Only Human
K Hanna Korossy

"Sam!"

Sam Winchester groaned and dug his head more deeply into his pillow. Anything to muffle the dull roar from outside.

"Sam, get up."

No, the roar was in his head. The screeching was outside. When did Dean start sounding like a harpy?

"Sam!"

His brain sloshed alarmingly as Sam tried to become one with the bed. His stomach rocked and burbled in sympathy.

"That's it." There was a sharp tug, and Sam was suddenly airborne. He only had a second to flail before he hit the floor.

Sam whimpered, curling into a ball to keep all parts of his body from exploding or rolling away. "What the—?" he coughed. "Dean?" He blinked up at the fuzzy figure looming above him. "What's your problem, man?"

"My problem?" Dean's voice rose in disbelief, sharp as a knife through Sam's brain. "You wanna know what my problem is, Sam? I'll show you what my problem is." Then he was bending down, and Sam was being hoisted to his feet.

Aw, crap.

The fireworks behind his eyes were nothing compared to the mighty lurch his stomach gave. Sam swallowed convulsively, bending over to cradle his rebelling gut.

Dean had no mercy, however. His brother half-towed, half-supported him in stumbling steps toward the door. Sam scrunched his eyes together in pre-emptive misery as Dean flung the door open to bright morning sunshine.

Oh, God, he was gonna die. His brother was gonna kill him.

"This is my problem, Sam." Dean shook him a little. "What's wrong with this picture?"

It took him a minute before he could open his eyes without the sun drilling through his eyeballs. His stomach was still rumbling, and it felt like someone had set his head on fire. But Sam looked, peering blurrily at the space in front of their door.

There was nothing there. What was he supposed to see, what was so important that Dean had dragged him outside to take a look when he was dying? There was nothing out there to—

Oh. His mind was barely running, but it clicked just the same, too important to forget. The space in front of their room was empty because the Impala wasn't there.

Oh, crap.

"Sam?"

No wonder Dean sounded like he was a second away from pulling his gun.

Sam opened his mouth, found it completely lined with cotton, and ran a dry tongue over equally dry lips. "I took…the car?"

"No kidding, Einstein—you took the car out last night. Question is, where is it now? You didn't drive home plastered, did you?"

Good question. Sam tried to wrack a brain that felt like overcooked oatmeal.

Dean had crashed early the night before. He wouldn't have admitted as much, but being knocked out and strung up by the wendigo had taken its toll on him, and two days later he was still moving slow and getting tired fast.

Sam, however, had been just peachy. He'd come out of the whole hunt with barely a scrape. But then, that was his M.O. these days, wasn't it? Get Jess killed but escape only a little singed. Then Dean nearly got eaten, and Sam only ended up with a few bruises. He was a jinx, Dean was frighteningly mortal, but, hey, Sam was great. So he'd borrowed the car and gone drinking to celebrate.

And then… And then…

He didn't drive home, did he? Because the last thing he needed was to get more people hurt. No, he was pretty sure he hadn't been that stupid at least. Maybe he'd left the car at the bar and walked home? But…it hadn't been nearby. Their motel was more remote than usual, and Sam had had to drive a while to find the local watering hole. He didn't have the money to waste taking a cab home, and clearly he hadn't called Dean. So…where was the car?

"Sam?" Dean was looking at him, face stormy. Expecting an answer, understandably, for what Sam had done with all their worldly possessions.

Sam suddenly felt very sober, even as his stomach churned. "I…don't know."

Dean's eyebrows rose, just a little. It clearly wasn't the answer he was waiting for. "You don't know?"

"No, I… I'm sorry, man, I'll find it, I just… I can't remember, all right?"

Dean blinked, then again. His expression had gone flat, unreadable. Which was never, ever good. "You can't remember," he repeated, sounding almost amused. "You'll find it, right." He turned away, huffing. Then suddenly he was pivoting back, shoving Sam hard against the siding by the door. "You think you're the only one who's lost something, Sam?" he hissed. "That car, that's all I've got left. Mom's gone, Dad's taken off, you're going back to school as soon as you can—you don't get to take this away from me, too."

Sam stared back at him, eyes and mouth wide open. Drowning in the betrayal and disappointment in his brother's eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered, feeling the inadequacy of the words. His mortification only increased as he felt his eyes grow wet. "I'm sorry, Dean."

