Author: Cheryl W.

Disclaimer: I do not own Dean, Sam or any rights to Supernatural, nor am I making any profit from this story.


Chapter 23


Coming to a holding pattern outside Dean's door, Nathan said, "I'll check in…" but whatever he was about to falsely promise never crossed his lips, not at the sight of a friggin' Indian decked out in animal skins and war paint standing at the end of Dean's bed, knife in hand.

With a "Holy Crap!", Nathan dropped the phone and reached instinctively for his gun …before he remembered ghosts couldn't be harmed by conventional bullets. Changing tactics mid-motion, he barreled into the room, determined to stop the Indian from reaching Dean's side and using the knife on the defenseless hunter. He spared a fleeting moment to wonder if he was going to collide with something real or go sailing right through the ghost and topple onto Dean's inert form.

He did neither.

The ghost, sensing his intentions, turned and with almost embarrassing ease, grabbed him by the throat and tossed him backwards. Nathan started his impromptu acrobatic act by knocking over a tray, followed it with an unimpressive full body slam into the room's west wall and finished with a graceless descent to the floor.

Struggling to draw in a breath, Nathan looked up, saw that he had effectively diverted Paytah's attention away from Dean. But his victory was bittersweet …since the pissed ghost was now heading his way and he had yet to get off the ground. Then, like the reassuring sequel of a police siren indicating backup was coming onto the scene, he heard Wade's bewildered "What the …" coming from the hallway right outside the door. 'Good Old Wade, arriving just in time to save my butt, like always,' he thought with staunch conviction …that fled the next second when his best friend's next words weren't a hurled curse at the monster stalking him, no, instead were a demand for ….condiments?

"Salt! I need salt!" Wade shouted a second before he grabbed the closest nurse by the shoulders, demanded, "Get me some salt, Joanne!"

But all he got back was a stammered, "Salt… Wade, I…."

'You're not in a friggin' cafeteria!' Wade instantly berated himself, his wild eyes starting to scan his surroundings, coaching himself to not freak out, to think,to do something becausePaytah was seconds away from killing Nathan and putting an end to the love/hate thing he had going on with Dean. Suddenly two words burst out of him, "Saline solution!" and snagged Joanna again. "I need a loaded syringe and…bags of saline solution. Stat!" To the nurse's credit, she didn't question his order, immediately sought out the medication and had a loaded syringe and three IV bags of the solution in his hands in less than thirty seconds.

With the diminutive weight of his weapons not doing much to bolster his confidence, Wade, none the less, entered the lion's den with a snarled, "Suck this up, Tonto!", punctured one of the bags and hurled it at Paytah. In dazed satisfaction, he watched the ghost flicker away like a bad tv reception.

Quickly crouching down by Nathan, Wade grabbed his friend by the arm, worriedly demanded, "Hey, you alright?!"

"I'll live. Help me up," Nathan wheezed, wincing but not letting a moan escape when Wade pulled his bruised arm over his shoulder and hauled them both to their feet. But the deputy's attention wasn't focused on his own discomfort. "Dean?" Nathan tentatively called out, taking a step toward the motionless man in the hospital bed, afraid that the ghost had somehow gotten to him. Wrapping a hand around Dean's wrist, he noted that, thought Dean didn't react to being touched, there weren't any new bruises or wounds on the man. Glancing up at the heart monitor, he saw it hadn't changed since his early vigil. Turning to look at Wade, he exhaled, "I so could have lived without a ghost encounter." But his joke ended up with a warning cry of "Wade, behind you!"

Though Wade spun around, syringe at the ready, Paytah, moving faster than humanly possible, grabbed Wade's syringe wielding wrist. Ghost and medic locked eyes a moment and Wade feared the worst…that he would be seeing his brother again a lot sooner than he had thought. But then Paytah flung him away, downed Nathan with a nearly jaw breaking backhanded slap and advanced toward his prey: Dean.


Drawing closer to the elder of the brothers, Paytah spat obscenities at him, ridiculed him for his faith in his sibling. "You think because you came for your brother, that he would do the same for you! You think crossing one battlefield to gain your side earns him forgiveness, is the same as him having never betrayed you. You fool! He has let you down in the past, has cost you your very soul. And you seek to forgive him, again and again. Your weakness disgusts me. I see now that the old ones, they do not know the bite of betrayal. Like I do. Like you do. Your brother wishes to make amends with you but you can not give him what he wants most and least deserves. I forbid you to dishonor us!"


