First appeared in Route 666 #5 (2012), from Ashton Press
Post-Traumatic Sam & Dean
K Hanna Korossy
Sam was never subtle.
Since he'd been a baby, his thoughts and emotions had always been clear. The way he blushed all the way to his ears when he was embarrassed. The puckered glare or excitable rants—or both—when he was angry. Love softening his whole face and making his eyes shine. Dean's little brother had always been an open book to him; even three-plus years away at school for Sam and then months in Hell for Dean hadn't changed that so very much.
So Dean knew now his brother was sick to his stomach, even without Sam saying a word.
It had begun with Sam rolling the window down even though there was a bite to the evening air. Then there'd been the hand on his stomach, absently rubbing. It was when he started softly panting that Dean turned off into the next motel.
"I'll get us a room," was all he said, and Sam didn't even bother asking why when they were only halfway to Alabama, just nodded a little and closed his eyes.
Dean pressed his lips together. Sam had gotten better at it since the first few weeks after Dean's return, but he still had a hard time letting his brother see his weaknesses. Being on his own for months had made him forget how to lean on someone else. Some part of Dean knew it was a survival mechanism, much like the one he himself had developed while Sam was at school. But the rest of him still hurt that Sam was so reluctant to come to him with his problems.
Sam wasn't pulling the whole stoic act now, however, which gave Dean some idea of just how lousy his brother felt. Or maybe, possibly, how he was starting to trust Dean's presence again. Either way, he wasn't going to make Sam regret it. Dean hurried into the motel office.
A few minutes later he emerged with a pair of keys, finding Sam in much the same position, swallowing frequently now. Dean shook his head and slid in, then drove around to the back of the motel, just outside their room. Nearly every window on that side of the building was dark, and that was just the way he liked it; the fewer witnesses, the better.
"I'll open the door and get the bags, you just go in," Dean said quietly as he turned the engine off.
Again, Sam didn't even try to bluff. He nodded tightly, rolling out of the car with difficulty, and as Dean propped the room door open with a trashcan, Sam lurched inside, heading straight for the bathroom.
Dean sighed and went to get their stuff.
Three bags retrieved and the car locked up, Dean checked for bedbugs and dug out the first-aid kit. Then he headed for the bathroom, and the oh-so-appealing sound of retching coming from within.
At least Sam seemed to be past the worst of it by the time Dean slipped inside the door. He was hunkered down beside the toilet, legs akimbo, head propped on the arm that stretched across the basin. Each breath puffed out on a miserable groan.
Dean wrinkled his nose in empathy and disgust, reaching over Sam to flush the toilet, then eyeing the dubious linens on a shelf above the commode. There were no washcloths, so he finally grabbed a threadbare towel and soaked one end of it in cold water from the sink, then folded it over and laid it across the back of Sam's neck.
Sam immediately grabbed it and pressed it to his forehead, breathing roughly into the terrycloth.
Dean squatted next to him, considering his flushed and sweaty face. "Stomach bug or food poisoning?" They'd experienced both enough to know the difference.
"Food," Sam said hoarsely, not bothering to open his eyes. "Think it was the…chicken. Didn't taste right."
Dean contemplated that a moment. "You want some pink stuff?"
"Don't think I could—" Sam grunted and spit into the toilet. "Don't think it'd stay down."
Dean nodded, then, after a moment's consideration, reached out to lay a palm flat across the plane of Sam's upper back. He could feel the strain of the muscles against the nausea but no rejection of his touch, and so he left it there, pressing gently. "I'll go get some ginger ale and crackers. You want anything else?"
Dean blinked. Huh, hadn't been expecting that. "I thought red was your—"
"Purple," Sam said stubbornly, opening one eye to punctuate the demand with a glare.
Dean put his free hand up in surrender. "Okay, all right. Purple it is. Anything else, Princess?"
In answer, Sam doubled up, bent over the toilet with a pained moan, and started heaving again.
It was almost an hour more before Dean left for supplies, not until Sam was curled up in bed and dozing, trashcan beside him on the floor. Sam didn't push him to leave to get his purple Gatorade, though, nor questioned his staying. And while all Dean could do was sit beside him and pat his back and rewet the towel, he was glad it didn't seem to occur to his newly toughened and independent brother to wonder about his presence.
It was quite possible he would never eat again.
