Disclaimer: I don't own them. More's the pity.
Spoilers: Set immediately after All Hell Breaks Loose 2, though with the way Season 3 began, it doesn't stray enough to be considered AU. At least, I don't think so...
a/n: This story was originally written in June 2007 for the fanzine "Rooftop Confessions," printed by GriffinSong Press. It was only recently released for posting. I've not changed anything; if you purchased the zine and read the story, I thank you very sincerely. If not, I truly hope you enjoy.
Bobby watched something cross Dean's face – something akin to pride, mixed with anger, hurt, and frustration. For a moment he looked like a lit fuse and Bobby knew that the fuse was attached to some heavy firepower.
Dean dropped his hand from his chin, and with a low sound that could only be described as a snarl, charged at Sam. Wrapping his arms around Sam's chest, he propelled them both to the ground.
Sam landed with a thud and a swift release of air. Water splashed up around them.
Griffin stepped forward with the obvious intent to break them up. Bobby put a hand on his arm. When the hunter looked over at him, Bobby shook his head.
"Let 'em talk," he said.
Dean pounded a fist into Sam's jaw, then reared back for another, but Sam blocked him, bringing his long legs up and knocking Dean from his perch above him. They rolled to their feet and shook the rain from their eyes, advancing on each other in a choreographed dance of motion. Dean swung, Sam blocked, the speed of their arms blurred in the rain, the wet slap of their skin splashing drops of water around them.
Growls were punctuated by grunts of pain when fists found purchase. Gasps of anger were interrupted with staccato syllables of speech.
"Not our fight…"
"You made it ours…"
"Think I'm gonna let you be fucking bait…"
"No. It's. Not!"
Bobby knew John had taught them to spar against each other, he'd seen Dean beat the crap out of others, he'd seen Sam—while possessed—beat the crap out of Dean, but he'd never seen them against each other. Sam's height advantage was matched by Dean's speed. Dean's power was matched by Sam's grace. Blood blossomed on cheeks and streamed from knuckles, bruises were foreshadowed by bursts of red. Bobby tensed as he watched, almost afraid of the veracity of emotions he saw in the swings.
Dean managed to sweep Sam's leg, landing him in a puddle of water, his forearm pressed against Sam's chest. For a moment it looked to Bobby like Dean had won the fight, but with a well-placed right hook, Sam knocked him off and backwards. Sam launched to his feet and advanced once more.
"Dad was wrong," Sam panted, his swing blocked by Dean's forearm. "You didn't have to kill me… you had to let me die."
"Fuck that," Dean growled, thrusting a hand out toward Sam's solar plexus, which Sam blocked on a powerful downswing. "Told you… was gonna save you."
"Gonna…" Sam landed a set of knuckles on Dean's chin. "Have to… let me… save you, then, huh?"
"Couldn't…" Dean's arms flew in a combination of punches that Sam blocked, then he hit Sam across the right cheek, driving him to his knees. "Lose you, Sam!"
Sam raised a hand and Dean pulled his bloody knuckles up short. They were both panting heavily. Sam blinked up at Dean, holding a shaking hand to his swollen left eye. A cut on his lip trailed blood down his chin. Dean's forehead was bleeding again, a stream of red running down the bridge of his nose and washing off with the rainwater. He had a cut opened on his cheekbone and a matching cut on his lip.
"I can't… I can't, Dean," Sam panted.
Dean dropped to his knees, facing his brother. "What, Sam?" Dean gasped, pulling in air, swallowing rain.
"I can't lose you," Sam bleated, dropping his head. "What am I gonna do if I…"
"We'll," Dean coughed. "We'll figure out something."
Sam lifted his head, his hands hanging loose at his sides. "You can't give everything, Dean. You can't."
Dean reached out and rested his abused hand on Sam's shoulder. "I didn't," he said. "You're here, Sam."
Bobby felt Griffin shift next to him. He ignored the swarthy hunter, his eyes trained on the boys. His chest tightened and he found it hard to take a full breath. They were kneeling in front of each other, Sam's arms hanging in exhausted defeat, Dean supporting his brother's weight with a solid hand against his shoulder. Blood marred their faces, continuously washed away by the constant rain.