Though he didn't understand the Indian's words, Nathan didn't need an interpreter to identify the tone: he recognized hatred in any language. With a determined growl, he pushed off the ground and put himself right between Paytah and Dean, became the only physical barrier in the way of the knife's merciless trajectory toward Dean's throat. He gritted his teeth as the knife scored a path across his shoulder, tried to push Paytah back, fearing all the while that the knife point would impale Dean even with him sandwiched between him and his attacker.

He startled as the pressing weight of Paytah suddenly vanished and liquid splashed over his face. Almost instantly, he let out a wailed "Aggghhh," and began frantically rubbing his suddenly burning eyes. "What was that!?" he menacingly whined.

Pushing off the wall to fully gain his feet, Wade boasted, "Saline solution," so proud of his ingenuity…until he noticed his friend's discomfort. "Which has a high salt content. Sorry," he contritely confessed.

"What is it with you and condiments?!" Nathan spat, feeling like Blind Pew in Treasure Island when his next simple act of shifting backwards sent a water cup tipping off the night stand and him tripping a few feet to his left. Abruptly, he realized how extraordinarily afraid he was and that, for the most part, he was not only sightless but weaponless against something unbelievably strong and straight out of a horror movie. The crap-in-your-pants kind of horror movie. "Is he going to stay gone?"

"Hasn't so far," Wade pessimistically wagered, weighing the remaining saline bag in his hand even as he scoured the floor for the lost syringe. He saw it by the door, had taken one well-meaning step in that direction when Paytah poofed right into his personal space, hissed something Wade didn't understand and then shoved him, hard. Hard enough to launch him into the air…and lose his grip on the last remaining saline bag. Then his head connected with the glass plate window that offered a half decent view that Dean wasn't up to enjoying with a resounding crack.

Hearing the Indian's speaking right before a crash resonated through the room, Nathan called out "Wade!" as his fear swiftly shifted to his friend's wellbeing. Cursing when no response came back, he fought to pry his eyes open, to do more than furiously blink but they burned too fiercely. But he knew, sight or no sight, backup or no backup, he had a job to do, needed to protect those who couldn't protect themselves. And right then, that was Dean. Backing up, he nearly tumbled back into the bed with Dean before he righted himself. Then, praying to God that he was between Dean and the threat, he raised his hand, hoped it was in the general direction of the homicidal ghost. "He's not your brother! He's not Wanikiya! And neither is Sam! You uphold the law, like I do. Then you have to dispense justice, not revenge!"

Nathan had no defense against the shove Paytah gave him, felt himself skittering across the floor, his momentum only stopping when his ribs kissed the closet door.

Half on the window sill and half off it, Wade blinked the room into focus and instantly wished he hadn't. Wanted to shut his eyes, didn't want to witness what came next because Paytah was standing right beside Dean, his knife raised. And in that second, even as he pushed off the sill, gained his feet, Wade knew he couldn't stop it, that another person he cared about would die while he did nothing but watch. "Dean! Wake Up!" he screamed even as he knew it was a useless wish, that even if the wounded man woke up that second, it would only be to see his murderer, to feel the mortal wound as it was being inflicted.

But then an avenging angel swept into the room and intervened.

Inexplicably, Sam was suddenly there, in the room, arms circling around Paytah and his hand capturing the hilt of the knife and freezing it's downward plunge toward his vulnerable brother's heart. "Get away from my brother!" he snarled as he stabbed Paytah's neck with Wade's lost syringe and sent the salt surging through the deadman's veins.

Howling in agony, Paytah dispersed into ash.

But without Paytah's solid form to hold onto, Sam toppled forward, ended up sprawled across Dean's legs. For a stunned second, he didn't move and then he remembered. With a cry of anguished frustration, he shoved himself off his brother and the bed, didn't even try to brace his clumsy fall to the floor, was too terrified at the very real possibility that he had just seared another burn into Dean's skin to worry about himself.

"Wade, check if he's burned!" he breathlessly insisted without shifting his anxious gaze from his brother.

Urgently drawing up beside Dean, Wade spared a moment to steady himself for more bad news before he pulled back the sheets covering Dean's legs.

"Is he burned?" Sam anxiously asked from his position on the floor and when Wade didn't answer quickly enough, he nearly shouted, "Is he alright?!" his tone ignited with increasing fear and broadcasting that he was on the verge of losing control.

"No. I mean yes. He's Ok," Wade stammered in happy awe as he finished his examination. But he left his hand resting on Dean's shin as he declared, "He's not burned," needing the contact with the other man's cool, healthy skin to make the statement, to truly believe it.