Food seemed like the worst idea ever; on this Sam and his stomach were in total agreement. Even though Dean had forced liquids and broth on Sam—the jerk—most of them soon made a return appearance. Dean didn't care, insisting Sam was at least absorbing enough to avoid dehydration. Sam was pretty sure Dean was just a sadist, and plotted to smother his big brother in his sleep. When he was strong enough to get up without falling over again, anyway.
Dean walked into the room, looking way too healthy and chipper, rubbing his face with his sweaty t-shirt. "How're you feeling, dude? Puke up your stomach yet?" He peered into the trashcan, made a face, and grabbed it, taking it into the bathroom to rinse out.
Sam just groaned, even the question making his guts twist, and curled up a little tighter.
Dean returned and leaned over him, hand sliding with disgusting ease under Sam's clasped ones, feeling the tight rumble of his belly. "Still going at it, huh?" he said sympathetically.
Sam pushed him away and dug his face harder into the pillow, seeking a cool spot. "Think I threw up…hot dog I had last week. Stupid chicken…"
Dean chuckled at that, and for a moment it was just like old times, no powers and principalities, no deaths and resurrections between them. He patted Sam's shoulder. "Want me to turn on the TV? Might get your mind off your stomach."
"Yeah, okay." Sam shifted minutely, wincing at the pull of sore muscles as he did, so he could see the set halfway across the room. It was an awkward position, but that was quickly remedied when Dean went and unplugged the TV, moved it to the table next to Sam's bed, and plugged it back in. Sam settled again on his side, watching tiredly as his brother turned the set on and flicked through the channels, ending up on what looked like The Jeffersons.
Sam nodded. "Fine," he rasped. "Thanks."
"No problem." Dean shrugged his t-shirt back on, grimacing at the stickiness of it. "I got us a deal—yard work in exchange for the room. Gotta finish cutting the grass, then I'll be back. You okay here?"
Sam let his eyes travel up to the row of Gatorade, water, ginger ale, and medicine bottles that edged the nightstand on two sides, then raised an eyebrow at Dean.
Who, to his surprise, ducked his head and scratched at the back of the neck. "Yeah, well. Didn't know how much you'd need, so…" He suddenly looked up with a grin and smacked Sam's leg. "Oh, dude. The motel owner has this daughter, and…man. Hot. We're gonna hit the local watering hole after dinner. Uh, that is if you…" He made a vague motion with his hand.
Sam snorted and rolled his head a little. "Yeah, go ahead. Don't need an audience while I blow chunks."
"Dude, you haven't got any chunks left to blow," Dean said solicitously. "Think you're down to that slimy—"
Sam recoiled. "Yeah, thanks, man, I get it."
Dean smirked, then eased down on the bed, his hip pressed up against the small of Sam's back. "Seriously, you all right? You've been tossing your cookies for almost a day now. There's a clinic down the road, and I don't have to be anywhere."
Sam swallowed at that, and it wasn't because of the mention of food. He'd done plenty of vomiting alone in squalid little rooms, body rejecting all the alcohol he poured into it after Dean's death. No one had cared then whether he was miserable or comfortable, whether he got dehydrated or had fluids. Sometimes he'd wished so bad for Dean to be there, he could almost feel the phantom hands of his brother. Sam couldn't help but appreciate the answer to that prayer now, and if that was a weakness, so be it. "I'm all right—'s not like I've got anything left to hurl, right?" His smile felt pitiful. "I'm probably just gonna sleep anyway."
Dean examined him, looking for the truth as he did so often these days. It would take a while before he'd believe that Sam had stopped working with Ruby, Sam knew, but in this at least he could meet his brother's searching gaze full on. Dean finally nodded. "Okay. But I'll have my phone with me, all right? Anything's wrong, you call."
"Yeah, whatever." Sam rolled his eyes, but he smiled a little to show Dean he wasn't arguing.
Dean pulled the rucked-down blanket back over him and patted him on the head like a puppy. "Be good," he said pleasantly.
"Use protection," Sam snarked back.
His brother's departing laugh cheered him far more than the sitcom's canned mirth.
"Oh, Donna," Dean breathed into the ear of the very willing and writhing and rounded female form in his arms. "Ohhh, Donna."
She giggled, then kissed him, her breath hot and sweet against his mouth. "Oh, Dean."