Sam tilted his head, working to get words out, working to hold back the emotions that so obviously threatened escape.
"I tried, Dean," he said. "I fought him. I hit him. I thought he was down…"
"I know, Sam."
"I heard you… I heard you call me, and I just… I just left him. I didn't make sure."
"You did everything right, Sam." Dean gripped Sam's shoulder, tightly. "You even sent me that vision."
"I didn't even hear him get up." Sam shook his head, dark brown tufts clinging to his face in wet strands. "I saw you, and then… it was like I was hot and cold, y'know?"
Dean nodded and Bobby saw his jaw shake.
"And I knew – I knew you had me, man. I knew you had me, I felt you, like always. I felt you grab me, and I could hear you…"
"That's good, Sam," Dean said, swallowing, his lips pressed tightly together. "That's real good."
"But then… it was all black, y'know? You were gone. Everything was gone…"
"It's okay, Sam," Dean said, his voice shaking. "I fixed it. I fixed it, Sammy."
"Yeah, but…" Sam looked down, his hands reaching up to grip the wet material of Dean's coat sleeves. "It's all messed up now.
Dean lifted his other hand and gripped the back of Sam's neck, pulling his brother's head toward him, pressing his bloody forehead against Sam's, forcing Sam to look him in the eye.
"I fixed that," he said. "We'll fix this together, okay? Together. You and me."
Dean squeezed Sam's shoulder. "You got me?" he asked.
"Holy shit!" Griffin breathed before Sam could answer. Bobby looked over at him, surprised. Griffin was staring at the far west side of the circle. Bobby followed his line of sight. "Holy shit, Bobby, it fuckin' worked."
The deartháir stood, its angelic face impassive, its white robes unaffected by the downpour, its red eyes fixed on Sam. Bobby shot his eyes to the boys and saw Dean push Sam away and stand, listing to the side.
Sam pushed himself to his feet, looking back over at Bobby.
"Bobby! The spell!"
Bobby shook himself out of his stupor, and pulled the spell from the safety of his pocket.
Griffin picked up his discarded shotgun, checked the chamber, then cursed.
As Bobby began to read the banishing spell, he heard Griffin rifling through the covered bed of his black truck. Bobby glanced up quickly from the paper, the cold feeling of dread in his belly telling him that he was about to rest his eyes on tragedy. The spell had three stanzas, and to banish the deartháir the damn thing had to be read completely through three times.
Oh, Christ I'm not gonna be fast enough…
Griffin was running toward the deartháir, shotgun raised, murder in his eyes.
Dean was standing a bit in front of Sam, moving forward on instinct, apparently weaponless. Sam was reaching for his brother.
Bobby chanted the spell, raising his voice to be heard over the roar of the rain. The deartháir shot to the center of the circle, colliding with Griffin's rounds of rock salt, unaffected by the repellant.
With a hawk-like screech, it swung at Griffin. The hunter ducked, dodging the deadly claws, rolling on the wet earth. Bobby read faster. As Griffin rolled to his feet, he reached into his coat pocket for a flask of holy water, tossing it to Dean, who flanked the deartháir. Dean caught the flask, opened it, throwing the contents at the spirit on the run. The spirit screeched again and Griffin blasted it once more.
In a blink of an eye, the deartháir shot to the far side of the circle, directly in front of Sam. To his credit, Sam realized that the spirit was trapped inside the circle, and he knew he had to get out. He turned from the red-eyed spirit and took off across the soggy ground to the protective line.
Bobby began the last stanza of the spell. Two repetitions down… one more… just one more…
"Sam!" Dean screamed, a haunting echo of his cry of denial back in Cold Oak. Pulling his Bowie knife from its sheath secured at the base of his back, Dean took off after the deartháir as Sam ran toward the edge of the circle. It looked like they were running in quicksand.
Bobby began the last read of the spell, his mind chanting faster faster faster.
Griffin shot at the spirit once more. Sam was right at the edge of the circle. The deartháir reached for Sam and Dean reached for the spirit.
