High and Low
K Hanna Korossy

He had no idea how long it had been, hours or weeks. There were no windows in the grey concrete walls, and his watch and cell phone were long gone. So was most of his lucidity, and in the nightmare fugue of drugs, time stretched out of meaning. It felt like he'd been there forever.

His face sported a good growth of beard, the one measure he had, and he felt his chin with almost obsessive regularity. True, he grew facial hair pretty fast, unlike his baby-faced little brother. But still, had to be…days at least, right? Long enough for someone to find him…if someone were looking.

He turned slowly, achingly on the narrow cot, from grey wall to solid grey door. He'd tried at first to figure a way past it even though there was no lock or hinges on this side and the edges were flush with floor and jamb. He'd tried to open the ventilation grate even though a five-year-old kid wouldn't have fit through. He'd tried attacking the pair who were his only visitors, when he'd still had the strength to be a threat. Nothing had worked. Nothing. He was trapped in this cell, this tomb, until they were done with him. Until he was done.

The panicked flutter in his chest rose into his throat, and he lifted heavy, shaky hands to grip his hair and try to keep it together. Just a little longer, although he didn't know why. No one was coming.

No one would care.

Sammy would have, before. Before their stupid idea to split up while Sam looked for ways to break Dean's deal and Dean concentrated on what they should've been doing: hunting. Sam was making his last year a real drag, and Dean had gotten fed up, or maybe was just spoiling for a fight. If Sam couldn't even stay with him one more year, fine, Dean wasn't going to stop him. Hadn't been able to stop Dad, either…

The sob startled him, and he clamped down on it as soon as it bubbled up. He wasn't going to give them the satisfaction. Maybe they'd break his body, but they weren't cracking him.

There was a scrape at the door, a lock being turned, and cold gripped his heart. It couldn't be time again already, could it? Seemed like…seemed like they'd just been here.

Seemed like he'd die here.

He tried, rolling off the cot onto his knees, then pushing to his feet with effort. They were human, not even something with claws or abilities or power. He swayed on his feet. He could do this. He had to; no one else would. He was alone.

The door swung open, and in stepped the Grizzly Adams twins.

"Look who's up," one said, smiling nastily at Dean.

He saved his energy, answering only with a glare.

"We gonna play again?" the other asked, moving to the right while his partner went to the left, flanking Dean. He backed into the wall, trying to keep them both in front of him, fists curling and uncurling with tension.

"You can make this easy on yourself, you know." The first one again. "Just tell us who killed Steve Wandell."

Dean sneered back. "What part of 'I don't know' is too complicated for you geniuses? Want me to write it down for you?"

The guy on the right snorted. "Right. So it was total coincidence you and your brother were seen in the area the day after Steve was killed. Tell me another, Winchester."

"Or," his partner shrugged, pulling a syringe out of his pocket and uncapping it, "I guess we can keep doing this the hard way."

Dean swallowed, throat suddenly prairie-dry. The pure revulsion of the first day had since been tempered with a slithering craving that appalled him. But the horror hadn't dimmed one bit. "Stay away from me. Seriously, you think I'm protecting a cold-blooded killer? Last time I checked, they played for the other team. We're the good guys, remember? 'Least, I am—not so sure about you two yahoos."

"That's okay." He wasn't even sure which one of them was speaking now. "I like the hard way better."

They closed in.

He fought, like he had every single time, dirty and fierce. But two could do the job it had taken four initially, overcoming him with brute force as his starved, strung-out body failed him. Within a minute, they had him pinned to the bed, laughing unfazed as he bucked and the needle sank into the scarred flesh inside his elbow. He refused to let them see the tears despite the almost painful hot pressure against his eyelids.

By the time the door closed quietly behind them, Dean lay on his back staring at the ceiling, unsure why he'd been upset in the first place.

00000

"You've really gotten yourself into a mess, big brother." Sam's voice tsked softly, that pesky all-knowing kid-brother tone he'd perfected when he'd been, like, four.