Well, it was probably too much to ask that she'd know Ritchie Valens, but whatever. In the bar she'd still grooved to Zeppelin like it ran through her veins, and that more than met Dean's qualifications. He'd been engaged in a pretty interesting discussion with some of the locals, but that hadn't been able to compete with the far more interestingsight of Donna's moves once the music started. Dean was newly unhymenated, thanks to Jamie back in Pennsylvania, but wouldn't hurt to make sure, right? He chuckled darkly and moved lower, fingers fumbling for the top button of her tight blouse.
His cell phone rang.
Dean groaned and dropped his head to a perfumed shoulder as he dug out his phone. He had to stroke back long blonde hair to see the screen.
No. No way did Sam have that kind of timing. His brother managed to frustrate him even without knowing it, and that had to be some kind of perverse gift or something. But Dean had told him to call, and Sam had looked pretty wretched even in his sleep when Dean had left that evening…
If he was just calling to tell Dean he was out of Gatorade, however, Dean was going to have words with him.
He flicked the phone open, stroking Donna's back when she huffed. "Sam? You okay?"
"Dean." Sam sounded weak, but no surprise there. It was the hesitation that set off Dean's alarms. "I think… Could you…uh, are you coming back soon?"
Dean's frown deepened. "Why? Something wrong?"
"I…I think I need that clinic now."
Dean sat up, almost sliding Donna off his lap. He ignored her indignant squeak. "Sammy, what's going on?"
Sam coughed a few times, his voice even more roughshod when he returned. "There's blood…I'm throwing up blood."
Crap. A cold sweat poured over Dean, and he stood, maneuvering Donna none-too-gently onto the chair he'd just vacated. They were at her place, a little apartment not far from the motel her parents owned, but Dean had picked up the layout even as they'd stumbled in kissing and groping. He headed for the door. "I'm on my way. Hang on."
Sam made some sort of affirmative noise and the line went dead.
Dean was grabbing for his boots. "Sorry, sweetheart, my brother's sick. Maybe…" He didn't know what, didn't much care at that moment.
Whatever else she said was lost to him as he rushed out the door, jacket in hand.
Sam had actually called him for help. Dean didn't know whether to be exultant or terrified, so as he covered the short distance to the motel, he just settled for both.
The soft word sounded weird, like someone had slowed the playback. It was hard to lift his eyelids, too, and Sam blinked with groggy confusion at the blur in front of him. "Deefnm?"
There was a soft snicker. "Close enough."
Metal slid sharply, then the edge of his bed sloped down, rolling Sam slightly toward it. He bumped into Dean and promptly leaned into his brother, trying to anchor himself against the soft sway of the world. "Whaaa—?"
"You're okay. You just tore your throat a little from all the throwing up. Gotta say, dude, if you were getting lonely, you coulda just told me…"
He kinda remembered that: the shock of seeing the bright red in the trashcan, the relief of knowing there was someone he could call for help, the gratitude when Dean walked in just minutes later. Things kinda washed out after that, but Sam knew he was safe, and he hadn't felt that way in a long time.
Dean was watching him closely; even Sam's glazed eyes could see that. "Doc said it would heal on its own, just have to get you to stop turning yourself inside out for a while," he reassured Sam. "And your electrolytes were a little screwed up, but what about us isn't, right?"
Sam's eyes felt tired and dry, and it was kind of a relief when a heavy, rough palm settled over them, letting them rest. "Mmm."
"Don't try to stay awake, Sammy," Dean said softly. "They've got you on some pretty hardcore anti-nausea stuff and fluids. Get some rest, and I'll take you home in the morning, okay?"
Home. Sam sighed. He'd had no home while Dean had been gone. Almost had convinced himself he didn't need one, until his brother's return had stripped all his self-delusions bare. Now, he didn't know how he'd ever survive losing Dean again, and that thought was more than a little frightening.
But he couldn't seem to peel himself away from his brother's side and go to sleep alone, and this was just a little case of food poisoning. If Dean knew all of what Sam had been doing while his brother was gone, what might still happen down the line…
A thumb smoothed out the wrinkles he hadn't realized grooved his forehead. "Dude, stop thinking so much. It's gonna be okay, just get some sleep. I'll stay here."
Even though the words were distorted and distant, Sam understood. It's okay to let your guard down—I've got your back. Newly cultivated instinct resisted the thought of letting his guard down for anything. Far older, deeper engraved inclinations trusted the promise and longed to give in.
Sam tried to tell himself it was the drugs and illness that made him too weak to fight twenty-some years of conditioning, but by then he was asleep, face pressed into his brother's hands.
