guess—?"
Dean slapped the laptop shut, dropped the newspaper on top of it, and shoved it away from him in one quick movement. He looked up with complete innocence at his brother in the doorway.
Sam wasn't buying it for a second. He came all the way into the motel room and shut the door behind him. "Why are you out of bed?" His face crinkled. "Dude, you weren't looking at porn, were you?"
It just wasn't fair that his younger brother had the look of parental exasperation down better than Dean did. "I do look up other stuff besides porn, Sam."
"Right. Something important enough to get out of bed when last night you still got dizzy if you turned your head," Sam said, hands on his hips.
Not just parental: like Mom. Figured Sam would take after the one girl in the family. "I'm okay," Dean muttered petulantly. "See? I can stand up by myself and everything." He pushed to his feet.
Gravity traitorously chose that moment to change direction on him, pulling him suddenly to the side.
Sam grabbed him by the biceps just in time to keep him from toppling. "Yeah, I can see that," he said, but he with far more concern than sarcasm. "Just close your eyes a minute, man."
Not that he had a lot of choice unless he wanted to take another swan dive. Dean squeezed his eyes shut and lowered his chin to his chest, trying to ignore the warmth of shame spreading across his face. And the feeling of déjà vu that Sam had held him secure like this before.
"Remember that inner ear infection I had?" Sam mused. "I couldn't walk straight for, like, a week. You had to help me go to the bathroom."
"Your aim was lousy," Dean said roughly, knowing what Sam was doing and pathetically grateful for it.
"Yeah, well, you try aiming when it feels like you're on a merry-go-around." A beat. "Is it that bad now?"
"S'better." Dean breathed out slow. "I'm fine."
"Here." Sam inched him over and gently pushed him down.
Dean sat blindly, on what turned out to be the end of his bed. He curled both fists around the edges, locking himself in place, then finally risked opening his eyes.
Sam was peering down at him, not even noticing his hair was in his eyes. "Y'all right?"
"I'm good," Dean grunted, breathing a few more times. The room finally stopped moving. "I'm good," he repeated more certainly.
Worry fading, Sam's annoyance returned. "Dude, it hasn't even been two days. The doctor said you should stay in bed for at least four."
Dean made a rude sound.
"And he didn't even know I was gonna break you out that night."
But they'd had to go. TV and press coverage had moved on to the next big news item, but Dean's face had been plastered across the country for a solid week, not to mention in every law enforcement office. As a wounded hero, a "search party member injured in a dangerous fall," he hadn't been scrutinized more thoroughly in the hospital, but it only took one person recognizing him. And even then Dean knew Sam'd had to do some fast talking, especially after having to flag down a search party to help carry Dean out of the woods, not to mention the press that wanted an interview with the brave searcher. The whole thing was humiliating, and Dean tried not to think about it. But Sam had had to.
Not that his brother had complained. On the contrary, Dean had woken to a purloined radio playing AC/DC. And Maine blueberry pie. And a hovering, guilty, contrite brother.
Dean sighed. "This isn't your fault, Sam."
Sam already knew what he was talking about. "I looked at it like an idiot."
"It came out of nowhere," Dean countered, staring him in the eye. "It would've had me, too, if I'd been ahead."
"I would've killed you to get to it."
"Like me and the deerwoman?"
He knew he had Sam there. Deerwomen cast a spell similar to the Black Fox's, and Dean had been the one to succumb on that hunt. Before Sam shot her, Dean had inflicted a little more damage on his little brother than just a blow to the head. It still ate at him, and he imagined this time it would Sam no matter what he said.
"What were you looking up that was so important it couldn't wait?" Sam finally asked, muted.
"Oh. Uh…" Dean scratched at his jaw. "Nothing, just… Unicorns definitely aren't real, right?"
Sam blinked. Then frowned. "Why, did you… Wait, was that why you were talking about virgins? Dean, did you see something out there?"
"No!" The denial was automatic; Dean hesitated as he actually gave it some thought. "I mean, I don't know, I…"
"Dean." Sam sat on the end of the other bed, leaning in toward him, expression too serious. "Maybe we should go back to the hospital. I mean, you've got a double concussion, and you thought you saw an angel the first time. If you're seeing unicorns now—"
"I'm not, okay?" Dean snapped, reaching his embarrassment quota. "I was…confused in the woods, that's all. I'm not seeing unicorns or pixies or six-foot-invisible rabbits, okay? Just one pain-in-the-ass brother who thinks he's Clara Barton."
Sam's eyes had narrowed dangerously, but then his mouth twitched. "Clara Barton?"
"Shut up," Dean growled, tired and a little sick to his stomach despite his denials.
"C'mon," Sam said, a smile still in his voice but face schooled into neutrality. He got an arm around Dean before Dean could protest and ushered him back into bed. "Get some more sleep before dinner."
Since it was just the two of them, and Dean did feel kinda lousy, and Sam wasn't rubbing it in too much, the little bitch, Dean shut up and let him. He tried not to sigh in relief at being flat on his back again.
"Oh, hey, I almost forgot—Lindy, the Fox's last victim, stumbled out of the woods about a half-hour after you shot it."
That was a relief. Dean's head felt better already, satisfaction erasing the cost of the hunt. "Good," he breathed, then yawned.
"Go back to sleep, man." Sam patted his chest, and didn't move. "Hey, Dean…you weren't serious about the unicorn, right?"
Dean smiled a little. He could still smell horse, feel the brush of its soft hair against his face. Sam had been right: not every supernatural was bad. Some were maybe even miracles. "What d'you think, Einstein?"
"Jerk," Sam said with exasperation. He got up, puttered in the kitchenette for a minute with his back turned to Dean. When he returned, it was with an icepack that he settled on Dean's knee. The leg was almost healed up, but it made Sam feel better to do something and so Dean didn't fight it. "I called Ellen—she's expecting us at the end of the week."
Ellen, good. She'd smack Sam upside the head for blaming himself for any of this. And then maybe make that awesome casserole thing Dean loved. With a bad leg and a black-and-blue head, he'd probably even rate eating in bed.
"I'm sorry, Dean." Sam's soft words tugged at his heart even as his brother tugged the blankets up Dean's chest.
Always save you, Sam, Dean thought, or possibly mumbled. Or maybe he just said it with the sleepy hook of his fingers around Sam's arm before letting himself go to sleep.