Dean wrinkled his nose. "Wha'ever, Sam-my." Words seemed to mush together on his tongue. Huh.

Sam didn't seem to have trouble understanding him, which made sense considering he was inside Dean's head. There was a soft huff. "Dean, they're just people."

Right. That was unusual, right? Right. Dean frowned faintly. "With…guns. 'N needles. With…" He choked up and turned his head away from the mirage that had started appearing regularly at the edge of his cot. His head ached. His arm hurt from all the times they'd stabbed it. His body was breaking down under the onslaught of the drug: bones arthritic, gut churning, mind turning to sludge. He wouldn't be himself soon. Crap, he was talking to his hallucinatory brother; Dean had already left the building.

"This wouldn't have happened if we'd stayed together. I'm just trying to save you, Dean."

He tried to lift his hand to rub at the ache behind his forehead, but it wouldn't obey him. His body felt like it was made of lead, but also light, like the lead was all that kept it from floating away. His head swam with brilliance, and he knew this was the high before the crash. Should probably enjoy it except for the part where he knew, deep down, how screwed he was. "Tell me something I don't know," he muttered to un-Sam.

"The duckbill platypus was the only mammal that laid eggs."

Despite himself, he laughed. Even if he wasn't real, that was so Sam.

Then the laughter broke into something harsher, not so funny.

"I can't do this, Sammy."

"Well, you kinda have to, Dean. I'm not riding to the rescue on this one, thanks to you."

Anger stirred, the one heat his body felt. "Wasn't my fault. You keep…you keep pushing. I-I can't…"

"Right. Because this is so much better."

"Screw you," Dean said bitterly. A wave of prickly cold washed over him, and he squeezed his eyes shut. Not yet. Please not yet. His fingertips were starting to tingle.

"Dean. You can do this, man. It's just two of them—they don't even use the gun anymore."

"That's cause…can't get up…'nymore." Words had disintegrated into syrup. The tingling had become needles across the expanse of his skin, and there was a hard lump of pain in his stomach, like his intestines had tied themselves into knots. "Can't…"

Sam's voice seemed closer. "You can—you have to. They're gonna kill you, man."

Dean snorted. "So?"

A pause. Then, "Don't do this." Soft, broken, the tone Sam knew he could never resist. "Please, Dean. Just give them what they want."

"Don't—" He couldn't keep in the sharp cry as what felt like a hot blade slid into his gut. "N-not tellin'… Oh, God." He rolled to his side, hands pressing to his chest, his middle to try to ease the ache. "Sam-my…please."

"I can't." His brother sounded honestly regretful. "You have to do this one yourself, Dean. You don't want to leave me out there alone, right?"

He finally squinted his eyes open, to stare at the mop-top teen version of his brother sitting calmly next to him. "Al-already tried… Can't." He ground out a sharp curse. His insides were shredding, his head expanding with every wave of pain into a taut balloon.

The door was rattling, and he couldn't remember if he feared or was grateful for what was coming.
"Giving up already, big brother?" Sam sounded almost amused now, taunting.

"Shut…up."

Sam's leering face morphed into his captors, looking smug and sneering. "The mighty Dean Winchester, taken down by a needleful—"

"Shut up!" he howled as he brought up his feet and donkey-kicked with all he had left in him.

The bad guys went down like dominoes, one crashing into the other, then both hard into the wall.

Dean blinked, staring with disbelief at the lucky shot. Then he was riding the adrenaline wave out of the room, crashing into walls as he staggered out. "Sammy." It came out as a whimper. Where was his know-it-all brother now?
The room outside the door stretched into darkness, full of vague shapes. The shadows were giants, sinister and reaching, and Dean shrank from them, pressing against the cool cement. He felt like he was melting, his guts lava, burning all they touched. He couldn't do this.

He had to do this. He trudged on, even as the floor cracked and buckled under his feet.

One wall met another, and then there was a door. His fingers didn't want to work right, cramping and fumbling, but he got it open.