Dean's face twisted. He released Sam like Sam's clothes were burning and spun away again. "Just…" He couldn't even seem to figure out what he wanted Sam to do and waved away the end of the sentence. Then he was striding away, across the empty lot. Unmoored.

Sam had done that, too.

He wiped a shaky hand over his eyes, staring at his brother's retreating back. He had to find the car or Dean would never forgive him, not really. Sometimes Sam couldn't see past his loss, couldn't deal with anything other than Jess. It was easy to forget how much his brother had lost, too.

Okay. Okay, so… He was still in his clothes from the night before, and patting himself down, Sam found he had his wallet. But he remembered what bar he'd gone to, and he'd find the car. He wasn't coming back without it. Sam took a step out into the parking lot.

Then rushed back inside.

So he'd find the car after he threw up.

00000

He'd had a twenty in his wallet even after the previous night's indulgence, and it was enough to get a cab back to the bar. That was Dean's poker winnings he was spending, but Sam's conscience was overloaded with guilt as it was and he barely spared a thought for the money. His heart sank, however, when a glance around the parking lot revealed no shiny black car.

He tried the bar door, found it unsurprisingly locked—they wouldn't open for two more hours for lunch—and stood aimlessly a minute, trying to think. He was pretty sure he remembered parking in that lot the night before, over in the far corner like Dean usually did. If the car wasn't there and it wasn't at the motel…it could be anywhere, actually. Sam sighed, feeling an unexpected stab of loss of his own. The car hadn't been home in a long time, but it was still his childhood home, and the few sentimental treasures he'd managed to save were all tucked neatly away in her trunk. To lose her would be to lose literally all he had left on this earth, both physical possessions and his brother's trust. He had to find her.

Her. Sam snorted. Dean was rubbing off on him.

He began walking. There was no reason to think the car was parked in the neighborhood, but it was better than doing nothing. Besides, he had to make a few phone calls and he might as well cover ground while he did it. The first one was to Information for the number of the local police station, and Sam turned the corner as he dialed.

His head throbbed, his gut still ached from vomiting, and he was so tired that every step was effort, but he had a job to do.

The good news: the car wasn't in the system. That meant nobody had found it abandoned or stripped, no joyriders had been stopped in it, and it wasn't impounded. Sam stopped short of putting a BOL out on it, not quite desperate enough yet to draw the attention of the law. But that was a start.

The bad news: the car wasn't anywhere within a five-block radius of the bar. And Sam was running out of steam, even guilt-infused, desperate steam.

The bar had been open half an hour when Sam finally circled back to it, and he trudged in wearily. Even if he struck out with his inquiries, he badly needed a drink of water. No way was he touching the hard stuff, not ever again.

"Hey, hon, what can I getcha?" The bartender was a woman in her 40s, friendly but tough. Unfortunately, she was also totally unfamiliar.

Sam gave her a wan grin. "Hey, uh… I was here last night and I'm kinda…missing something. Do you know who was working the bar yesterday?"

Her smile turned a little wry. "Missing something like your memory?" At Sam's startled look, she winked at him. "Hon, if I had a dollar for everybody who came back through the doors looking to fill in some blanks, I could retire. But Jimmy was tending last night. He's the owner. He's in the back—I'll get him for you."

"Thank you." Sam sank wearily down onto the nearest stool and pressed his fingers to the smooth wood of the bar. He remembered this: the soft blue lighting, the feel of the wood and the chilled glasses, the lazy country music in the background. He remembered thinking Dean would like the place and that he should bring his brother by if Dean was feeling better later. Sam blew out a breath. Now he'd be lucky if Dean went anywhere with him again.

"Sam!"

Startled, he looked up to see a guy coming out from the back. About the bartender's age, he had auburn curls and a friendly grin. And…the guy was definitely twigging something in his brain.

More importantly, the bartender remembered Sam if the familiar way he came over and pumped Sam's hand was any sign. "Glad to see you, kid—you sobered up yet?" He gave a knowing grin.

"Yeah, uh… I know you…right? You were here last night?"

Jimmy laughed, big and booming. "Not just here. I poured you into a cab after closing time. You remember that? You were so baked, you couldn't even walk straight."

