Disclaimer: Not mine.

Author's Note: I was half-considering making this a tag to Man's Best Friend with Benefits, but it works better as a standalone.

Thanks to Cheryl for the (amazingly quick) beta.

Summary: Garth meets Sam and Dean together for the first time since the incident with the cursed coin. He knows right away there's something different. Spoilers up to 8.15, Man's Best Friend with Benefits.

Something's Changed

Garth's never seen Sam and Dean before.

Well, he's seen Sam and Dean. But he's not seen Sam and Dean.

He's heard about them, sure. The Winchester bond is legend among the hunters who've worked with them before. A few years ago there was more than one hunter who thought Sam Winchester was the Antichrist. There had even been a couple who'd spoken of trapping him and putting him down, but the plans had always been abandoned, because Dean.

Garth thought then that there was probably a lot of exaggeration involved. Maybe the Winchester brothers would die for each other, but that wasn't unusual.

Garth continued to think that it was exaggeration for a long time.

He remembers the conversation he had with Bobby when that nice girl fed Sam love potion and Dean needed help taking down the demon responsible.

"Now listen to me, idjit," Bobby said, after Garth eagerly agreed to take the job. "You realize this is only temporary. You're not taking Sam's place."

"But if Sam's married –"

"I don't know what that's about, but I know it's unnatural. If Sam were going to marry a girl, it wouldn't be Becky Rosen, and he wouldn't run off and do it without warning. Sam's under the influence of something. That being the case, you should know the rules. Dean might or might not bitch about Sam to you. Probably not, because he doesn't know you. If he does, don't join in. He'll calm down eventually and then he'll remember it against you. Don't threaten Sam in any way. Don't even think about threatening Sam in any way. And, if you like your face the way it is, don't threaten Dean where Sam can see you."

Garth agreed, because Bobby was using that tone of voice that said it would be useless to argue, but he didn't believe it.

When the case was over, he still didn't believe it. Sam and Dean were a seamless team, like any two hunters who'd worked together that long. And they seemed to get on well enough, but it was nothing like the world-saving brotherhood he'd been told to expect.

The second time he worked a case with them, his opinion didn't change. Dean was an alcoholic and Sam… Sam seemed a little withdrawn.

The third time.


The third time wasn't the charm. Garth definitely sensed something but it wasn't undying brotherly love. There'd been resentment bubbling under the surface, hard words and hard thoughts.

He'd tried to mention it to Dean and had been firmly shut up.

Despite everything, that was when Garth began to suspect that Bobby might have been right. Nobody you didn't care about could hurt you as much as both Dean and Sam seemed to be hurting.

Maybe there was something once, but it was over. That was what Garth thought. It was tragic and bittersweet, like seeing the shards of a priceless antique.

That was also the last time he saw Sam and Dean.

He didn't see them together for months after that. He saw them individually, one or the other dropping by to check on Kevin. They both looked more relaxed now than he'd ever seen them, and from things they said he understood that their problems had been sorted out.

Garth was happy for them. It was impossible that they shared the kind of epic bond Bobby described to him, nobody could live up to that. But if they were getting on well, they'd probably keep each other alive. That was as much as anyone could hope for.

This morning, Sam and Dean arrived for the check-on-Kevin run together.

Today, for the first time, Garth's seen Sam and Dean.

He knew as soon as they walked in the door that something was different. Something's been different for the half-hour he's spent talking to them. He can't define it, can't describe it, but it's there.

He can feel it now. Sam and Dean aren't anywhere near each other. Technically they're not even in the same room. Sam's with Kevin. Kevin's showing him some notes he made and they're having a discussion about possible interpretations of some Enochian word that Garth can't even pronounce. And Dean's with Garth, standing just outside. They can see Sam and Kevin at the desk, but they can't hear the conversation.

"What?" Dean says suddenly. Garth looks at him. "You spaced out just now. What?"

"Sam looks like he's having fun," Garth says, because he can hardly tell Dean he was speculating about his relationship with his brother. He doesn't think that would go down well.

Dean's face changes in a way Garth's never seen before. His eyes are actually soft as he follows Garth's gaze to where Sam's dark head is bent over Kevin's pages and pages of notes.

"He's happy," Dean says, so quietly that Garth almost misses it.

Garth nods his acknowledgement. "I can tell."

"I never thought I'd see it again." When Garth turns startled eyes on him, Dean shrugs. "Sam was a happy kid. Sure he sulked and got emo and argued with Dad like you wouldn't believe, but there were times when it was just him and me and all it took to please him was an evening eating pizza and watching bad movies. After I got him from Stanford it's just been one thing after another. I always figured it was gone for good, and even if Sam did find a way to be that happy again, I wasn't going to be a part of it."

Dean's voice has gone a little hoarse by the end of that unexpected speech. Garth doesn't say anything. He doesn't even know what he can say.

But it looks like he doesn't need to say anything. Like he can sense his brother's change of mood, Sam raises his head, eyebrows raised in silent enquiry. Dean smiles a little. Sam smiles back, wide and bright, before returning to Kevin's notes.

Garth knows it isn't the tablet making him smile like that.

"You do realize you're the one making him happy?" he asks Dean.

"I'm part of it," Dean says.

"A big part."

Dean grins. "Maybe." He sounds like he's proud of that.

Sam grimaces suddenly, one hand going up to his head. Next to him, Garth feels Dean wince in sympathy.

"Is he OK?" Garth asks.

"It's been rough on him, this tablet business. He had a hard night."

"He's getting sick because of the trials." It isn't a question.

"Yeah. Took some time to get him to admit it to me."

"How bad is it?"

"It's getting worse."

Dean's voice is rigidly controlled, but Garth can hear the tension vibrating in every syllable. He sneaks a sideways glance at Dean. He looks away quickly, because he doesn't think that much raw pain was ever meant to be seen by anyone else.

Sam's face tightens, fingers clenching around his pen. Kevin, buried in his own book, doesn't notice, but Dean's next to Sam in less time than it takes to think. He squeezes Sam's shoulder. Sam still looks like he's in pain, but he smiles up at Dean like a puppy that's managed to get the attention of its favourite human.

Dean shoves some of the books aside so he can sit on the desk. Sam glares, but even Garth can tell he doesn't mean it. Dean just ignores the glare altogether.

Sam sneaks a furtive glance at Kevin, and when it's clear he's still engrossed by his book, he leans into his big brother. Dean ruffles Sam's hair and then rubs his back until the pain fades out of Sam's face. There isn't a word exchanged between them, but Sam's eyes are holding Dean's and there's some kind of unspoken communication happening.

With one final pat, Dean slides smoothly off the desk and comes back to where Garth is still standing.

"Is he OK?" Garth asks.

"He's a strong kid," Dean says. It isn't really an answer.

Standing next to Dean and watching him watch Sam, Garth still doesn't truly understand the Winchester bond. Maybe Bobby was exaggerating. Maybe Bobby was right. Maybe, just maybe, Bobby was wrong because he was trying to use words to describe something that transcends language. Garth doesn't know.

Sam looks up at Dean, the two of them sharing a glance that seems to shut out the entire world.

Garth doesn't know. But that's OK, because he thinks maybe he isn't meant to.

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