Bobby watched with horror as the deartháir turned. Dean shoved the silver-bladed knife into the heart of the deartháir as the spirit raked his claws across Dean's chest. Dean screamed in pain. The deartháir screeched in fury. And then it was gone.
Bobby had only gotten through the first half of the third read. He knew it wasn't over. Dean stood for a moment, breathing hard, blinking in the rain, staring at Sam. His legs trembled. Bobby felt his heart stop when Dean hit his knees in the wet field.
Dean heard Sam's whisper of no as clearly as if his brother was inside his head. He could feel the heat of his own blood on his chest. He knew that he needed to keep breathing. He just had to keep breathing until Bobby could… could… what the hell… his head was spinning. He felt himself falling forward, but was unable to lift his hands to stop himself.
"I got you," Sam said, sliding on the wet, muddy earth, catching Dean before he hit the ground, wrapping him up in his arms, finally, finally answering him. "I got you, Dean."
"Goddammit," Dean heard Griffin growl. "It's not finished, Bobby."
"Shut the hell up, Griff." Bobby splashed through the muck and landed on his knees next to Sam. "Take it easy, Dean," he panted. "I'll get the heather, just take it easy."
"Sam," Dean panted, reaching up to grab Sam's wet shirt. "It's hot."
"It's okay," Sam said, "Bobby will take care of it."
Dean could feel the heat spread quickly. The rain beat against his face and filled his nose, his mouth, his throat. He turned his face toward Sam, letting the water run down his cheeks, searching for the cooling sensation usually brought on by the rain, gripping Sam's shirt.
"We have to bring it back, Bobby," Griffin said. "Finish it."
"It's gonna come back on its own." Bobby shoved himself to his feet. "It's gonna come back after Sam."
"No." Dean growled, using Sam's shirt to pull himself up. He managed to sit against Sam's chest. "No, Bobby." He was breathless; he couldn't get more words out. The heat had spread to his arms, to his legs, his eyes felt as if they were burning from their sockets. "No."
"Don't worry, kid." Bobby turned away. "We'll stop it after I get you—"
The cock of Griffin's pistol brought Bobby up short. "Now, Bobby. Call it back and finish it now."
"Are you crazy?" Sam yelled. Dean felt arms tighten around him. "Let him get the heather, or my brother's gonna die."
"And mine already has!"
Dean blinked through the rain at Griffin. His hands were starting to tremble. He curled them into fists, but the trembling increased until he felt them splashing against Sam's wet jeans.
Griffin held a 9mm pointed at Bobby's chest. His eyes were darting quickly between Bobby and the center of the circle. His entire body was tense, his expression maniacal.
"Y-you…" Dean tried. He pressed his lips together and forced out a breath. "You did that… not… not our fault."
"I had to," Griffin yelled, looking down at Dean. "I had no choice."
The shaking traveled from his hands to his arms and he could feel his legs rocking in a rhythm all their own against the ground. As the shaking increased, so did the heat. In moments Dean felt as though the blood slowly running down his chest was burning him. He clenched his jaw, trying to keep the shaking under control, trying to hold himself together.
Aw, Jesus, this hurts…
He didn't realize his groan of pain had been audible until Sam spoke.
"You hear that? You're killing him. Let Bobby go," Sam said. "Let him go get the heather for Dean."
"No! Not until—"
The explosion from Sam surprised Dean. He felt himself drop back onto the wet ground, gasping as the impact shot heat through his vibrating body.
Sam leapt over him, slammed into Griffin, and they crashed to the ground.
The gun, Sammy… Dean thought desperately, unable to move, unable to speak.
"Go, Bobby!" Sam yelled.
Dean heard the satisfying crack of Sam's bruised knuckles against Griffin's face. Dean slowly turned his head, watching as Sam gripped Griffin's wrist, cracking the hunter's hand against the ground, forcing him to release the gun.
The fire inside of him spiked hot and Dean cried out. He closed his eyes tight, trying to focus on breathing, on forcing the heat back, but it was climbing and his eyes burned and he couldn't think. He could feel his arms slamming against the ground and his legs kicking uselessly.