Sam frowned, sifting uselessly through memories that were alcohol-hazed at best. "But…"

"You don't remember, do you?" Jimmy asked, growing serious. He dropped a hand on Sam's shoulder, solid and confidential. "Son, I wouldn't usually let a patron get that drunk but, well, you sounded like you needed it, with your girlfriend and brother and all. So I just kept 'em coming and paid for the cab-ride at the end. Figured it was the least I could do."

Sam stared at him, trying to process all the bombshells in that sentence. He'd told the bartender about Jess and Dean? Oh, God, what else had he run his mouth off about? The guy hadn't called the men in white, so maybe Sam had managed to keep the family secret a secret, but still. And then the guy had paid for the cab for him? But… "Uh, you wouldn't know what happened to my car, would you?"

Jimmy cocked his head. "You didn't find the note?"

"Note?" Sam said blankly.

"Stuck it in your back pocket." As Sam twisted to fumble in his jeans, Jimmy dug a hand in his own pocket and held up—

Dean's keychain, the rifle cartridge fob gleaming dully in the bar lights.

Sam gasped in relief.

Jimmy's forehead crinkled. "I'm sorry, kid, I thought for sure you were here 'cause you found the note. You been thinking you lost her all this time?"

His fingertips touched a folded piece of paper in his back pocket, and Sam drew it out and opened it. "I've got your car. Jimmy, Bar None, 555-3946."

"She's around back. I locked her up in the employee lot to make sure no one messed with her. Probably a good thing, too—someone was already by this morning nosing around for her. But I saved her for you. She's a real beaut, that one—I bet you were worried."

"You have no idea," Sam breathed. "Thanks. Thank you." He lurched up off the stool, wanting nothing more than to lay eyes on the Impala again. "I, uh, can't pay you back yet for the cab fare but—"

Jimmy waved at him. "You were a good customer, son, and I really shoulda cut you off earlier. So we'll just call it even, huh?"

He reached out his hand, shaking Jimmy's fervently. "I really…thank you." Dean had said that they hunted to save the innocents, people like Haley, but with all the evil they faced, it was easy to forget how much good there was in the world, too.

"Sure thing. You can get to the lot through that door—just open the fence from the inside. I'll lock up after."

Sam didn't have to be told twice.

The lot was small and surrounded by a tall wooden fence that completely hid what was inside. He'd remembered seeing it from the outside but hadn't realized it concealed a parking lot and didn't give it a second thought. It only had space for three cars, and one of them, sparkling in the sunlight, was the Impala.

Sam ran a hand reverently along her side as he headed to the back and opened the trunk. Nothing had been touched as far as he could see. The back seat held the usual bags of food and trash, blankets, and miscellaneous other crap they hadn't cleaned out yet since the wendigo hunt and Dean getting hurt. And the front seat… Sam unlocked the door and slid in with a happy sigh. How could he not have thought of this as home?

Wait. Jimmy said someone else had come around that morning asking about the car? Had…Dean…? Well, of course he was looking, too—how had Sam expected any different? He cringed at the thought of Dean's growing despair as he kept hitting dead ends.

Swallowing hard, Sam turned the engine over, unable to resist just listening a moment to her rumble, before he got out to unlock the gate and push it open, then slid back inside the car. He still felt lousy, and had some serious groveling to do with Dean, and God knew Jess was never far from his thoughts. But at the moment, all he felt was profound relief.

And then he was hurrying back, unable to wait to give his brother back his pride and joy.

00000

He would have to wait a little longer, though. Dean wasn't at the motel when Sam returned.

He had to still be out looking for the car. He probably wouldn't come back until he found it. Sam pulled out his phone and chewed his lip as he dialed.

"This is Dean. Leave—"

He listened to the voicemail message, unsurprised his brother wasn't taking his calls, and spoke hesitantly after the beep. "Hey, it's me. I've got the car—she's safe, she's fine. We're at the motel. So…come back, all right?…Sorry."

Wincing at the lameness, Sam put his phone away, left the keys under the front seat and the door unlocked, and went inside to wait.

He hadn't meant to go to sleep. God knows he didn't deserve to. But his hung-over body and mind had other ideas. The growl of the Impala's engine outside the room awakened Sam with a gasp, and he flailed a moment as he almost tipped out of the chair. Dean?

He hurried to the window and lifted the blinds to peer outside just as the engine cut off. The sunlight reflected off the windshield, too bright to see clearly inside. But a figure was sitting inside the car, running a hand over the wheel, the dash. As Sam kept guiltily watching, Dean got out, shut the door, and started circling the car, running a hand intently over her side much as Sam had. Making sure his baby was all right, and Sam's chest tightened at the thought. He let go of the blinds and retreated to his chair to await the backlash.