There was something to be careful what you wish for, because Dean rarely got quite what he expected.
Case in point: this new meek Sam who'd come home with him from the clinic. Yeah, okay, so the kid was still drugged to the eyeballs, a sleepy and pliable giant. He'd muttered something about anchors and guards as Dean had taken his shoes off and rolled him under the covers, and then he'd been completely out, mouth open in an attractive, drooling snore.
Since then, however, he'd accepted without argument every pill, drink, and trip to the bathroom Dean had woken him for. There was a moment each time when Sam peered at him assessingly, the hunter still sharp behind those groggy eyes, until recognition finally hit and he acquiesced, but still. It was a far cry from the defensive, closed-off guy Dean had returned to, and it left him a little nonplussed. Was this just because Sam was sick? Or had he actually gotten it through his thick skull that Dean was still his big brother no matter how much Hell had screwed him over, and that Sam had someone he could trust at his back again?
Dean had a feeling, however, that months of Sam's going it alone—twice—traumatized by grief and guilt, wouldn't be so easy to overcome. So while this newest version of Sam threw him a little, Dean also knew it wouldn't last. He just kinda hoped Sam would end up settling somewhere in the middle, the stubborn, questioning, pain-in-the-ass little brother who also trusted that nothing bad would happen to him while Dean was around.
Meanwhile, Donna also apparently had a soft spot for sick little brothers, not only forgiving Dean for his hasty exit the night before, but even putting in a good word with her parents. Dean had been informed in no uncertain terms upon their return from the clinic that the room was theirs as long as they needed it and payment would be worked out later. Which was a good thing, because he had no intention of leaving Sam alone this time, asleep and mending or not. The memory of rushing into the room the night before to find his brother pale and shaking over a bloody trashcan wasn't going away anytime soon. And while the food poisoning seemed to have run its course, it had left Sam weak and exhausted, not a safe state to be in, in their world. Which meant Dean was on sentry duty until further notice.
And speaking of being back in the saddle… Dean clicked through a few more pages.
Sam's unexpected voice snapped Dean's head up, and his eyes widened at the sight of his seemingly very aware brother watching him from the bed. "Hey, look who's awake."
Sam scoffed weakly. "Yeah, I'm talking and everything." He rolled gingerly onto his back, cringing a little but not turning green, a definite improvement. "What time s'it?"
"Dinnertime," Dean answered promptly, shutting the laptop lid and skirting the table to settle in the chair nearer to Sam.
Sam smiled, just a little. "Huh. Hungry much?"
Dean shrugged, just as his traitorous stomach growled. He gave Sam a sheepish look.
His brother's eyes softened. "You could've gone out to get something to eat."
"Nah, it's cool," Dean said, shaking his head. "Watching you upchuck the last forty-eight hours has pretty much killed my appetite, anyway."
"Yeah, don't remind me." Sam's hand strayed to his stomach, but the way he rubbed it now was more memory than discomfort.
Dean nodded toward his hand. "You feeling okay? No more—" He jabbed a finger toward his open mouth.
Sam gave him a bitchy look. See? Open book, this kid. "Nice, Dean. No, I uh…I think it's over."
"Great. Awesome." Dean's head bobbed. "You hungry?" he added hopefully.
Sam considered that, face scrunching. "Soup?" he finally hazarded.
"One homemade Cup-a-Soup, coming up," Dean promised and got to his feet. He'd left a pot of water on the coffeemaker for just that, and it didn't take long to fix a cup and let it stew.
"What were you working on?"
Sam still sounded quiet and hoarse. Dean turned back to him first to hear him better, then to follow Sam's gaze to the closed laptop. "Oh, uh. Nothing. Just…looking up something I heard about at the bar last night."
Sam pushed up a little so he was propped by the pillows and headboard. "Something like our kind of thing?"
Dean shrugged, looking away to hide the lie. "Dunno. It's nothing, Sam, just a story the locals tell."
"So, tell me."
Dean's shoulders dropped. Terrific. He'd pretty much given up the hunt in Alabama, but he hadn't honestly been looking for one here. Not that his skin wasn't itching to get out of the small room, but making sure Sam was okay and that he and Sam were solid, that had been more than worth the standing down for a while. The hunter in him just hadn't been able to resist at least looking.
"Just…never mind," Sam finally said, more subdued.
It was Sam's tone that tipped the scales. Not belligerent, not disappointed in him, just…disheartened.