He heard a voice, felt hands on his face, someone was trying to pry his mouth open. He gagged as he felt something shoved between his tense lips. His mouth was forced shut and he instinctively swallowed. As he did, he started to choke. He was suffocating.
Oh, God… I can't… I can't breathe… His head slammed back against the wet ground, and he felt the hands on his face again, steadying him, holding him. He heard the voice, the tone. It sounded like waves. He heard waves.
And then… nothing. Silence. No heat, no cold, no shaking. No air. He opened his mouth and with a desperate denial of the inevitable, pulled air and rain into his mouth, his lungs, his body.
"…not yet, okay? You gotta stay with me. Keep breathing, Dean…"
The voice again. He knew that voice. He held onto that voice. His limbs felt heavy. He wanted to move, wanted to reach to the voice, but the ground held him tight. He tried to pull the scattered edges of his thoughts together, tried to put a face with the voice, tried to…
"I got you, Dean. We'll fix it together. You and me, okay? You and me, man."
The image of his brother slammed into him, and he opened his eyes, water immediately blurring his vision.
"Sam," he gasped.
"Yeah, there you go, that's it," Sam said, leaning over him.
The nausea hit him with the force of a freight train. "Oh, god," he moaned, trying to roll to his side.
"Get him over, Sam. Get him up."
Bobby. That was Bobby's voice.
"It's okay, Dean," Sam was saying as he rolled him to his side, easing him to his knees. "It's the heather. Just…"
Dean heaved, closing his eyes. His body convulsed, emptying itself of the poison that had just saved his life. He didn’t open his eyes until he could no longer feel the desperate urge. His arms would no longer hold him and he started to sink forward. Sam pulled him back, holding him slightly upright, against his chest. The rain fell down his face, soothing, cooling.
"Sam?" He could no longer keep his eyes open. The world was spinning, tilting, his only anchor being the arms wrapped around him.
"Did you kill him?"
Dean felt his brother's head turn, Sam's chin rubbing against the top of his head.
"Good," Dean breathed, opening his eyes. "'Cause I'm gonna."
"Crawl before you walk, dude," Sam said. "Let's just get you out of here."
Dean closed his eyes again, gathering his strength, then worked with Sam to get his legs under him, pushing himself to a trembling semi-upright position. He could see Griffin sitting against the rear wheel of his truck, his face lowered, his hands in his lap. He looked defeated. Sam hooked Dean's left arm over his shoulders.
"Yeah." Dean nodded, still looking at Griffin.
"You look like crap, Dean," Sam said, a slight smile in his voice.
"Still prettier than you, though," Dean replied.
They took one step toward the Impala and were stopped cold by an otherworldly screech from behind. The deartháir had returned.
Sam heard the screech, felt Dean stiffen against him, saw Griffin's head jerk up, and suddenly it clicked. He knew what he had to do. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the red-eyed spirit standing in the center of the circle. He tightened his grip on Dean, and hurried away from the circle's edge. Dean started to push against him, but Sam knew he posed little threat of escape in his condition.
"Bobby!" he yelled as he dropped Dean down by the front tire of the Impala. "Start—"
But Bobby had read his mind. He was screaming his way through the spell, his voice tumbling over itself in his haste to make it through three times once more. Griffin was on his feet. Sam looked over at him.
"No! Stay there!"
Griffin ignored him, advancing toward the spirit, his face dark with purpose.
"Griffin!" Sam called after him. "You can't affect it!" He shook his head. "Freakin' bastard…" He hurried to the trunk and grabbed a rock-salt filled shotgun. He looked at Dean. "Stay there."
"Sam—" Dean's weak voice shot a pain through Sam's heart.
"I'll be back," Sam said, meeting Dean's eyes. "I promise."
He turned and headed after Griffin. Bobby's voice grew hoarse as he began to read through the spell the third and final time. With slight amazement, Sam saw Dean's knife was still embedded in the chest of the spirit. On the run, Sam raised the shotgun, aiming and firing as the deartháir moved toward Griffin. The blast of the salt from Sam's gun shattered the corporeal body of the spirit long enough that Dean's knife dropped to the ground, Griffin following it as he sought cover.
"Get out!" Sam yelled at Griffin. "GO!"
