The Family You Choose
K Hanna Korossy
He wasn't sure when he woke exactly. His head felt so fuzzy, it was hard to separate the gray world of dreams from the colorlessness of reality.
Sam tried to lift his head, confused at its weight. He was sitting, chin on his chest, and it took several attempts to realize it wasn't just languor that kept his arms and legs pinned. He blinked, trying to focus his vision, and groaned at the effort to tip his head back.
The view wasn't worth all the work. Sam frowned, trying to put a name to the face inches away that was scowling at him, to pull together thoughts that remained stubbornly scattered. "Mmmm." He wrinkled his nose, tried again. "Whooo…?"
The man, still blurry at the edges, narrowed his eyes. "Samuel said you didn't remember us. Guess it's true, huh?"
Samuel. Sam's head sagged back down, but he pulled weakly at his arms and legs again. Nothing moved. There was something tight wrapped around each limb, light glinting weakly off metal. Chains? Sam tried to make sense of it, of the dark room and the stranger in front of him and…Samuel? He blinked, rolled his head to the side. "Cam'ell?"
The other man dropped into view. Crouching, he was crouching—crap, it was hard to think. "Yeah, cuz, it's your family. You know, the few you haven't killed off."
His mind was starting to clear, just a little. There was a shadowy memory of…walking, alone, a sudden sting in his neck, and then just…gray nothing. "Druuu'd."
"Samuel always said you were a smart one." A coarse hand patted his cheek, and Sam shied away from the too-familiar touch. "Just a little tranq to keep you under control. No side effects…long as your brother doesn't take too long to come looking for you. But then, I wouldn't worry about the future too much, cuz."
He finally managed to lift his head to actually look the man square in the face. The threat to himself had been obvious from the start. The threat to Dean, however, just registered, and the fresh burst of adrenaline cleared a lot of the cobwebs. "What're you—?"
"You know, I've been hunting most o' my life. All of us have. We were good at it, hardly lost anyone. Then you and Dean come along, and suddenly Campbells start dropping like flies. Death always follows you around—you ever think about why, Sam? Or don'tcha even care?"
His throat tightened. He cared—oh, God, did he care. And there was some truth to what the man was saying. "I don'—"
"No, you don't. So why don't you go back to sleep like a good boy?" The man moved closer. There was something shiny in his hand, then Sam felt a prick of pain in his arm.
The gray faded to black.
He drifted in a cold sea, the dark water indistinguishable from the sky. There were no stars, no warmth, no peace: he fought to keep his head aloft, for every breath.
Sometimes a face leered at him from the distance, ominous and vaguely familiar, then gone again. He was alone, on fire—no, in ice—fighting the drag into the depths that promised nightmares instead of peace.
The chop of the waves broke into distinct sounds, syllables, words. Rising and falling. Angry.
He gasped himself out of the water into… It was still monochromatic, but it was a room: walls, ceiling, a door. A panic room, the memory bubbled up, and he grabbed onto it desperately. Panicking in the panic room. It was funny; Dean would—
Sam's head jerked up. Dean?
The murmur of voices came from above, a floor away. Softer sounds, then harsher ones, clearer. "…disappeared—you gonna help us find him or…?"
"Dean." He tried to yell, managed a mumble.
There was a soft sound from the corner, like a snake uncoiling. "Thought you were gonna sleep through big brother's visit. But then, what would be the fun of that?"
The man. Campbell. Cuz. Sam tried to glower at him, barely able to keep his chin raised long enough for eye contact.
"You sure you…?"
He couldn't hear the rest, but it—Dean—was so close. "Dean," he tried again, knowing his rusty voice barely carried a few feet, let alone through the panic room's walls.
"Yeah, I don't think that's gonna do it, cuz. But just in case…"
Something cottony and foul-tasting was jammed into his mouth. He tried to push it back out, but another piece of cloth was tied around his head, sealing the gag in.
It lived up to its name. The taste, the chemical smell had him feebly retching. Tears sprang to his eyes.
"Boy, you upchuck now and you're gonna choke yourself. That'd be a shame." A hand patted his shoulder, almost fatherly. "You wanna hear Lucas spring the trap on your brother and your buddy Bobby, don'tcha?"
"…missing for…days. You gonna…?"
Dean was so friggin' close. Sam's eyes watered again, but it wasn't with nausea. The trap on your brother. He tried to move again, flexing arms and legs that barely felt like his own, feeling only the bite of unforgiving metal.
A sudden thump from above. A curse. "Son of a—"
Sam chomped at the gag, yelled muffled pleas and threats, pulled against iron bonds until it felt like his bones would snap.
The Campbell just grinned smugly at him, unconcerned. Until they both heard the unmistakable yell from above. "Bobby, you look out back. I'm goin' downstairs."
Sam sagged, dizzy with relief.
His captor's smile vanished. "Son of a bitch, how did he…?" He swore, jumping to his feet, his hands diving into his jacket.
Sam was expecting a gun, not a needle. He tried to rear back in the chair, away from the man as he closed on him, but there was no place to go.
"You Winchesters always get what you want, don't you? Don't care if you roll over everybody else to do it." The needle bit hard. "Well, not this time, buddy. Not this time."
There was a wash of warm over his skin, like a flame that came too close. Sam struggled to keep his eyes open, another burst of fight-or-flight giving him a boost as he saw the man draw a gun. Dean! he tried to yell warning, but it was just a mush of sound.
The panic room door swung open. Maybe it was his vision, but there didn't seem to be anyone there. Sam leaned his rock-filled head against his shoulder so he could see, even as a second, more painful flush rushed through his veins.