Maybe…Dean wasn't the only one who'd been missing the way things had been between them before. Trust went both ways, right?
He took a breath and turned back with the soup. "Seriously, Sam, it's no big deal. Just a black mutt people sometimes see out by the cemetery. It's chased a couple of people, no casualties. Figure it's either a graveyard dog or a black dog. Either way, it's not exactly urgent."
Sam took the cup and settled back, sipping it as he thought. He finally looked up at Dean through bangs mussed by hours of sleep. "So…you don't want to go after it?"
"What?" Dean hadn't been expecting that. Sam giving an order, maybe, or, worse, that raw look that slipped out sometimes that was pure fear of losing Dean again. Not this almost playful dare. "Sam, you're—"
"I know, man, I'm benched. But you said it yourself—it's no big deal. Graveyard dog just needs to be dispelled, and we've got consecrated iron rounds for a black dog. You don't want to check it out?"
Dean opened his mouth, closed it again. Did he? Sam really looked okay, tired but coherent, and he hadn't puked for close to a dozen hours now. And Dean did love him a good, solid hunt. Something simple and clean, something that would let him forget about the four months in Hell he couldn't recall but that were a constant prickle in his brain. He'd been spinning his wheels since he got back, stuck between a past he couldn't change and a future he didn't know his role in, but hunting gave him purpose.
Sam's mouth was curled up even as he drank the soup, already having read Dean's desire. "Just, call if you need backup, all right?"
"Why, so you can yell at Cujo through the phone?" Decision made, Dean was in motion, pulling out weapons from the bag, picking darker, more comfortable clothes. "I'll be okay, Sam."
Dean's hands faltered, and he looked up, to realize he'd only heard the tail end of Sam's muttered imprecation as he sloshed a little soup on his shirt. As Sam brushed at the stain uselessly with one hand, Dean muscles unknotted a little. "You're the bitch," he muttered.
Sam blinked at him, let out a startled laugh. Then, with a shake of the head, shot back, "Jerk."
Dean gave him an honest-to-God smile and a half-salute. And then he was out the door, feeling straight and tall and just a little bloodthirsty…but in a good way.
Sam rolled over with a groan and blinked sleep out of his eyes. What—?
It took a moment for the clock's numbers to sharpen, but then Sam's brow drew together. Three thirty-nine? Crap. That meant he'd slept, like, eight hours. And Dean had been gone for all of them.
Sam shoved himself up, reaching for his phone. No messages. Crap, crap, crap. He should've set the alarm, but he didn't think he'd fall asleep at all, let alone for so long. Sam speed-dialed his brother, chewing his fingernail as the phone rang several times and went to voicemail.
Sam cursed and sat up completely, dropping his legs out of bed. He stood…and promptly flopped back down to the mattress.
More swearing. He could do this, just…had to take it slow. His muscles hadn't done much besides vomiting for the last two days, and that had a tendency to leave them kinda shaky, but the ability was there if he didn't overdo it. More carefully, Sam tried again, pushing up with his arms, then grabbing the chair.
Wow, he'd actually stood by himself. Yay for him. Disgusted, Sam felt around with his bare feet for his shoes.
They didn't seem to be on that side of the bed. Because this couldn't be too easy, right?
Blowing out a flustered breath, Sam made his way around to his brother's bed, leaning on furniture and shuffling heavily enough to burn the soles of his feet with friction. He had to sink down on Dean's mattress just to open and sort through the weapons bag.
Shotgun with iron rounds and, just in case, salt rounds. Flask of holy water, just because. Silver knife. Nodding to himself as he stowed the weapons, Sam glanced around the room.
Still no shoes in sight, and Dean had shoved his duffel under the bed, so no hoodie, either, not without risking taking a header. Terrific.
Sweeping his keys and cell off the nightstand, Sam staggered out half-prepared into the night, a pitiful cavalry riding to the rescue.
Well, hotwiring a car to the rescue, anyway. Not surprisingly, Dean had taken the Impala.
His phone revealed the only cemetery in town was a few miles away, and Sam floored the old truck's gas pedal. He was sweaty just from the exertion of getting to the car; he hated to think about what would happen if he had to wander through acres of cemetery to find Dean. But one thing at a time, right? All he knew was, there was no way he was getting his brother back from Hell just to lose him to a small-town folk story.
