PAST IMPERFECT

There weren't many lines Sam and Dean hadn't crossed with each other over the years. Every line in the sand was more of a general suggestion, a recommendation of how far was too far so they would know when they got there. Their lives were one continuous rolling stop through each others boundaries, but Dean couldn't help but wonder if this was 'it'. THE boundary, the one he shouldn't have crossed no matter how good his intentions had been. Screw Sammy, save the world. He couldn't help but wonder if this was the last line he could cross before Sammy finally snapped, finally remembered just how big he had grown and that Dean had, somewhere unnoticed along the way, become the smaller big brother.

Dean was used to the simmering resentment coming from the passenger seat. It had rolled over their shared space since Sammy was old enough to realize their lives weren't like anybody else's. It shared their childhood with them like a third brother and dogged them into adulthood by making its presence known for such minor infractions as bringing a girl back to the room so that Sammy got to spend a cold and uncomfortable night in the back of the Impala, and the bigger ones. Leaving, staying, thinking, wanting. Killing your brother's first crush. And this piece of shit Pinto they were forced to drive around in was barely big enough to hold them, let alone their emotional baggage.

Dean hadn't seen this much fury and loathing roll off Sammy since Lucifer had worn his body. His nose still ached when he thought about Lucifer, wearing Sam's skin like a well appointed suit, beating him so badly he had choked on his own blood. Despite being healed almost immediately by Cas, he could still remember the snap of his nose, the shattering of his teeth, the thick taste of his tongue as he tried to assure Sammy, where ever he was, that his big brother was still there for him.

But now, there was such a seething hatred in the set of his jaw, the narrowness of his eyes that Dean almost wondered if Lucifer wasn't making another appearance. There was a flavor of anger here so palpable that Dean, who could read his brother better than he could judge himself, wasn't sure whether Sammy would tamp it down or let it roll. If he could just drive a little longer, take them a little further into the night, give Sammy a little more time to wrap his mind around the facts. All the facts, and not just the one that mattered right now: Amy was dead and dead by his hand. But the leg was starting to cramp up. Every adjustment to the accelerator, every tap of the brake was becoming an exercise in mind over matter. He could practically feel the bones of his ankle grind together, his leg muscles bunching and protesting as though he had been hunkered in a fox hole too long instead of doing what came almost as naturally to him as eating and sex: driving Baby as though she were an extension of his own body. But this wasn't Baby, and tonight his body wasn't having it. Driving this Matchbox car was like a cheap lay after a long and satisfying relationship—all the motions were the same, but none of it felt 'right'. His long legs were cramped and uncomfortable in the unfamiliar space, and the cast he had worn after the Leviathan attack had been on too long and yet not long enough. He was going to have to pull over at the next hotel and either deal with Sammy, or let Sammy deal with himself.

Another 45 minutes put them at the doorstep of the Meridian Motel, a two story no-tell that called itself "a little slice of home between here and there". Dean mentally rolodexed his way through the trunk until he realized he did, in fact, have a fifth of whiskey in the bottom of the green duffel, a half bottle of the happy pills from hospital in the side pocket of a back pack, and the promise of sweet oblivion just beyond the green vacancy sign.

Dean pocketed the keys, thumbed through his wallet until he found the right credit card and held it up to Sammy. Sam kept his gaze straight ahead, the jump in his jaw the only indication Dean had that he was aware of him at all.

"Go get us a room. Jesus, go get us two if it'll make you feel better." Dean flexed and rolled his ankle, waiting for something, anything from Sam he could react to. He flicked the card back and forth a moment, like trying to get the attention of a stubborn dog with a treat before heaving a sigh and launching himself out of the car. The leg gave dangerously under his weight, but three long strides later he was leaning casually on the check in desk gritting his teeth and shifting his weight.

Behind him, he could feel Sammy's eyes boring into the back of his head and he genuinely longed for the days when his father was still alive. Alive and strong and mean tempered when the boys couldn't act like family. He would have knocked both of their heads together until they got this sorted out, and then Sammy would have gotten a good talking to about the nature of monsters and hunters and nary the two should meet and both walk away. Maybe they should just go find a corn field somewhere, knock each other around and get this right.

He was considering it while he waited for the night clerk to realize he was standing there when his leg gave a sharp ache all the way up through his hip. It was enough to take his breath away. He winced, his lips pulling back in a rictus of pain for a moment before he schooled his face into bland disinterest. That couldn't have been normal. He gave the desk bell a sharp ring, rolling his ankle again and hoping Sammy didn't notice just how much at a disadvantage he was at the moment.