The light outside was blinding, and the cold felt like a slap in the face. It shoved under his damp clothes, stretching his skin tight. He was maybe crying and didn't care, didn't care about anything except make it stop.

There was a shout behind him.

He unglued his feet and started running, tripping, stumbling. He was pretty sure he crawled at some point.

There was dirt, then there was grass, then trees. He leaned his hot face against bristling bark and tried to breathe in air that didn't hurt. His vision wasn't reliable, distorting images until everything was a threat, but closing his eyes thrust him into a dark hell he couldn't bear. He limped on like one blind, hands clutching tree trunks and shrubs to find his way, find Sam, maybe find Dad, but Dad was dead and they wanted him to give up Sam, too, as if, God, he could even consider that. He'd do anything to protect his family. Do anything to get them to want him back.

He went down on his knees, prayer and defeat and supplication, because he couldn't do this.

"Just a little farther, Dean."

There was no taunting in his brother's voice this time. Dean peered through the veil of his eyelashes at his brother. Sam was older now, tall and strong, a man. Someone Dean even leaned on sometimes, but he was on his own now. Except…

"You're almost there. I promise. Don't give up on me now, man."

But he had nothing left. His family had given up on him first.

"Dean, come on. Keep going. You can do this."

He shoved one foot flat against the ground with a grunt. His stomach hurt worse than all the bad burritos in Mexico, and the lightheadedness of fever kept flushing through his system in waves. His hands were shaking so bad, he tucked them under his arms. "W-w-where, Sam-my?"

"Through here."

He couldn't see worth crap, but he pushed up, jammed his legs underneath him. If Sam said to keep going, he'd keep going. It had always been that way.

He didn't know how long he went, how many times he followed Sam's—a hallucination's, he thought hysterically—voice through and under and around until he didn't know anything anymore but moving his feet and not falling into the black hole of pain inside him.

"Just a few more steps."

Easy for you to say. He wanted to mutter it, but nothing came out but pants of air. His body screamed with need, and it wasn't for Sam or for rest. He didn't know how long it had been, but it was long enough.

Something loomed in front of him. A building—a house? Dilapidated, the yard strewn with garbage, every one an obstacle. He tripped his way to the porch, hand clenching around the wobbly railing.

"H-here?"

"Here. You'll be safe here."

He wanted to laugh. No such thing. The gnawing inside would eat him alive wherever he was, even if they never slid another needle into him. It was too late. But he could never deny Sam. He staggered up the stairs and inside.

It was empty and dirty. The kitchen tiles under his bare feet were cracked and caked with mold.

He didn't care. Couldn't have done anything about it even if he did.

His knees hit first, then one hand, trying to ease his fall. Next thing he knew, his cheek rested cool and clammy on the cold floor.

"Hang on, Dean." He thought it was Sammy still, but really far away. "Hang on…"

His body jackknifed with spasms. He was gonna throw up soon, would start to beg after that even if there was no one there to hear it. It was horrible and humiliating and helpless.

Then his guts felt like they were punching through his skin, and Dean ceased to care even about that.

00000

"Dean."

He didn't want to come back.

"Dean."

He didn't think he could come back.

"Dean. Hey. Hey. Can you hear me?"

What was there to come back to?

"Dean, c'mon…"

It was all wishful thinking, seeing love and want and need where he wanted so bad to see it. But his family hadn't really cared. Sam had taken off as soon as he'd been old enough to, and Dad not long after that.

"Dean, please. Please."

He blinked. Oh. Sammy was there. Still adult Sam, but not all Zen like the last time Dean had sort of seen him. His little brother's face was shadowed with stubble, eyes hollow with fatigue. He looked as old as Dean felt.

"Sam?" He tried to say it, came out more with a marble-mouthed mumble.

Sam breathed in sharp and unsteady. "Thank God. Listen, stay with me, Dean, all right? I need you here, big brother."