The graveyard was dark and deserted, no one in sight. Sam pulled up behind the Impala, tucked behind a row of bushes, and slid out of the truck. The darkness rushed past his eyes, and Sam had to lean his forehead against the vehicle's door a moment until the dizziness passed. Then, trying to find a balance between a frantic need for speed and his body's weakness, Sam crept forward into the cemetery.
"Dean!" he hissed as he passed through the iron gateway.
And slammed to a halt, swaying a little at the change of momentum, and at the sudden low growl in front of him.
The dog materialized from the shadows, large and gray, with completely black eyes. It looked solid, but its paws hovered just above the ground and it flickered occasionally into transparency. Graveyard dog, then.
Sam's eyebrows rose, however, as the spectral creature advanced on him, teeth bared in a warning snarl. He backed up into the protection of the iron gateway, knowing the dog would not pass the barrier. But graveyard dogs protected specific tombs, and the only times the Winchesters had come across them was when they happened to be digging up a protected grave. The creatures weren't supposed to threaten you just for stepping onto a cemetery's grounds. Unless…
Sam felt himself pale. Unless the dog sensed something…different about him. Maybe something not quite human. He swallowed.
Or, maybe…maybe it simply sensed he was a hunter. Graveyard dogs could be very perceptive. Sam knew he was grasping at straws, but it made sense: if Dean had been met by the same response, that could be why.
Dean. Sam fumbled his phone out and called his brother, wincing when mechanical rock notes started playing on the ground near the dog's feet. Dean had lost his phone, something he wouldn't let go without a fight. But with a spectral dog? They could be dangerous if you didn't heed their warning, but all you had to do was back off, and the dog would, too. Not to mention how easy they were to disperse. There was nothing here Dean couldn't have handled…if the graveyard dog was indeed the only supernatural threat around.
Sam gripped the shotgun more tightly and tried to peer past the large gray animal, into the gloom of the moonlit cemetery. "Dean!" he bellowed.
The dog snarled, shifting as far forward as it could without passing the iron-shad boundary.
Sam glared back at it. Enough was enough; he wasn't going to let a stupid grave guardian keep him from finding his brother. He stared the creature in the eye and muttered the few lines of Latin that would give it peace.
With a whimper, it tucked its tail and ears and faded from view.
Sam set his jaw and stalked forward a step. Then stumbled back as weakness washed over him again, only to quietly swear and press forward. Not now. He could take a nap later, once he found Dean and knew he was safe.
As it turned out, he didn't have to go far.
Two more calls to his brother went unanswered, and Sam's worry was just starting to spiral, and his energy to seriously flag, when he turned the corner of a mausoleum and caught sight of pale white amidst the blacks and grays of the cemetery. He laid a hand against the cold concrete wall for support as he moved along it, back to the corner formed by the vault and the cemetery's iron fence, and the figure crouched there.
Bloodshot, haunted eyes darted left to right before snapping up to him. Dean was sitting pressed into the walls at his back, his knees drawn up to his chest. He had a white-knuckled grip on his shotgun, but it was propped across his knees like a defensive barrier. He looked desperate and…scared.
Sam sank to his haunches, wearily grateful to give his legs a rest. "Dean? Hey," he said quietly.
Recognition filled his brother's eyes, immediately followed by something Sam cringed to see: shame. "You shouldn't be out of bed," Dean whispered. He sounded as bad as Sam had after a day of throwing up, and that was saying something.
"Yeah, well. You shouldn't be out here at four in the morning." Sam's legs were already cramping. After he had to plant a hand against the cold dirt to keep from falling forward, he gave in, shifting to plop down next to his brother, shoulder to shoulder. He almost groaned with relief.
Dean tilted his head back against the fence. "It's just a freakin' graveyard dog, Sam."
"Was. And yeah, I got that. So why didn't you get rid of it?"
"It was…" Dean gulped, his face turning away. "It's…it growled and it was like…"
He was almost vibrating with tension, and Sam suddenly, blindingly got it. Should have seen it coming, in fact, especially after Dean's recent reaction to being briefly trapped in a coffin. He might not have recalled Hell, but he remembered being torn in pieces by "…a hellhound," Sam finished softly.
A tremor ran up Dean's spine.
Sorrow and guilt flared bright in Sam, but he tried to swallow it before knocking against his brother. "Hey…"
"It's stupid, okay? I know. I mean, whatever happened in Hell must've made the hellmutt seem like Lassie, right? But it's the last thing I remember before… Just that…thing leaping at me and you yelling and its claws and teeth and—"
"Dean," Sam cut him off sharply, helplessly.