"Don't lie to me!" Sam rancorously warned, couldn't stand to be coddled, not about this, not when it was about Dean's wellbeing. What he needed was the truth, and if he had brought more pain to Dean, he deserved to bear that guilt.

Wade gave a comforting pat to Dean's leg then turned around, his gaze dropping compassionately upon the dejected figure of Sam sitting on the floor of the room. "Sam, I'm not lying. You didn't hurt him. There are no burns," he earnestly vowed, eyes holding Sam's, praying the man believed him because Dean wouldn't want his brother spending a second drowning in guilt, would feel the same way even if he was sporting a new burn at his brother's touch.

Coming to a crouch, Wade reached for Sam but halted mid-motion when he saw the other man's almost undetectable flinch at the pending contact. "Come on…see for yourself," he encouraged. Noting a lessening in Sam's wariness, he reached out again, slipped his hand under Sam's elbow this time and helped the wounded man to his feet. Though Sam didn't sway, Wade kept his supportive grip on his elbow.

Surprisingly, Sam didn't immediately close in the distance to his brother, instead stood frozen where he was, his fearful eyes inspecting Dean's unscathed legs. Wade didn't prod Sam forward, let Sam go at his own pace and when, a minute later, he finally made his first move toward Dean, he aided him. "You touched him here," reaching out, Wade laid his hand on Dean's knee, "and there's nothing, Sam. No burn, no heat," proved his point by leaving his hand right where it was. "His skin's not even red." Then facing Sam, he forcibly declared, "You didn't hurt him, Sam."

Wanting, needing to believe what he was seeing, what Wade was saying, Sam swallowed and stretched out his hand toward Dean, let it hover just over Dean's knee where Wade's own hand had been a moment ago. Logically, Sam catalogued the evidence, knew that he hadn't been shocked when he entered Dean's hospital room, hadn't felt any jolts when he landed on the bed, on Dean. If his part of the curse was gone, it made sense that he would no longer hurt Dean simply by touching him.

So, with half a prayer, Sam lowered his hand and laid a feather light touch upon Dean's shin. He closed his eyes in knee-bending relief when no red blistering burn appeared in the wake of his fingers as they skimmed down his brother's leg.

At Sam's side, Wade quietly conjectured, "Whatever you two did in your drugged, dreamscape…"

"…the curse, it's gone," Sam said in wonder and elation, his shining eyes opening and slipping up from Dean to Wade.

Wade couldn't hold back a stupid smile. "Looks like it." And he couldn't remember a victory that felt this overwhelmingly rewarding to him. After all the lives he had saved, being a part of saving Dean, of saving Sam, of getting the two brothers back together, it finally patched up some of the fissures that Oliver's death had scored into his soul.

A voice drifted up from the floor. "Not to ruin the good vibes but…blind guy in agony down here," Nathan reminded, a painful hiss to his words as he attempted again to open his eyes and failed.

"Oh crap, sorry," Wade sheepishly replied, almost released Sam to go to Nathan before he remembered Sam's physical state. "Why don't you take a seat…" he directed to Sam was going to lead him to the room's only upright chair but Sam made a move of his own: toward Dean.

Hobbling forward, Sam did a small turn and hopped up to claim a seat on the side of Dean's bed at his brother's waist. Then he gave Wade a see-to-him gesture toward Nathan.

Gauging that Sam wasn't going to pitch off the bed, Wade went to Nathan, snorted when his best friend jumped at his touch. "Chill, scaredy-cat it's just me," he said with a chuckle then he helped Nathan to his feet for the second time that day. "Let's get the salt out of your eyes."

"Fantastic idea," Nathan agreed as he let Wade start to lead him from the carnage of the room. He wasn't sure how his ghost sparring would rank in the annuals of horror movies but what he did know was that there were two brothers still breathing, and that was worth the nightmares to come.

But Sam's words stopped them before they could cross the room's threshold. "We need to salt the windows…the doorway."

Turning both himself and Nathan around, Wade quested disheartened, "He's not gone?" to which Sam gave a grim shake of his head.

"'Kay," Wade conceded then he ordered of Nathan, "Hold up a minute." Leaving his friend's side, he scooped the saline bag off the ground and tossed it to Sam, who deftly caught it. "I'll be back in a bit."

Sam simply gave a wave to the medic then watched as the twosome made their way out the door.