Yeah, right. He almost snorted, but it was too much effort. Plus, he seemed to have misplaced his vocal chords. And throat.

"Dean?"

Always questions. Sam had always been full of questions. And as soon as Dean had stopped having answers, his brother had started looking elsewhere. Stanford probably had a ton of answers.

"Hey! Dean, look at me."

His gaze had drifted away, but he tugged it back to Sam. At least he wouldn't go out alone. Even if Sam wasn't real, he still felt real. It even felt like Sam was touching him this time, running hands over his shaking body, rolling and wrapping him like a Christmas present. Wiping his face with something wet, then lifting and pulling.

He cried out as knives dug into his back, his stomach, his brain.

"Oh, God." Frantic flutters of movement now. "Dean, don't do this to me."

He laughed. That was funny. He did this to Sam? Who'd walked out on whom—who always walked out? He should be the one to leave now, show Sam what it felt like, except his body was AWOL. Just as well; he was pretty sure he'd be throwing up his kidneys if it weren't.

"Dean?"

Oh, never mind, he'd found his stomach at least. It was busy trying to compact itself into the smallest ball possible, squeezing out everything inside it. His throat burned from the acid, and his muscles seized. He groaned between heaves.

"It's okay now. It'll be okay. I found you—you're gonna be fine. We'll get through this. Just…try to relax, man, all right? Keep breathing, Dean."

We? He'd never been a "we." I was so lonely, all by itself, no other letters with it.

"What? Letters? Dean, I don't…"

His stomach exploded again. He keened a little because, forget the friggin' macho trip, this hurt, involuntary tears of pain scalding his face.

The warm arm around his middle helped some. And the thumb that kept rubbing his cheek, because the hand was freaking huge enough to cup his forehead and still reach halfway down to his mouth.

Nothing made sense.

He sank back, limp, as the cramp released him, and was turned away from the smell, bundled up warm again. His nose was pressed against cotton that smelled…smelled like Sam. He frowned, pressing in tighter, uncomprehending and wretched and craving so very badly.

"I've got you. I've got you. I'm here. Don't leave me, Dean. I've got you. We'll get through this."

Water trickled into his mouth, clean and cool, and overflowed his chin. Fingers wiped it away, turned his head back into the inviting hollow of clean skin and flannel. There was a solid, regular thump under his ear. His senses overflowed with Sam.

But…

"It's me. It's really me, I promise. So…stay with me, Dean, all right? You never gave up on anything, you stubborn jerk, so don't give up on me."

He was gonna burn up, freeze, turn himself inside out, crawl out of his skin.

"Hold on, bro."

But Sam wouldn't let him.

Sammy. Real Sam. Here.

Seeing Dean like this.

He groaned and pushed away, or tried to.

"No no no, man, you're not going anywhere. Just…let me, all right? Relax and let me do this. We'll deal with everything else later, just let me help you right now, all right? I won't leave."

It was humiliating and horrible…and over. The worst was over, because as much as he hadn't wanted Sam to see him like this? He wanted his brother there. God help him, he was even grateful.

"That's it, just breathe. We'll get through this, then you can yell at me all you want, all right? Just don't give up on me, Dean. Please."

He swallowed over and over, nausea and emotion, squeezed his eyes shut. Then convulsively grabbed a handful of flannel, twisting his hand in it until Sam would lose his shirt before Dean lost his grip.

That ginormous hand came up to cover his eyes and wrap around his head, holding it up, close.

"There you go. I'll take care of everything, just trust me. Even got your baby out back. It's gonna be fine, Dean, I promise."

If he buried his face in Sam's shirt, he could almost pretend it would be.

00000

Bela had warned him, but Sam still hadn't been prepared.

They'd been separated when Dean had fallen off the map, but as close as Sam could figure, his brother had been gone nearly five days. He figured Dean wasn't exactly spending the time in a spa, either, and Bela's "sources" had mentioned drugs and abuse, captors who wanted information and didn't care what they destroyed to get it.