The deartháir materialized behind them, and Sam turned and fired again. Hurry, Bobby… for God's sake read faster… He had two rounds left.
Griffin stood up, Dean's knife gripped in his left hand and when the deartháir appeared again, he lunged for it, ignoring Sam's cursed command.
"You bastard, get the hell out of here," Sam yelled, bringing the gun up again, dispersing the spirit with his next to last round.
Griffin looked at Sam over his shoulder, a shell-shocked expression on his face.
The deartháir appeared again next to Sam. It raised its arm, an evil smile splitting its face in half. Sam raised the shotgun. Bobby yelled the final three lines of the banishing spell, and the deartháir screamed, its red eyes lighting up, its arms thrusting toward the sky. With a sound like a cork being pulled from a bottle, it vanished.
Panting, Sam dropped the barrel of the shotgun. He looked over at Griffin.
"It goes after the youngest," Sam said, breathless. "So the youngest is the only one that can affect it."
Griffin just stared at him. "How the hell did you figure that?"
Sam ran the back of his hand across his upper lip. "It just, uh… made sense."
Sam turned to Bobby, then nodded. Bobby returned the nod, shoving the banishing spell into his pocket, rubbing the rain from his face with a shaking hand. Sam looked over at the Impala. Dean was pushing himself to his feet, bracing his arm against the hood of the car. He was a mess: his face a collection of cuts and bruises that mirrored Sam's, his shirt a pinkish smear of blood and rain. He was nearly covered in mud, his hair was plastered to his head, and rain traveled down his cheeks and dripped from his chin.
Sam took a step toward him and Dean grinned.
"It was my kill." Griffin's voice caught Sam's attention.
"Wha—" he started to turn and suddenly found himself gripped by two dark hands, the point of the Bowie knife hovering directly beneath his chin, his face pulled inches from Griffin's. The man's dark eyes were wide, the expression on his face split between insanity and sorrow.
"It was my kill," he repeated. "It poisoned him. I had nothing… he was… he was shaking so bad…"
"It's okay, man," Sam tried, but Griffin tightened his hold, shaking Sam once, hard. The knife tip scratched a line under Sam's jaw and he winced.
"I did what I had to do," Griffin said, his tone desperate, begging for absolution. "I did what I had to do."
"Let him go." Dean's voice was low, quiet, and deadly.
Sam heard the cock of Dean's .45.
Griffin didn't move his eyes from Sam. "It poisoned him."
"I know, man," Dean said. "Let him go."
"I couldn't watch him suffer like that… I had to take care of him… I had to…"
"You did what you had to do." Dean's voice didn't change tone, but Sam heard the note of sympathy. Right before the barrel of the .45 slid into his vision and pressed against Griffin's head. "And so will I. Let my brother go."
Griffin finally seemed to come back to himself. He slowly uncurled his fingers from Sam's wet shirt, releasing Dean's knife as he did so. Sam caught the weapon against his chest as it fell. Griffin took a step back. Only then did Dean lower his gun from Griffin's head.
Sam kept his eyes on Griffin. He'd trusted the hunter one time too many. He reached up and touched the scratch under his chin gingerly.
"Get your ass out of here," Dean said, his gun pointed at Griffin's chest.
Griffin shifted his eyes from Sam to Dean, then looked over his shoulder at Bobby. Sam saw Bobby's eyes shift away, unable to look directly at Griffin.
"I, uh… I won't forget." Griffin looked over at Dean. "I won't forget what you did."
"I know," Dean said, his eyes empty, his expression impassive.
Griffin looked at Sam, his eyes dropping to the knife that Sam realized he didn't even know he'd been holding, then he turned and headed to the truck.
Dean followed his movement, keeping his gun pointed at the hunter until he'd stepped into the truck. When the door shut, Dean dropped his gun. When the truck pulled away, Dean's knees buckled.
"Whoa." Sam stepped up quickly behind him, catching him under the arms before he hit the ground.
"Sam?" Dean's voice was thin.
Sam lowered his mouth so that he was speaking into Dean's ear. "Yeah, man."
"I'm sick of this rain," Dean whispered, his eyes fluttering shut, the rain making triangles out of his lashes.