Left alone with Dean, Sam finally had the freedom to turn his full focus on his brother. What he found wasn't exactly making him cheer. Dean's freckles were too stark on his brother's pale complexion, the tempo of Dean's breathing indicated unconsciousness, not sleep, and the heart monitor lines spoke of strain. With a hand that trembled a bit, he reached up, cupped Dean's face, grimaced at the cold clamminess of his brother's skin that came when his body had suffered a trauma. 'Like an arrow burrowing into his side,' Sam grimly recounted before he forced himself to pull his hand away.

Pulling back Dean's bedcovers, he saw the white bandages coiling around his brother's waist. He skimmed his hand above the wound he knew they concealed, where the arrow had been lodged. He thanked God that no blood was seeping through the dressing because Dean's blood wasn't something he could handle right then, not after the vision's happenings were still imprinted on his psyche.

His head jerked up and his hand sought out the saline bag when a sound caught his attention. But it was only Wade, returning with a salt canister.

"You want me to circle the bed or…"

"Doorway and windows will do," Sam advised, watched intently as Wade performed the task, wasn't expecting the next statement.
"I gave orders for everyone to not disburse the salt line. Now I'll go put the same salt lines in your room," Wade stated, was stepping over the line of salt to make his exit when Sam spoke.

"I'm staying here."

Wade knew he should have seen that coming. "Sam.." he began to reason, had enough medical factoids to make Sam dizzy. Never mind that he was the one voting to slap Sam awake less than half an hour ago. "You're hurt…"

"I'm not leaving him, Wade," the conviction in Sam's declaration was louder than any shout and there was steely resolve in his eyes as they clashed with Wade's. But sensing the medic's complaint was rooted in concern for Dean, for even him, Sam tenderly picked up Dean's hand, clasped it in his own and raised their interlinked hands for Wade to see. "This, us being able to touch without burns or shocks, we broke the curse because Dean and I refused to stay apart. That's our weapon against Paytah. And besides, he's gunning for Dean…not me."

"For the moment. Guy runs hot and cold…well, no, just hot," Wade rambled but sighed as Sam didn't seem to budge one iota. "Fine. We'll move you both to a different room, together."

"This room's fine," Sam replied mildly, like he didn't see the broken tray, the crack in the window, the walls that would need some dry wall fix ups to hide a few dents.

"You can't…" But Wade gave up with a wave of his hand. "Why am I wasting my breath? You'd just go AWOL again from your bed to get back to his side, wouldn't you. By the way, how did you do it?"

Sam brow furrowed in confusion. "Do what?"

"Oh, I don't know…be dead to the world where a marching band wouldn't have made you blink five minutes ago then coming tearing into Dean's room in time to save him?"

Sam floundered for a moment. He didn't usually have to explain his and Dean's in-the-nick-of-time saves, it was just what they did for each other. "I …jolted awake, heart racing, just knew that …" he hesitated, wasn't sure he wanted to open up to the medic but then he saw the way Wade's face fell, knew the man deserved more than to be shut out. "… knew that Dean needed me. Then I heard a crash…"

Wade gave a small mischievous smile. "And you knew that Dean would be at the center of whatever was happening."

Sam gave a weak, bittersweet chuckle. "Yeah. He usually is." But then his eyes drifted anxiously to his unmoving brother. "How badly is he hurt? I know about the arrow wound…"

"Arrow?" Wade incredulously repeated before giving up thinking logically and simply nodded his head. "That explains the mystery of his wound…well only to someone who believes in visions, ghosts, and a whole lot of other weird occurrences." But seeing Sam's intense look, he got back to the younger brother's question. "He's going to be Ok. He lost ... a lot of blood," he guiltily admitted, knew that was his failure to deal with. "But no major tears internally were discovered, thank God. As for why he hasn't gained consciousness…well I guess for the same reasons you weren't coming out of it." But then he tilted his head in contemplation. "You'd think Paytah here, tossing us around, ready to slit his throat would have been danger enough to jolt him awake, same as you."

But Sam gave a bitter smile. "If the danger had been to me…yeah. But to himself…." and he looked to his brother with a tangle of affection and reprimand on his features. "Jerk thinks self-sacrifice is a big brother's job."

"It's not," Wade almost harshly countered, shifted nervously on his feet when Sam gave him a surprised look. "Well, I'm gonna go. Nathan's eyes are better but he still took a beating, might need a lollipop after the doctors are done with him. But if you need me, have a nurse page me."

A second after Wade disappeared out the door, Sam called out, "Wade, wait!"

The medic stuck his head back in. Interpreting Sam's next words, he headed them off with a brassy smirk. "Nope, I'm only going to accept gratitude from Dean. I want him to get on his knees and profusely thank me for protecting his lazy behind."