But somehow he still hadn't been expecting this: Dean quivering and soiled on the grimy floor, lying in his own mess.

Nor the sloppy ladder of needle tracks up the inside of one arm.

Bela had said it was heroin, her lip curled in a sneer that for once wasn't aimed at them. Dirty, common, but efficient: it had stripped Dean's competence and strength, leaving this shivering, filthy shell. It had taken nearly an hour before Dean had even recognized him.

And since then, he hadn't let go of Sam's shirt.

The plan had been to go get Dean, get him someplace safe, maybe a motel a state or two away, and get him back on his feet. That was before Sam had gotten to the little abandoned house Bela had pointed him to. Now the plan was to just stay there and do whatever Dean needed until he didn't look like he was crumbling apart. If that meant sitting there on a disgusting kitchen floor for a few days and just holding his brother together, so be it.

Except, Dean needed more than that. His clothes stank, his skin was brittle with dehydration, and at least part of his shaking was from cold.

"Hey." Dean's head jerked his way. Sam got that Dean didn't understand most of what he was saying, but the tone, the sound of Sam talking seemed to matter so he kept at it. "Hey, man, let's get you more comfortable, huh?"

Dean made a sound that shot straight to Sam's heart. Bela better have some names for him, too, because after this he would need to work off some pent-up frustration and fury.

"I know. We're not running any marathons, all right? We don't have to go anywhere, but let's at least clean you up some, huh?"

Dean's teeth chattered, his heels scraping against the floor.

Thanks to long arms, Sam could just reach the faucet in the sink above him. To his surprise, water gushed out when he turned it, rusty at first, then clearing. Running water: score one for them. Sam turned it off, than gathered Dean to him.

"Nice and easy, I promise. I promise, Dean."

Dean still wheezed a sound of pain, fist so tight in Sam's clothes, he could feel the seams strain against his shoulders.

Sam lifted him slowly, his brother's temple tipped against his collarbone, arm under Dean's knocking knees and behind his clammy back. It wasn't far to the bathroom, which was just as rough as the kitchen.

Sam sighed, turned on the shower to as warm as it would go, and started to ease Dean out of his clothes, tearing what he couldn't slide off.

There were old and new bruises, attesting to escape attempts and, obviously, one success. A small swelling on the back of his head was maybe the original injury, or the scabbed pinprick just above the hollow of his throat. Sam would probably never know. As proud as he was of his brother having gotten away in this condition, the cost to Dean still gripped Sam hard. In his determination to find a way to save Dean, he'd almost lost him, and that was something he was having a hard time dealing with.

Dean growled as Sam tugged at his jeans, and Sam smiled wanly at his brother still being in there somewhere. "Easy, man, it's just me. Trust me, you don't have anything I wanna see. It's just a quick clean-up, all right?"

Dean's jaw jumped, his eyes pressed tight shut as he leaned his forehead against the crumbling wall. Just another mortification on top of the others, and Sam tried to hurry.

Dean actually shoved him away under the spray of water, and Sam stepped back a little, touching only when needed: to wash the matted hair and thin beard, then holding one of Dean's arms tight when his legs started to shake. He sat Dean down on the toilet, draped in a towel from the car, and gave him another towel and a moment of privacy while stripping and replacing his own wet shirt and jeans.

Sam had brought in clothes for Dean: soft and loose sweatpants, Sam's hoodie, one of Dean's broken-in t-shirts. When trembling fingers managed to pull up a zipper, Sam took a breath of quiet relief.

Then Dean bent over the tub and started retching again, bile the only thing left to bring up. A step back for every two forward.

Both their sleeping bags was the best Sam could do for a bed, and a bucket collected the water that wouldn't stay down. Dean's stomach was cramping constantly, leaving him in a permanent, twitching curl, and Sam kept dabbing sweat off him and stumbling with him to the bathroom when his stomach rebelled in other ways. Sugar was supposed to help with the withdrawal, and he coaxed a few M&Ms into Dean, but most of them refused to stay down, too. Mostly, Dean lay shivering and miserable between the layers of coverings and moaned through the onslaught of pain. His hold on Sam's shirt had become a spastic clench.