A blur of movement. The deafening crack and echo of a gun—two guns? More movement. His heart felt like it was going to break out of his chest, and he couldn't keep his head up anymore.
"For you, cuz."
That was Dean. He was pretty sure. His hearing was starting to fade.
Hands on his face, yanking the gag off, supporting his boulder head.
"Sam. Hey. Hey."
He managed a flutter of eyelids, brief glimpses of green. "D'ug." One slurred word, and he was done.
More cursing. His body was pulled this way and that. It was hard to breathe. His head rested on something both bony and soft, flexing under his cheek. And just inches away, a stream of words rushing over his ear.
"…not this way, you hear me? Not because of a buncha freaks we share blood with. Bobby's calling for help, gonna get this stuff out of you and get you back on your feet. Lucifer couldn't keep you down, bunch of hillbilly rednecks aren't gonna do better. You fight this, Sam, you hear me? Son of a bitch, where's…"
The weight fell away from his arms, his chest. Sam toppled after it.
He was yanked up so hard, his neck protested. The room reeled around him as his head, his eyes rolled. It was all distant, though, the knowledge vague that he was being hauled to his feet, buttressed front and back. And then…marched.
"Come on, kiddo, keep moving. Not gonna let you fall asleep, okay? Just keep moving, right foot, left foot. You remember how long it took you to learn right and left? You knew how to read coordinates, but you couldn't figure out which way was left. C'mon, Sam, I'm not doin' all the work here."
He was exhausted. His chest felt even tighter without the chains, and he couldn't open his eyes anymore. His nose was jammed up against some part of his brother's neck, and he could smell Dean's sweat and fear, but he couldn't say anything, couldn't even open his mouth, could barely breathe. But he shuffled on.
"That's it. Fight, Sam, fight, you hear me? You get mad and fight this. We're not gonna let these bastards win. Come on, keep those giraffe legs moving. Come on, come on."
Burning heat replaced the icy cold. For a moment there was a flicker of fire, of a terrible laugh in his head. Then it was just his brother again, the only thing holding up his failing body. He gasped in the hot air.
"Bobby! You ge th kit yell she isno goff tim yet."
Sam twitched. What? The words were spinning along with the room, nothing making sense. He just wanted to sleep.
"Sam, bwe noka earme? Sammy?"
He couldn't feel if he was still moving.
Then something was stabbing his chest and squeezing his heart and he screamed but maybe just inside his head and then
Darkness. Bound immobile. Upper body propped.
Sam's eyes flew open.
A light flashed past, then another. He winced against it, peered more carefully.
Streetlights, moving past the Impala as the car flew down the road. Nighttime. Blankets wrapped around him. The back of Dean's head visible over the seatback.
Sam was tucked into the car's back seat.
He breathed out long and slow, sinking into the well-known grip of the vinyl. His chest hurt—adrenaline shot, he was guessing, maybe CPR, maybe ER—but lungs, heart, everything seemed to be working okay. Just…aching and really, really tired.
"You think we got any more loving family out there lookin' for us?"
He thought Dean was talking to him at first, but before he could even start to work out a reply, another voice answered.
"No way to tell for sure, but that's all I could track down."
Bobby, in the passenger seat. Sam's mouth twitched at the sight of the back of the trucker's cap. Bracketed by the two people he trusted most, he let his eyes sink shut.
"Awesome. You know, all these monster dads we've met, friggin' Eve—all of 'em were better at the whole family thing than our own kin."
"Blood don't make you family, Dean, you know that. That moron Rufus was the closest thing I had to a brother."
"Yeah, I know," Dean said quietly. Then, with a little humor, "Not Dad, huh?"
Sam's mouth twitched. He knew Dean was distracting Bobby from the fresh wound of Rufus' loss, but the thought was funnier than it should be.
"John was more like the annoying uncle you invite to holidays 'cause you have to," Bobby said dryly. "Best thing that man ever did was have you two."
There was a silence after that. Dean cleared his throat.
"If you're gonna say something sappy, you can just let me off right here," Bobby cut him off.
"Don't worry, Bobby, wouldn't want to offend your delicate sensibilities."
Bobby growled an epithet.
Sam felt his lingering anxiety melt away into rare pure contentment. He was sore, tired beyond belief, pretty sure he was missing a few days and a whole lot of details in there, but none of that mattered just then. His world was good.
"You know," Dean started more seriously. "You weren't totally off base with Lisa and Ben. Being there…that was the closest I ever came to family besides you and Dad and Sam."
The sleepiness that had been creeping in, vanished.
"You know it's not too late, son," Bobby said equally solemnly. "Sam would understand if you wanted to settle down. God knows you've earned it."
Sam held his breath.
But Dean wasn't thinking about it, wasn't even hesitating. He was shaking his head before Bobby even finished. "You know what I'd be without that kid? A cold-hearted bastard Campbell, Bobby. Or like that useless Jensen-whatever."
"Never mind. Point is, Sam chose this life, this family—us. I'm doin' the same, every time." A rustle of movement. "You hear that, Sammy?"
Embarrassed at being caught out, he hoped he looked as testy as he felt, even with his eyes closed.
Another squeak of vinyl, probably Bobby turning back toward him, too. "He awake?"
"Not for much longer. Right, Sam?"
Sam huffed and nestled deeper into the blankets, willing sleep to return.
The radio clicked on, country music quickly changed over to…Black Sabbath.
"Don't tell me," Bobby's voice was bone-dry even over the screaming vocals, "this is what you two consider a lullaby."
"Better than warm milk," Dean agreed.
Sam could hear his grin, and echoed it automatically.
He missed any response Bobby gave, already asleep.