Sam snorted. "Good luck getting that." Then Wade winked at him and dodged back out of the room.

With the medic's departure, Sam turned back to Dean and let out a weary breath at the sight of his yet again wounded brother. No matter how many times he found himself here, it never got any easier, seeing Dean pale, unresponsive, in a hospital bed. "You can wake up now, all the hard work's done," he teased, wished it was that easy to rouse Dean, to heal him. Tightening his grip on his brother's hand, he settled their joint hands down to rest on his knee. "I know you would probably make fun of me for saying this but…I took this for gratitude. How close we spend our lives: sharing cars, motel rooms, diner booths. How often we pass weapons, beer bottles…burritos to each other," he said with a smirk that soon dimmed. "And I know, all the crap we've been through, it's probably easy for you to think I don't value what we have between us, have always had between us, even the times when we've been royally pissed at each other. But I do."

When that speech didn't earn him Dean's typical huff of 'my little brother's such a chick' response, Sam rasped, "Man, I allow you closer than I ever did Dad. I kept Bobby at a distance, made Jessica pass a thousand and one loyalty tests before I even told her my favorite movie." He left a beat of silence fall, hoped Dean would fill it, tease him for his choice, but he didn't. "Chariots of Fire is an awesome movie. You'd know it too if you didn't always fall asleep within the first half an hour," he defended but Dean's lack of response was harder to take than he was prepared for. It had him biting his lip and swallowing down the lump in his throat, before giving a laugh that cracked. "Come on, you're not going to let some 'dances with wolves' reenactment keep you down. That would be unworthy of you, dude. Not to mention reflect badly on me."

A sudden knock on wood had him looking up to see a doctor standing on the room's threshold. "Yeah, come in. Check on him. Just watch…" but he realized the warning wasn't necessary when the doctor made a careful step over the salt line before crossing to the bed.

"Actually, I'm here to see to you," the bespectacled, forty year old man countered. "I'm your doctor. Wade said you woke up, right away tracked down your FBI colleague and now are refusing to budge from his side."

"I'm not…" Sam began to heatedly protest but the doctor cut him off.

"Yeah, Wade already told me that getting you back to your own room wasn't going to happen. So how about you take a seat in the chair and let me look you over and put a bandage on that IV puncture site so you stop bleeding on your partner," the doctor said, nodding to the blood dripping from Sam's hand onto Dean's.

Half wanting to curse Wade for his interference, Sam gave a measuring look to Dean. Seeing that his brother wasn't up to protesting his staying or his going, he reluctantly released Dean's hand and sat down in the chair the doctor was indicating. Didn't give one reaction when the doctor carefully began pulling away the bandage on his shoulder, touched the stitches in his flesh.

Relieved that the stitches to his patient's shoulder were intact, the doctor crouched down, began checking the wound on his right bicep, hoping for the same good news. "I don't think I need to tell you it was foolish getting out of bed, walking around," he quietly admonished before he noted the dent in the wall, did a small head turn to take in the rest of the room…the thoroughly trashed room. It made him suddenly reapply the bandage on the man's arm wound and come to a stand…a few feet's distance from his patient. "Wade..he said…well that you .. got a little out of hand when he tried to get you to leave," and the doctor's eyes scanned the room's disarray again before he nervously placated, "But I'm not going to make you leave, ok. So just…stay calm."

"What? Wade said I did this to the room?!" Sam indignantly exclaimed but a moment later, he had to fight hard to hold back a smile. The sly medic had found a way to not only explain the room's devastation but to ensure that none of the staff would dare try to oust him from the room. Playing along with Wade's rouse, he said with a pout, "Well…only because he said I couldn't stay, that visiting hours weren't yet."

"No…no, you can stay," the doctor quickly reassured with a trembling pat to Sam's arm before he taped a cubed bandage to the back of his patient's bleeding hand. "But would it be OK if I got you back on antibiotics, put in another IV?" he asked, like he was trying to gain permission from a wild animal to tend to its wound.

Sam curtly nodded, was willing to accept whatever help was offered if he could get some of his strength back, and fast. Because there was absolutely no doubt in his mind that the second Dean opened his eyes, his brother would be chewing at the bit to face off with Paytah. But he wasn't going to let Dean rush into that confrontation, had every intention of holding Dean back, keeping Dean right where he was, in the hospital bed, so the jerk could heal up. Trouble was, he feared that feat might take a lot more than words to accomplish. A whole lot more.