He couldn't see his brother's face, just heard his ragged breathing slowly steady, the shake in his frame peter out. It was a few minutes before Dean turned back to look straight ahead, his profile haggard in the weak light of the moon.
"I see it over and over again, too," Sam finally whispered, a confession in the dark.
Dean's hands kneaded the gun. A small frown gathered across his brow. "I think…I think maybe I did something awful down there, Sammy," he said in a small voice.
"It's Hell. Kinda par for the course, man. But it's over," Sam declared, yawning despite himself. "I know it doesn't always feel like it, but it is. And the rest we'll deal with, right? Like always."
Dean finally turned to him, the look in his eyes tearing at Sam. "You think so, huh?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, I do. For both of us." He dipped forward a little, caught himself, and leaned back again.
Dean slowly nodded back. Then his frown deepened. "Dude, you're not wearing shoes."
Sam huffed a laugh. "Dude, I was kinda in a hurry."
Dean scoffed and leaned forward to yank his boots off. Before Sam could do more than groan a protest, his brother's socks were jammed onto his feet.
"Hate when you do that," Sam muttered.
"Yeah, well, don't go running around barefoot outside in September then," Dean grumbled back.
His jacket was next, wrapped around Sam's body like a warm cocoon. He hadn't even noticed he'd been shivering, but stopping felt like heaven. His eyes closed before he realized it.
"No, hey, not…" Something poked his cheek, ruffled his hair. He ignored it. "Aw, seriously, Sam? Here?"
"Shuddup. M'just resting a minute," he mumbled. The car was just…really far away.
Dean muttered something but fell still.
Sam knew it was pathetic, dozing off against Dean's shoulder, on the ground in a cemetery in the middle of the night. But Dean didn't seem honestly bothered by it, and by the time the third yawn crept up on Sam, he officially ceased to care. He had a guardian of his own and was safe and comfortable enough.
The last thing he felt was Dean uncertainly settling an arm around his shoulders as if not sure it still fit there. Sam smiled a little in his sleep to find it did just fine.
Sam was never subtle.
He flushed when he woke to find himself curled into Dean's side in the dawning boneyard, quickly turning churlish and fussing over Dean's lack of a jacket. He was kinda cute when he was mortified, and Dean smiled and pretended along with Sam that his jacket wasn't in fact stretched over Sam's freakishly wide shoulders, or that Sam hadn't been cuddling with Dean while he slept, a thick crease still imprinted on his cheek.
It was only fair considering Sam was pretending in turn that he wasn't out there in the first place because he'd had to come rescue Dean from the big bad graveyard dog.
Sam was still a little wobbly, probably needed a good meal and a few more hours of real sleep in a bed. But they steadied each other as they made their staggering way back to the car, walking off pins-and-needles and chilled bones. Sam dropped into the car with a grateful sigh, but he was dimpling, and as his eyes met his brother's, Dean saw his contentment and affection.
Big brother hadn't completely lost his mojo, it seemed.
They cleaned out McDonalds' breakfast menu on the way back to the room, Sam inhaling pancakes and sausages and eggs while Dean polished off several breakfast sandwiches and pancakes of his own. Then, exhausted by the full meal, Sam tripped into the motel, almost ramming his nose against the door jamb before Dean caught him, and fell back into bed. The Mighty Hunter at rest, Dean thought whimsically.
The giddiness wore off a little as he pulled his socks and jacket off Sam and found the several weapons gigantor had stashed on himself, and a couple of bloody gouges in the soles of his feet, and a still-healing scar on his calf Dean didn't recognize. The immutable fact was that he'd left Sammy alone for months, and bad things had happened to him while Dean wasn't around.
But Sam still trusted him. Loved him. Even, for some unfathomable reason, respected him.
It would be Dean's secret alone that sitting out there in that dark and chilly graveyard, Sam snoring with abandon in his ear, was the best Dean had felt since his return from the grave.
He gave his sleeping brother a quiet smile, then slipped back out the door. He still had some yard work to do, and maybe if he went over and above, he could coax dinner out of Donna's mom in the bargain, even a pie. No matter how rejuvenated Dean had come back from down under, how much Sam had changed while he was gone, no way was either of them turning down a home-cooked meal.
Well, Dean grinned, so long as it wasn't chicken.