There were several car door slams. And then…silence.

Sam fidgeted in his seat, glanced at the bathroom longingly but didn't dare rise, licked parched lips and rubbed his forehead. No Dean. But he hadn't driven away, and Sam didn't believe his brother would be leaving the car anytime soon. So…

Meekly, he rose and slunk to the window again.

Dean was sitting on the hood of the car, looking calm and relaxed. Smoking.

Sam frowned and hurried to open the door. Retreated for his sunglasses—well, Dean's sunglasses—then stepped outside.

Dean didn't try to hide the cigarette, didn't really react at all to Sam's presence besides a cool glance. Sam felt like a chastened kid shuffling up to his big brother.

"Where'd you find her?" Dean asked between puffs.

"Bartender put her in the employee lot until I could come back for her—it."

Dean maybe almost smiled; it was hard to tell. "She seems okay," he finally grudgingly conceded.

Sam breathed a little easier. "I didn't know you smoke, man," he finally said.

"Lot of things you don't know about me, dude." His hand rose again to his mouth, cuff sliding back enough to reveal the scabs and puffy red skin from where the wendigo had hung him up by his wrists.

Sam swallowed and looked away. "I keep trying to take care of what I have, and stuff just keeps slipping through my fingers, you know?"

Dean finally looked at him, a small crease between his eyes.

"I mean, first there's…there's Jess, and I watch her die and can't even save her. Then you get snatched right in front of me and almost end up a Donner entree. I can't even keep track of the friggin' car…"

"You were drunk," Dean said bluntly. "Never could hold your liquor, you lightweight."

"Never again," Sam swore fervently.

Dean gave him a skeptical look at that, then pressed on. "And what happened on the last hunt was not your fault, Sam. If anything, you were the hero of the day, saved my ass. It was stupid, running ahead like that without back-up. Dad would've kicked me halfway to Texas for that one."

"You were trying to save Tommy. And I didn't get it," Sam said quietly.

Dean studied him. "You get it now?"

Sam looked steadily back at him. "Yeah. I do."

Dean looked at him a moment more, then nodded, knocking shoulders. Lifting the weight off Sam's. "Can't save everyone, Sammy, but we do our best. And if you need to get hammered sometimes to deal with stuff, I get that too, you just wait and do it with me, okay? 'Cause if you ever lose my car again…" He shook his head, the consequences too grave to voice.

"I'm sorry, Dean," Sam said earnestly.

"What'd I tell you, dude?" Dean mildly reminded him.

Right. No chick-flick moments. Sam smiled instead, shaking his head, which didn't ache so much anymore. He leaned gingerly back against the car. "Hey…where'd you get the cigarette from, anyway?"

"Your bartender pal must've left his pack in the car," Dean said, shrugging.

Sam was pretty sure Dean had never smoked when they were kids; they lived too much in each other's pockets for Sam not to have smelled it on him. Which meant Dean had taken up the habit while Sam was at school, probably for stress relief. Sam had some inkling now of just how much stress his brother had been under during those years. But Sam was here, at least for the time being, and he didn't intend to lose anything else precious to him. Without a word, he plucked the cigarette from Dean's fingers, dropped it to the ground, and crushed it under his heel.

Dean narrowed his eyes at him. "Sam—"

"Doing our best, man, right? That doesn't include you wheezing along and falling behind next time we're running for our lives."

"Not gonna be a next time," Dean said petulantly, but he didn't argue further, didn't even do more than swat halfheartedly at Sam when he dug the remainder of the pack out of Dean's jacket pocket and crumpled it in his hands. "You're a bossy bitch, you know that?"

"And you're a friggin' jerk," Sam said easily. He dropped his chin to his chest, taking shallow breaths.

"Wanna go lie down now?" Dean asked, sounding almost amused, the ass.

"God, yes," Sam murmured.

Dean husked a laugh and took his arm, propelling him back toward the room door. "You called her a she, you know."

"No, I didn't."

"You so did."

"Dean, it's just a car—you know that, right?"

"Hey, don't talk about her that way. She's part of the team."

"…Yeah, okay."

But Sam couldn't help notice that in his fussing over getting Sam inside, Dean didn't give his car another glance.

The End