With a new IV tethering his hand to an IV pole positioned beside his chair, a blanket tossed over his shoulders, courtesy of Nathan, (who had red rimmed eyes and was moving stiffly but was in one piece), and with the certainty that no one was going to broach the subject of him leaving Dean's side, Sam simply had the loathsome task of sitting back in the chair and waiting for Dean to wake up.

Dean's doctor had passed on the same information that Wade had, that Dean was stable, his wound had been deep but had miraculous only resulted in a few slight internal tears, the poison from the death camas had been neutralized and his vitals where good. Dean's unconsciousness, however, had the doctor baffled and Sam didn't try and enlighten him. It was bad enough Wade had implied he was someone with serious anger issues, he would certainly be fitted for a straightjacket, again, if he started rambling on about visions, ghosts and brotherly curses.

So instead he had just docilely nodded when the doctor listed an MRI among some other tests that they could run if Dean didn't become responsive in the next few hours.

So the day drug on, with Sam having to intermittently jerk his head up and snap his eyes open when they slid shut at their own accord. Scooting the chair closer to the bed, he wrapped his hand around Dean's wrist and propped an elbow on Dean's mattress so he could rest his chin in the palm of his hand and still keep his vigil over his brother's slack features. He didn't know when his head traded up being propped up by his palm to resting on Dean's thigh, just startled awake in that position when something jostled his head slightly.

He didn't expect to lock eyes with Dean's lucid gaze. Instantly he sat up. "Hey, how are you?" he gently asked as his hand fastening more possessively around his brother's wrist.

"Depends. I still have my scalp?" Dean huskily asked, a twinkle making an appearance in his eyes.

Sam couldn't hold back a goofy smile. "Most of it," he laughingly replied.

Not sparing a look away from his brother, Dean nonchalantly posed, "You have a party in here, Sammy? You know we have to pay for things we break."

"Paytah," Sam grimly announced, didn't find one thing mirthful about how close the ghost had gotten to almost killing his brother.

"So, he's still pissed?" Dean exhaled, like that truth wasn't so much a disappointment but a foregone conclusion. But before Sam could answer, his brother's eyes narrowed, lanced into Sam's. "Why aren't you in your own hospital bed? Your shoulder.." And Dean reached out then, lightly touched the bandage on his brother's shoulder. "How bad is it? Any muscle damage? Will you need physical thera…"

"I'm fine, Dean," Sam mollified with an affectionate smile. "You're the one who's been out of it all day. Had an arrow in his side."

And before Sam could stop him, Dean reached down to his side, as if he expected the arrow to still be there. But he groaned in agony and pressed back into the bed, didn't need Sam's hand on his shoulder to tell him moving had not been one of us most thought out plans. But he didn't hate the contact, the anchoring weight of Sam's hand on his shoulder, needed it to work through the pain. And then it registered with him: Sam was touching him…and there was no additional pain.

When Dean's eyes suddenly flew up, met his, Sam almost panicked, thought Dean's pain was overwhelming him…until Dean spoke. "You're touching me."

Sam's features lightened instantly as he followed Dean's line of thought. "Yeah, your days of personal space are all in the past." And he doubted Dean knew just how true that was going to turn out to be because he had absolutely no plans to let Dean out of his sight for a good long while.

Dean's eyes widened in surprise. "The vision, whatever we did, whatever happened in there…"

"…broke Paytah's curse on us," Sam declared a bit solemnly, especially since achieving it had almost cost Dean his life.

Dean's cocksure smile was a welcome sight even if Dean was still entirely too pale for Sam's peace of mind. "No wonder he's pissed enough to make house calls."

And Sam easily detected the blatant pride in his brother's brag, pride in his little brother's plan. 'The one earned him an arrow wound and almost got him scalped and murdered by Indians. Yeah, my plans aren't suicidal like I accuse Dean's of being.' But the time of taking foolish risks was over, had to be if he didn't want to lose his brother. "Yeah, well, there are salt lines at the door and windows of your room to make sure he doesn't make an encore visit."

"What? No, what we need to do is stage an intervention," Dean emphatically announced, feeling an urgency to confront Paytah, to set things right before Sam became a casualty of the Indian brothers' miscommunication. With more determination than sense, he began to sit up again but even that seemingly insignificant movement caused agony to blossom from his side, had his breath hitching in his lungs and his vision tunneling.