When he couldn't stand listening any longer, Sam pressed closer and started talking.

He talked about school, and Jess, topics Dean never seemed to grow tired of. High school and a highly edited dating history. His current favorites in music, sports, online comics. Dean had always wanted to know everything about Sam, and Sam had told him so little, holding back parts of himself for reasons that didn't seem to make much sense anymore. As if he'd ever wanted Dean out of his life.

Dean's grunts of pain were panted softly into his neck, sometimes smothered completely when his brother leaned in. His muscles rippled and cramped under Sam's fingers, and he rubbed them until his hands ached. He found Dean's curdling stomach settled some under warmth and pressure, and provided both with a careful embrace.

Dean alternated between clinging to him when the onslaught got worse, and feebly pushing him away when it eased, until Sam could chart the course of his progress by the increasing amounts of time he lay arm's length from his brother.

Who, perhaps unknowingly, never let go of his shirt the whole time.

"Sam-my…need some. Just…just find me somethin'."

"No, Dean," Sam said quietly, firmly, head rolling against the hard floor. "You don't need it. You're better than this."

"'M not," Dean insisted. "I'm not, I…" He screwed his face up. "'M not who you think. Sammy, 've done stuff, done…" The sound that broke out of him was utter despair.

Sam's heart broke a little more. "Shh, it's okay. I know. I have, too. Doesn't change anything, Dean."

"It does, it… You'd leave. You left. You already know, don't you? Don't you!" He shook Sam feebly.

"Here, have a couple sips." Sam tilted the bottle of water to his mouth, wincing when half of it spilled over Dean's shaking lips. "I'm not leaving, Dean. No matter what, you're stuck with me."

"Sammy, help me." The whisper cut to his core. "Get me something. Please, l'il brother. Please, Sammy."

He swallowed. "I can't, Dean. It's just gonna mess you up more, man."

Dean swore. "Stop bein' a friggin' Boy Scout, Sam! I'm not…I've done…" His face crumpled. "'M'not as strong as you. Not as good 's you. I need…p-please, Sam-my, I need—" He started to push up on wobbly, uncoordinated limbs.

It was appallingly easy to pull him down again, swamp him in an embrace that Dean fought for reasons that for once had nothing to do with emo moments. Cursing was followed by pleading, then a broken litany of please and don't and need.
Sam shrugged up a shoulder to wipe his own tears away, and rubbed his brother's back. "You can do this. You're stronger than you think, Dean—you always have been."

"…not…'s you think."

"Yeah, well, I don't know anybody else whose brother has pulled him out of two fires, or brought him back from the dead, so shut up."

There was a pause, then Dean's free hand curled around his shoulder with a muffled, petulant, "You shut up."

A perilously emotional laugh broke out of Sam. "Yeah, all right. How 'bout we call this one a tie, huh?"

Another shiver wracked Dean's body. They were less frequent but seemed no less painful. His fingers tightened briefly, then loosened. "Sam?"

"Yeah?"

The fingers dug in. "Don't…don't listen to me, 'kay?"

Sam swallowed hard. "Dude, when do I ever?" He bent his head forward until his chin rested on the crown of Dean's head. "We'll get through this, man. I've got faith, remember? Got enough for us both."

Dean didn't answer, but he didn't let go, either, and Sam figured that was an answer right there.

00000

She picked up on the first ring, as he'd expected her to.

"Sam, darling. Did you find your brother?"

Sam's eyes darted back to the floor where Dean lay in more or less restful sleep. His body still jerked with an occasional shock as his nervous system rid itself of the last dregs of the poison, but he was finally oblivious to it. "I found him."

"Marvelous. So, we're done then, yes?"

"No. Not yet. I want their names."