The teenager that shuffled out to meet him wore black pajama bottoms with glow in the dark zombies chasing each other all the way down her legs to her fuzzy bunny slippers. Dean raised his eye brows as she struggled to disentangle her hair from a dental appliance before wordlessly pulling out a ledger, spinning it toward him with a pen at the ready and holding her hand out for payment.

"How much?" Dean asked.

She squinted at him and he realized there were probably glasses that went with that dental appliance and she was functioning purely on muscle memory at this point.

"Ordinarily $65 a night, but alls we got is the bungalows in the back, so $85." Her words sounded thick around the metal in her mouth as her hands came up to work more hair out of the strap that secured it around her face.

His leg twinged again, as though reminding him stairs were probably a bad idea.

"Do they have stairs? I-" he paused, glanced behind him to the stone statue of Sammy still unmoving in the passenger seat. "My brother is afraid of heights."

Her chin dipped toward her chest as she squinted at him again, as if to say "Are you serious?" Dean realized she had pretty eyes, deep blue and nearly almond shaped behind the mop of unruly hair. She looked trim inside the black tank top she had paired with the pajama pants, with a long narrow waist and prominent breasts. Under different circumstances (and possibly a few more years) he might have popped for two rooms and let her take him for a test drive. Maybe give in to the limp to appeal to her developing maternal instincts. He wasn't ordinarily one to garner to sympathy, not unless it came with a happy ending. In the mean time, that dental appliance was more effective than any chastity belt could ever be.

"Sorry, only the bungalows. Four steps to the porch, two steps into the room. If he can't manage that," she squinted behind him, "if he can't manage that you're screwed."

Dean took the key from her with a tight smile. She had no idea how right she was. "I—we'll-he'll manage," he said as she processed his payment and handed his card back to him.

He slid the card back into his wallet, mentally preparing himself to put weight on his leg again.

In his mind, he could hear is father, voice rough and breathless. "I don't care if you're hurt or injured, boy. Man up. The monsters get a whiff of weakness and you might as well just lay down and give them a free meal."

"Yessir!" And three long strides later he was sliding into the drivers seat, putting the car in gear and pulling around back to a row of eight little bungalows set off from the rest of the motel. Each with a small porch and a deck chair that looked like it might be quaint for some small family from Nowhere, Michigan but to Dean looked like four steps of hell.

The car had barely come to a stop in front of B8, the room number twisted in a rustic script from twigs curlicuing around each other, before Sammy was out and waiting impatiently by the trunk. Dean could hear him breathing, as though the very act of containing his emotion was costing him physical exertion. He made it the half step to the rear of the car, inside his mind the mantra of "whiskey, happy pills, sleep" keeping him upright and moving. The leg was one long length of agony now, a throb that started in the ankle, peaked at the knee, and reached a crescendo of exquisite pain at his hip.

Dean jiggled his keys in his hand a moment, wondering if he should say something to Sammy while he was holding his duffel hostage inside the hatchback, but his leg had other plans, none of which involved his being upright longer than absolutely necessary. He flipped the trunk open, bending over to grab his own bag as Sammy yanked his out, catching Dean in the chin with something hard—most likely Sam's sawed off Ithaca—at the bottom of it. Dean jerked back and slammed his head into the trunk lid, his vision blurring for a split second before he wheeled around to catch Sam's receding back.

"Ok, I've had enough," Dean said, yanking his own bag out. Common sense told him to keep his mouth shut, deal with it in the morning, not when he was in so much pain he felt queasy, but Dean and common sense had rarely, if ever, been on speaking terms.

"This is crap," Dean slammed the trunk shut to emphasize his words. "This is just bullshit! Let's just have it, say what you have to say so we can get on with the rest of our fucked up lives!"

Sam stopped, squared his shoulders. Dean looked at the back of his head, knew the look that was on his face. Nostrils flared, lips a thin, hard line. It was the look he got before he pounded the crap out of something, and usually the same look he got before he considered pounding Dean but instead walked away. Dean had never told Sam it was the same look their mother would get when he cut up in public, when their Dad had pissed her off, when a phone call didn't go her way.

Sam loped up the stairs in a single stride, turned and looked down at Dean.

"Why, Dean? Why do we get to get on with our fucked up lives and Amy doesn't?"

"Because she was a monster, that's why. She was one of 'them', Sam, and if you bothered to think with the head on your shoulders you'd realize that." He took the first stair, gazed up at Sammy as though waiting for him to get out of the way. His internal monologue said, "Three to go...whiskey, happy pills, sleep." He felt pressure in the newly knitted bone build and casually leaned on the railing.

"She wasn't anymore a monster than we are, Dean. I mean, look at us. Neither one of us should even be here. We defy the laws of nature just by existing."