Recognizing that he needed a better position of power if he hoped to supersede Dean's stubbornness, Sam slipped out of his chair and claimed a seat on the hospital bed at Dean's hip. Pushing on Dean's shoulder with his hand, he pressed Dean back into the bed, used his soothing, I-might-be-the-little-brother-but-I-still-know-how-to-take-care-of-you tone, "Easy. Easy, Dean. You've got to lie still. We're both safe here. Now we need to stage a what?!"

Dean attempted to draw in a steadying breath, tried to not let Sam see the pain he was in, wanted…needed to distance himself from the memories of the vision, of the realness of it, of Sam being hurt, vulnerable, about to be murdered and he had been utterly helpless to stop it. But he wasn't such a great actor after all, apparently couldn't fool Sam because his brother's other hand slipped around the left side of his neck and gave it a reassuring squeeze…like their Dad used to, was his way of showing affection. Not to mention his baby brother was giving him that worried, protective look.

"Hey, it's Ok, Dean," Sam gently declared, needed Dean to know that he was there, that he wasn't looking for him to be invincible. Without sparing a look at the heart monitor, he knew that Dean's heart rate was increasing, could feel Dean's panicked pulse under his left hand. "We can talk about this later, after they up your pain meds and you get some rest." Because he hated feeling the rigidness in Dean's body that spoke of pain and seeing the darkness in his brother's eyes that screamed emotional trauma.

But Dean rolled his head on the pillow in refusal, had to tell Sam what he had learned. "Sam, Wanikiya, he didn't betray Paytah. He was coming back to his big bro when the Indians…the bad Indians attacked. We tell Paytah that and …"

"He apologizes to us, goes off to merrily play cowboys and Indians with his brother in the hereafter?!" Sam sarcastically quipped, pulling his hand from Dean's neck. But he immediately regretted his tone when his brother's eyes sparked with hurt and dropped down to stare at the IV in his hand. Running a hand down his face, Sam let out a tired breath, made sure his voice was gentle, careful when he spoke next. "Dean, I don't see Paytah being that forgiving. It won't matter to him that Wanikiya was coming back. His brother left him and that's all he cares about."

Dean's brow furrowed and he gave Sam a look of objection. "Yeah, Sam. He will care."

"No, Dean. You care," Sam quietly admonished, could see that Dean wasn't getting it, was somehow thinking Paytah was the caliber of big brother that he was. Truth was, Sam didn't think there was anyone out there who could give Dean a run for his money in the brother department. "You cared that I came back to you. And you always forgive me, no matter what crap I pull. But, Dean…Paytah, he's…"

"A vengeful spirit? Come on, Sam, some of them accept reason," Dean disputed.

Sam's gaze slid from Dean's, knew part of what was prompting Dean's defense. "Like you think Bobby will, right?" he gently prodded, but it was Dean who turned his head then and wouldn't meet his gaze. "That Bobby's around and he's helping us."

"Sam, not this again," Dean mumbled, suddenly felt claustrophobic with Sam's closeness.

Sensing that, Sam pulled his hand free of Dean, slid off the bed and reclaimed the visitor's chair but even that small physical distance between them felt like a punishment. "Paytah…what I was going to say about him was he's not like you, Dean. He's not going to forgive Wanikiya. And it's not about him being a vengeful spirit. I watched him during the attack, Paytah, he fought with rage, not just at the Ojibway but at Wanikiya."

"Because he thought his brother betrayed him, wasn't coming back," Dean insisted, just knew that the truth changed things, had to. "He hates on brothers who leave town…well Wanikiya didn't leave. Was right…." Dean broke off, a surety settling in him.

Leaning closer to Dean, Sam worriedly prompted, "Dean, what is it?"

Dean rolled his head to meet Sam's gaze, "He never crossed the town limits."

"Who? Wanikiya? How do you know?"

"I…I was there and I just…know Sam. He never passed by the cave and he ended up dying only a half mile from the village," Dean reported.

"No, that can't be right. Strongeagle said that the shaman had a vision that if Wanikiya left the village, he would be dooming the tribe to death," Sam recounted, had no reason to believe Strongeagle was wrong on that point.

"That doesn't even make sense," Dean huffed. "What, the bad Indians got a telegram saying Wanikiya was heading out for parts unknown and decided their odds were now miraculously in their favor and attacked?! Come on, Sam! You were there. One more warrior or ten, it wouldn't have changed the outcome. The Sioux were going to be annihilated….whether Wanikiya was in the village or not."

Sam couldn't refute Dean's logic, ended up fighting back a smile.

But apparently he wasn't successful because Dean caught him at it.

"What's funny?" Dean gruffly demanded.