Bela clucked. "That wasn't part of the deal, Sam. One bauble for one brother, remember?"

"I want names," Sam repeated darkly. "They're not getting the chance to come after Dean again."

"Not my problem."

Sam's eyes swept his brother again, and his tone hardened. "Yeah, Bela, it will be."

There was a pause. "I knew it was a mistake, dealing with you two. No sense of honor, mmm?"

"Right. Honor. Let's see, you've shot me, stolen a rabbit's foot and winning lottery tickets from us, pointed us out to the cops—"

"All right, fine. But then I'm finished. As much as I enjoy dealing with you and your handsome brother, I do have other clients."

Sam gritted his teeth. "Fine."

Five minutes later, he gave Dean a long look, then slipped out the door.

00000

In the end, Bela had given him another address instead of names. That was okay by Sam, saving him some research. The building wasn't far, which made sense: Dean wouldn't have been able to get very far in his condition. Sam still didn't know how his brother had gotten away at all, except that he'd learned a long time ago not to underestimate Dean. But now it was his turn. Sam pulled out his gun, then edged the door open and slipped inside.

They were just on the edge of suburbia, the houses still more or less on a central street but with sprawling yards and a lot of privacy. Guess you needed that to drug someone into oblivion without being overheard, Sam thought darkly as he moved through sparsely furnished rooms. Still, there was a quiet to the house that spoke of disuse and abandonment. Maybe Bela had gotten the place wrong?

Sam frowned and backtracked, scanning the back yard as he stepped outside. The kitchen faced the tree line, the direction Dean had gone, so he'd probably left by that door…

…or the other one, set flush to the sloping ground. Sam scrambled down from the porch and to the heavy oak entrance.

There were no cobwebs on it, and the dirt in front of it was freshly scraped. Sam held his breath as he eased it open.

The basement was bigger than he would've guessed based on the size of the house. The room seemed cavernous, the edges hidden by the dark. Sam fumbled for a switch, throwing the good-sized room into harsh light.

Seems he had the right place, after all: he was looking at an armory. The large room was full of stockpiled rifles, shotguns, handguns, and then on tables to one side, the tools of their kind of trade: silver and iron rounds, blades of different kinds of metal, some carved with runes. Charms and curse boxes and herbs.

Dean had been snatched by hunters.

It made a sort of awful sense. From what Sam had gathered from his brother's scattered mumbling, he'd been drugged to make him reveal what he knew about Steve Wandell's death. Which meant turning in Sam, which pretty much was like asking Dean to fly. But they hadn't believed whatever lies Dean had told, kept shooting him up to break him down and give them what he never would. Sam's gorge rose at the thought; they probably would've killed Dean before they were satisfied, OD-d him or fried his brain. And for what? To keep Sam safe. Sacrificing everything yet again just to keep Sam safe.

Sam snorted softly. The irony was, it really hadn't been Sam. Meg was the true culprit in Steve's death. He kinda doubted hunters with so little scruples or humanity would accept that, however. Wandell's blood was on Sam's hands, and always would be. Right along with Dean's.

Sam stepped further into the room and began to collect a few items from the collection there into one of the empty duffels that littered the ground. Might as well pick up a couple of things while he was out.

Then his eye caught on a small kit on the table, and he had an idea.

There were four hunters in all, two sacked out in a bunkroom that opened off the main armory, two more "on guard" at the perimeter of the property. Maybe more of them called this home base; Sam didn't know nor care. One had Dean's amulet in his pocket, and another wore his ring. Sam had the men he wanted. Still, it gave him no satisfaction as he watched them inject golden liquid into their own arms at gunpoint, to listen to them beg and cry. He wasn't even making them take enough to OD—although that would have been so easy—just gave them a taste of the hell they'd put his brother through.

Then he herded them out of the building, left them dazed and high and helpless while he torched the place. Maybe the cops would arrest them, with the amount of drugs in and on them, not to mention the concealed weapons. Maybe not. Sam had made his point.