Sam sank to his knees, Dean in his arms, and lowered his forehead to Dean's shoulder. He huffed out a weak laugh, feeling the edge of tears in that sound. Bobby sloshed up to them.
"Let's get him home," Bobby said softly.
Sam didn't raise his head. "Where is that?"
"Wherever you are, Sam," Bobby muttered.
Sam lifted his head.
And the rain stopped.
"You sure you don't want to ride up here?" Bobby met Sam's eyes in the rearview mirror. "I gotta stop for gas in a few miles."
"Nah." Sam rolled his head against the back of the seat. "I'm good."
They'd been able to wrap Dean in a blanket as they lifted him into the backseat of the Impala, and Sam slid in next to him, allowing his brother's battered body to slump against him, Dean's head essentially on his chest as Sam sat in the corner of the seat and the door.
"You look like hell, Sam," Bobby said. Sam's left eye was purple and swollen nearly shut, his lip puffy with blood drying on the cut. His hair had finally started to dry and Bobby knew he probably hated the way it curled against his forehead.
"Yeah, well, you try being on the business end of his fists," Sam muttered.
"He didn't make out much better," Bobby commented.
"Well, at least this time he hit back," Sam sighed.
Bobby looked back in the mirror. "You weren't the one hitting him then, Sam. It was—"
"A demon, yeah, I know." Sam shifted his eyes away from the mirror. "But Dean saw my face. Heard my voice."
"He knew, Sam. He knew it wasn't you."
Sam sighed. Bobby heard something shift in the backseat and looked in the mirror again. Dean had rolled his head so that he was less on Sam, more on the seat. His face was pulled into a frown.
"He's shivering again, Bobby."
"It's the heather," Bobby said, watching the wet road. "He probably has a fever. He'll be okay once we get him back to my place."
"Why didn't you stop him?"
Bobby looked up at Sam in the mirror, confused. "Huh?"
"When he went to the crossroads." Sam's eyes were John's in their intensity as they stared back at him. "Why didn't you stop him?"
"I wasn't there, Sam."
"You left him?"
"He made me." Bobby took off his hat, scratched his rain-matted hair, then put the hat back on. He wanted to pull the car over, leave, stop talking, climb out of his skin. But he'd watched these boys beat each other bloody and Sam still needed answers. He looked at Dean's closed eyes in the mirror. Dammit, kid…
"Sam," Bobby started, his voice low. "There are people in this world who exist simply because someone else is alive. They don't see themselves. They don't… they don't see what they give as being anything of value."
Sam was silent, listening, his eyes never leaving the mirror.
"When I found out what your brother did." Bobby shook his head. "I was… I was sick. I was sick in my heart."
You made a deal, for Sam, didn't you…What is it with you Winchesters, huh… you, your Dad, you're both just itchin' to throw yourselves down the pit…
"Your brother, he…" Bobby swallowed. "He thought he was doing what he was meant to do. Make sure you were still in this world, Sam."
Dad brought me back, Bobby, I'm not even supposed to be here… At least this way, something good can come out of it, y'know, my life can mean something…
"When I saw you," Bobby looked at Sam's eyes in the mirror, "I admit, I was afraid. But not of you," he was quick to assure as the flash of fear crossed Sam's eyes. "I was afraid for Dean."
And it didn't before… Have you got that low an opinion of yourself… are you that screwed in the head?
"He shouldn't have done it," Sam whispered, looking down.
I couldn't let him die, Bobby… I couldn't… he's my brother…
"That's just it, Sam," Bobby said. "He couldn't do anything else. He's one of those people I was talking about. Dean… well, without you…"
"Yeah," Sam whispered.
Bobby saw Dean shift again, this time blinking his eyes open. He turned his head, realizing that he was slumped against Sam, and slowly pushed himself up, pulling the blanket down as he did.
"Where are we?" he mumbled.
"'Bout twenty miles from Bobby's," Sam answered. "We were just about to stop for gas."
Dean nodded, a vague, sleepy expression on his pain-lined face. He looked over at Sam. "What are you doin' back here?"