Smirking and shaking his head, Sam confessed happily, "You." But at his brother's hurt scowl he quickly explained, "No, I mean Strongeagle told me all this stuff and I processed it from one angle and then you come in and turn everything upside down, see things I didn't, couldn't. You and I are just…."

"Different," Dean lowly admitted, sorrow and regret in his tone.

"Yeah but in a good way," Sam clarified with a fond smile at his brother. "We don't always agree…" At Dean's sarcastic glare he amended, "Ok, so we bicker sometimes and we see things from different vantages but it works. We work. And us going solo, either because we choose to or circumstances force us to…it's never great."

Instead of agreeing with Sam's declaration, Dean remained silent, seemed to be studying his brother, maybe making sure he wasn't a shapeshifter or possessed because that tended to be the only time when the people he loved said nice things to him.

Sam shifted nervously in his seat, feared he had gone too far…or not far enough. "So what…you got nothing to say to that?" But when Dean started to open his mouth, he found he feared what his brother would say more than wanted to hear it so he spoke before Dean could. "I know, I'm the one who leaves, not you. And every time I did, deep down, I always knew it was a stupid move but I…

"You're not the only one who has a habit of leaving, remember?" Dean reminded, gave a small bittersweet smile. "Guess we need to face it: It's a family trait. Mom wanted to get out of the hunting life, was planning on bailing on her family, Dad's dad skedaddled when he was just a kid, you left for Stanford, Dad left me high and dry, I ditched you for the hunt, for Micheal's promises and for Lisa and …"

"But you came back, Dean," Sam interjected with admiration. "You always came back. Because I asked you to, because I needed you. You even came back from Hell."

"I had a little help there…" Dean pointed out but immediately he tried to not think of Cas, of the bond he and the angel had once shared, that he sometimes allowed himself to miss.

But Sam wasn't going to let Dean downplay his devotion to him. "Unlike soulless me, you didn't let me go on thinking you were still dead, you came and found me and stuck with me, through it all, Ruby, Lilith, opening the cage…."

But Dean's face fell, was tinted with shame. "I almost gave up on you, would have if Bobby didn't knock some sense into me. So don't pin the medal on me, Sam."

For a moment, Sam was stunned and then he shook his head, deemed with a determined set to his jaw, "Good thing then that 'almost' doesn't count." And on its heels, he sent up a 'Thanks Bobby' to his surrogate father for his timely intervention, for making sure he didn't forever lose his brother's love.

"Now who's the altruistic one?" Dean taunted, hoped to cover up how much his brother's forgiveness meant to him.

"Altruistic? Altruistic?" Sam repeated, eyebrows raised in mock awe. "Big word for a guy who's been conscious all of five minutes. No actually, that word's miraculous coming from you at all.

"Shud up," Dean laughingly shot back.

With Dean's simple, childish comeback, Sam felt the fear and tension that had clung to him flee. He and Dean were Ok and they were going to stay that way. But he tilted his head in confusion when he noticed his brother was giving him an assessing look. "What?"

Dean shook his head but his smirk was mocking. "Nothing…just…right now, with that blanket over your shoulders like a shawl, you look more like a squaw than a warrior. Not that I didn't totally dig the shirtless heathen look you were sporting in the vision. Very GQ for the times."

"You shut up," Sam laughingly ordered. "Besides, I wouldn't talk. You were going the redneck routine."

"Was not," Dean shot back, actually pretty proud of his Indian getup.

"Dean, you had a dead squirrel around your neck," Sam pointed out to his sometimes naive brother.

"It was a fox…I think," Dean's belief dimming now that he was remembering his cloak's dead beady eyes.

But Sam was shaking his head and smirking. "Nope. It wasn't."

"Ok, that's so not cool," Dean muttered, face screwing up in disgust.

"Tell me about it," Sam seriously agreed.

Holding each other's eyes, they only managed to hold back their chuckles for a few seconds. Though it left them both wincing in pain, laughing, being together, it felt good. Right. Like few things had since Bobby's death.

Suddenly Paytah didn't seem so invincible to Sam, not when he knew that the next time he and Dean met their adversary, it would be as a united front. Them against him. And those odds, Sam would take any day of the week.

But him getting Dean to stay in the hospital overnight? Those odds he didn't trust. Was why he was going to stack the deck by making two phone calls first chance he got: one to Wade and the other to Nathan.




Thanks for the wonderful reviews on last chapter. You guys were so unbelievably gracious about having to wait for your Sam and Dean time! And thanks as always for reading this story.

Have a great day!

Cheryl W.