He drove past the first fire truck as it screeched down the street, not even giving it a second look.

00000

Dean was where Sam had left him, lying buried in the sleeping bags on the hallway floor outside the bathroom. But he wasn't asleep.

His eyes tracked Sam as Sam approached, already bending down to drop on the floor beside Dean. His brother's pupils were back to normal size, his eyes not so bloodshot, although they still looked sunken and ill, especially above the scruffy beard. He'd lost at least ten pounds over the last week, and Sam silently promised him a massive cheeseburger dinner as soon as his stomach could handle it.

"Hey," he said softly. "How're you feeling?"

Dean's eyes flickered, emotion quickly stifled. His throat rasped from abuse. "Like a dried-out junkie."

Sam shook his head, brows drawing in. "I don't think it counts when someone else is shooting you up, bro," he chided softly.

Dean made a scoffing sound. "Yeah, whatever." He turned so he was facing up. His moves were stiff with lingering aches and choppy with fatigue, almost unrecognizable compared to his usual grace. He cleared his throat, addressing the ceiling. "Thought you left."

Sam flinched. "Why?" he answered before he thought about it, honestly wanting to know.

Dean's shoulder hitched the slightest bit. "Why not?"

He had a million answers to that: he wasn't the one leaving at the end of Dean's year, Dean deserved better, Sam wasn't about to leave him again. Instead, he stretched out on the blanket beside Dean, tucking one bent arm under his cheek. "Just went to take care of some business."

Dean slanted him a wary look. "Oh yeah?"

Sam smiled. "Picked you up a couple of presents."

Dean blinked slowly, exhausted. His brow was faintly wrinkled; he had to still be trying to make sense of things. "Presents?"

"Yup. The sharp and exploding kind."

"Huh." Dean winced as he uncurled a little. "Not even m'birthday."

"Yeah, well, I figured they owed you."

Dean frowned at that, and finally looked him in the eye. "They?"

Sam nodded once.

Dean's eyes searched his face for…something. "Are they…?"

"No. Just probably wishing they were right about now."

"Oh." Dean's eyelids fluttered shut, face flicking through emotions. "Never took drugs, y'know?"

"Yeah," Sam said softly, "I do." Dean would've never allowed himself the luxury of letting his guard down like that. And his little brother had faithfully followed his example in that as in everything else.

Dean coughed a little. "How'd y'find me?"

Sam squirmed a moment. "Bela." Before Dean could react, he added, "Remember that Enochian amulet we had in the trunk? We, uh, don't have it anymore."

"Hmm." Dean didn't seem to care, not that it would've made a difference. Sam would have traded the whole car if that was what it took. Dean breathed out low and long. "They wanted t'know…who killed Wandell."

Sam nestled his head a little more comfortable into his arm. "You could've told them."

Dean threw him a weak glare. "Y're a moron, Sam."

"Yeah." Sam sighed. "I shouldn't have left."

Dean's shoulder hitched uncomfortably again.

"I was so busy trying to watch your back, I…forgot to watch your back. I'm sorry, man."

Dean's eyes opened, shining green. He swallowed. "No one else ever came back, Sammy. Damned if I know why, but you always come back."

Sam nodded mutely.

Dean was almost smiling, even though his expression made Sam want to cry. Twenty-four hours before, he'd been snotty and puking in Sam's arms, begging for drugs, but there wasn't any shame in him as he looked at Sam. They'd been through too much together, seen each other at their worst. There wasn't much left after that. Just the only thing that mattered.

"You want some more water or M&Ms?"

Dean's nose wrinkled. "Those're my choices?"

Sam looked around the room. "Yeah, well, until we get out of here and hit civilization… I didn't exactly come prepared to set up housekeeping."

"You suck," Dean muttered. His head rocked, eyes sinking shut. "Thanks…"

"Anytime." Sam watched him fall asleep, feeling slumber's pull himself.

He only gave in to it after wrapping his hand tightly in Dean's shirt first.

The End