Sam lifted a shoulder. "Felt like livin' in style, y'know, our own personal chauffeur."
Dean pulled the corner of his mouth up in a slight grin. He looked out of the window as Bobby coasted to a gas pump.
"Hey," he said. "It stopped raining."
"Boy, he don't miss a thing." Bobby shook his head at Sam with a slight grin as he climbed out of the car.
Dean counted the yellow dashes separating the lanes on the dark road as they pulled away from the gas station and headed to Bobby's. His heart beat in the cut on his forehead. His face hurt from Sam's angry fists. His chest ached from the deartháir's deadly claws. His muscles burned from shaking so violently.
And he'd never felt better.
He sat in silence next to his brother, watching the night absorb the Impala's headlights, watching the road pass them by, feeling his chest move with each breath, seeing Sam's do the same from the corner of his eyes. His eyes blinked slowly with the pull of fatigue, but he forced them open. He wanted as many minutes of each day that he could get.
"Sam," Bobby said in a rough voice as they stopped in front of his house once more. "You help Dean inside, I'll get the bags."
"I got it," Dean protested. He pushed the door open with a foot, then reached for the door to pull himself out. He managed to get himself on his feet by the time Sam circled the car and stood in front of him. Dean looked up at his brother.
"Dude, you look like crap."
Sam offered him a tired smile. "Been hearing that a lot lately."
Dean took an unsteady step forward and was grateful for Sam's strong arm as they moved from the car into the house. Sam didn't stop until they were in Bobby's back room. There were two beds there, one had the covers thrown back from when Ellen had slept there the night before.
Sam helped Dean ease down on one of the beds. Dean shivered as he pulled his coat off and dropped it in a heap on the floor. His flannel shirt was ruined, as was the T-shirt underneath it.
"Want some help?" Sam offered.
"Nah, I got it." Dean started to unbutton the shirt, shivering again. "It's cold in here."
"I think you have a fever," Sam said, dropping down on the other bed and pulling his shoes off with a groan. "Bobby said it was from the heather. Should be gone by tomorrow."
"Swell." Dean closed his eyes after getting three buttons undone.
He was exhausted. He dropped his hands in his lap and sat for a moment, gathering the strength to undo the rest of the buttons. He jerked when he felt something tugging at the front of his shirt. Opening his eyes he saw Sam's hands, his knuckles swollen and bruised, working on the rest of his buttons.
"Shut up, man." Sam shook his head. "If you don't say anything, then it won't be a chick-flick moment."
Dean smiled, resting his hands on the edge of the bed until Sam was done. He allowed him to remove the shirt and help him pull the T-shirt over his head, letting the barest of groans escape as the movement pulled at his torn skin.
"I'll be right back," Sam said, dropping the ruined shirts on the floor on top of Dean's jacket.
Dean pulled the blankets down from the bed, peeled off his drying jeans, and crawled beneath the covers. He wanted to sleep for a week. And he never wanted to go to sleep again. One year didn't allow for time to sleep, but his body was begging, practically sobbing, for him to just stop. Just rest.
"Hey." Sam's voice startled him. He hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes.
"I need to clean off your chest," Sam said, dropping one of the duffels on the floor by Dean's bed.
"Tomorrow," Dean said, rolling his head away.
"No, now," Sam replied.
Dean felt the cold shock of disinfectant on the cuts and hissed as the pain shocked him awake.
"Sorry," Sam mumbled.
"Sadist," Dean muttered.
He held still as Sam cleaned and bandaged each cut. He stared at a spot on the ceiling while Sam worked, kept his eyes empty, kept his hands fisted, kept his jaw tight.
"Don't think they need stitches," Sam said.
Thank God… He didn't think he could handle that at the moment. One more version of pain and Dean knew he'd crumble. When Sam reached up to clean his head wound, Dean pulled his face away.
"You first," he demanded.
"Dean, just let me..."
"No, Sam, you first."
"God, you're a pain in the ass," Sam mumbled, pushing away from the bed.
"Thought that was your job," Dean pushed out through weary lips as Sam headed to the bathroom.
"You're better at it," Sam's voice trailed behind him.