"The rule book hasn't been written for us yet," Dean said, taking the next step. two to go...whiskey, happy pills, sleep.

"There's no way to justify it, no way! She didn't hurt anyone, not a single person. We've killed more people than she has, Dean."

"So what are you saying? We retire? Get out of the monster business because they have rights too? Why can't we all just get along? Give me a break, Sammy." one to go...whiskey, happy pills, sleep. Dean's voice dropped to a vicious whisper. Drawing attention to themselves at 3 a.m with two duct taped Leviathan heads rolling around the trunk wouldn't be the brightest idea they ever had."The natural order of things is this: we kill them, they die, we move on. Get over it Sammy. You can say it wasn't right all you want, but it was necessary. If you could get your Johnson interested in something human once in a while you'd understand that!"

It could have been the pain, or the exhaustion, or just Sammy getting that good but Dean didn't even see the punch that caught him at the edge of the temple, snapped his head back and sent him reeling back down the stairs. He nearly caught himself, his leg bracing against that last jarring step, but it had had enough for the day. His ankle twisted with a sickening pop, then another as the joint righted itself without breaking and with a grinding stab of pain the whole business collapsed under him. It was confusing to realize, to know, how disoriented he was and still be unable to break through the buzz in his head to focus on the outside. Dean lay on his back on the cool flagstones, his mouth working like a guppy to reclaim the air that had been knocked out of him, and let his mind wander...

Late summer sun slanted through the side lights, too cool to turn on the air conditioning and still too warm to be comfortable. He was sweat slicked and dusty, his middle finger throbbing from a poorly aimed hammer the day before, and Lisa had decided to clean out the attic. The box hadn't been particularly heavy, but as he carried it down the stairs the contents had shifted just enough that his smashed finger refused to hold it. He scrambled to regain control, to regain his footing, then the box had fallen and he tumbled right behind it. Give him a bandolier and enough weapons to shame a Green Beret and he could have spent the day running up and down those stairs. Three boxes of baby clothes, six boxes of toys, and a box of miscellaneous brick a brack had left him flat on his back much as he was now, gasping and wondering what the hell had brought him to this point.

He heard the thud of Sammy dropping his bag, yep, definitely the Ithaca, and watched his boots creep one over the other back down the stairs.

Lisa had come running, he had heard her tumble out of the attic, bare feet slapping on the hard wood floor as she shot down the hallway. He had wanted to call out to her to be careful, but the breath just wasn't there. He'd pushed himself into a sitting position by the time she got to him, and was trying to use the wall to drag himself to his feet.

"Stop," her arms had wrapped around him, "Stop! Don't move." He wanted to tell her he was ok, but all he could do was nod his head like an idiot. He was so out of his depth. Sammy would have paused, seen he was fine, and expected him to catch up later. But Sammy was dead to him at this point, and because he didn't know how to do anything else Dean let Lisa wrap herself around him, slender fingers along his neck, over his ribs, skittering to his knees and ankles. He gasped when she squeezed his right ankle and realized he had his breath back. He could smell her now, sweat and her peach shower gel. Rosemary shampoo in her hair. An undercurrent of morning sex.

"I don't think it's broken," she said, getting under a shoulder and hoisting him upright. "But you should sit down and put some ice on it."

"I'm fine," he had told her. Because, really, aside from Sammy being dead what wasn't ok? He had a pretty girl on his arm who smelled like peaches and rosemary and sex, and the worst thing that had happened to him in the past four months was smashing his finger and falling down a flight of stairs.

Sammy leaned over him, his bulk taking all of Dean's attention, leaving him wondering if his brother would just throttle him where he lay or if he had finally gotten it out of his system, would lend a hand up and Dean could finally get around to those happy pills.

Lisa had leaned over him, pulling a pillow off the back of the couch to prop his ankle. Her breasts momentarily in his face, he wondered if there was anyway he could convince her to have afternoon sex, too. But she was quick, efficient, sliding the pillow under the throbbing ankle and then she was in the kitchen foraging for an ice pack.

"Here, hold this," she said, applying one of those cold sports packs to his already swelling ankle. His other hand grabbed her, pulled her in for a kiss. She chewed her lip when she smiled at him, her hand coming up to linger over his temple. The same one Sammy had just tried to dent. "I think that's going to bruise."

"I'm still conscious. I think I'm ok."

"Maybe, but you're not the big bad hunter anymore. I don't want people to think I'm knocking you around or something." He didn't know how to answer, so he kissed her again.

His breath came back in a gasp, like waking from the dead. And he would know. Sammy reached toward him, snatched the key that was still clutched in his hand and turned back toward the bungalow. Dean watched him go, content to linger on the cool ground for one more moment, rather than deal with the pain of the present.