He was only gone a few minutes, but in that time, Dean felt the quiet of the room, heard it echo in his memory of the abandoned house, of Sam's still, gray face… I screwed up… Sammy… what am I supposed to do…
"Look at me, Dean." Sam's voice was suddenly at his side. He jerked, opening his eyes. "You okay?"
Dean forced himself to pull in a breath. "Yeah."
"I'm okay, Sam," Dean repeated. Just don't go anywhere for a minute…
"Let me get your head now," Sam said, turning his face to show Dean he'd cleaned and bandaged the bruises and cuts on his face. He held his hands up to show that he'd also taken care of his knuckles.
"Sorry about your eye," Dean said.
"Just my eye?"
"Well, the rest you deserved," Dean said, closing his eyes.
"Right." He felt Sam lean over him, and winced slightly at the sting of the antiseptic on the wound in his forehead.
Sam cleaned and bandaged the cut with gentle hands and practiced ease. "This cut needs stitches," Sam said, fixing more butterfly bandages on Dean's forehead.
"No." Dean shook his head.
Sam sighed. "Will you at least take some aspirin?"
Dean shoved up in the bed, reaching out for the meds.
Sam dug through the duffel for a bottle of water, handing it to him.
Dean swallowed the pills and shivered, pulling the blankets up over his bare chest.
Sam stood up, stripping off his rain-soaked clothes, dropping them into a pile. He dug into his duffel, grabbed a pair of sweatpants. He paused, moving to Dean's duffel and grabbed one of Dean's Zeppelin T-shirts. He pulled on the clothes, not looking at his brother.
"That's my shirt," Dean said, dropping his head back.
"I know," Sam said, sitting down on the bed, a piece of paper in his hands.
"What is that?"
"The banishing spell," Sam said, his eyes running over the words. "I got it from Bobby when we left the field." He smiled softly. "Figured we'd add it to Dad's journal."
Dean looked up at the ceiling, shifting so that he lay flat on the bed. He blinked, forcing himself to stay awake.
"So maybe this hunt wasn't such a good idea," he admitted softly.
"Nah." Sam shook his head. "You were right. We do the job."
"We got a lot more job to do now, though," Dean said.
"Yeah, but," Sam looked at him, "it doesn't mean the other stuff goes away."
"I'm not sorry, Sam," Dean rolled his head, leveling his tired eyes on Sam's face.
"I know." Sam met his unflinching gaze. "And I am going to figure out a way to get you out of this."
"We'll figure it out together," Dean said. "I mean, we're stronger as a family, Sam. We just are." Sam looked at him and Dean saw the weight of his sacrifice resting squarely in Sam's heart. I'd do it again. In a heartbeat, Sam. I'd do it again… even if we never figure out a way out of this… I'd do it for you.
"Yeah," Dean mumbled, the painkillers beginning to take the edge of the ache in his body, the heather-borne fever beginning to decrease, the weariness continuing its constant pull at his body.
"This spell is in Gaelic and English," Sam said.
Dean closed his eyes and pulled the corner of his mouth up in a small grin. "Good thing," he said. "Bobby can't speak Gaelic."
"Deartháir – the spirit?"
"It means brother."
Brother. So much meaning carried by one word: friendship, love, loyalty. The deartháir took the youngest brother, the heart of the family. Dean opened his eyes and looked at Sam.
Sam looked back at him, his heart in his eyes.
"I know why you did it, Dean," Sam said.
Dean wanted to look away, but couldn't. Sam's eyes held him.
"I, uh…" Sam pressed his lips together. "I would have done the same thing. You're my brother. And I would die for you. But I won't let you die."
Dean nodded. Then his mouth relaxed into a smile. He wanted to believe Sam. He wanted Sam's words to be the truth. So he would let them. If just for tonight.
"Get some sleep, Sam," he said, closing his eyes. "We got a long year ahead of us."
a/n: In case anyone is curious, the Celtic spirit in this story, the deartháir, is an amalgamation of many different Celtic legends and myths. Unless I totally missed it, it's not real.
Also, Griffin the hunter will be seen again in my upcoming story, "Weapon and the Wound." He keeps his promise. He doesn't forget.