Characters: Dean and Sam
Disclaimer: Not mine, more's the pity.
Summary: Tag to 2.20, What Is and What Should Never Be. This is the first tag I'd written, first one-shot, and also the first story attempted in first person. Lotta firsts, there.
A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it. -- Jean de La Fontaine
Come by and pick me up first. Last thing I said to him. Did he listen? 'Course not. Because he's Dean. And he thinks he's super-human. And he has to be the one facing the fire. He has to be the one… Dammit, he's shaking. And, God, so pale. I haven't seen him like this since Nebraska.
"She's still alive… Sam!"
The tremble in his voice gives away more than he knows. I reach up and with the same knife that Dean had just used to save my life I cut the ropes from around the girl’s wrists. Dean catches her. I don't know how he's even still on his feet, but he catches her. His jaw jumps and I can hear him murmuring to her.
"I got you… we're gonna get you outta here, okay. I got you… I got you…"
He huffs out a quick breath and I see his knees buckle, but he doesn't let her go. He hits the floor, the half-dead girl in his arms, and lifts bruised eyes to me. It's then that I notice he still has a piece of rope around his right wrist. I kneel down next him, and as gently as I can remove the rough binding.
"Help me, Sam," he says.
Something in my chest gives way and I have to swallow. His eyes are full and hollow at the same time. It's a look he's hidden from me for the past several months, but one that I've seen before. One that appears only when Dean is at his limit. God, Dean, what happened to you?
"Let me take her," I whisper.
I don't know who she is to him, but it doesn't matter. Getting her out of here seems to be the only thing that is keeping him from keeling over. Dean is still looking at me, his arms almost compulsively clutch around the girl's pale, bruised body.
"Let me take her, Dean," I repeat, and I’m relieved when he nods his head once.
I have to ease his arms away from her; he seems unable to let her go. I lift the girl's slight weight into my arms and push myself to my feet. I look down at my brother.
"Stay there, man, I'll be right back."
Dean shakes his head. "I got it."
As I watch, he uses the dirty, bloody IV pole that still holds a bag of the girl's blood to pull himself to his feet. Once there, he manages to balance himself and then looks over at me, his jaw tight. He nods once, indicating that I should head out. He doesn't want to be in the Djinn's lair any more than I do.
I lead the way out through the dark, damp halls, flanked by frosted windows on either side. My instincts tell me to hurry; the girl in my arms is barely breathing. But I can hear Dean behind me, hear his halting steps, hear his labored breathing, and I know I have to pace myself, I have to keep him close, keep him with me.
The sight of him hanging in that gray room, his body's weight pulling at his wrists… I close my eyes briefly to banish the visual. I can't think of that right now. There's a job to do, an innocent to save. More than one, I think as I glance back quickly at Dean. He's following me, his head down, watching my heels, too spent to do much else. With the Djinn dead, he's trusting me in this moment. Trusting me to get us out of here.
We step clear of the building and I see the Impala. I head to the back seat and pause a moment when I hear Dean jingle the keys. He unlocks the door and I duck in, laying the unresponsive girl across the black leather. She blinks once when I let her go, but doesn't make a sound. I back out of the car and look at Dean. I half expect to have to fight him for the wheel, but he's… he's just standing there, looking at the door of the car.
"I still had her," he says, his voice barely above a whisper.
"The Impala. I still had her."
He pulls his eyes up from the car to meet mine and the look in them steals my breath. For one brief moment, I can see my brother's heart and it humbles and terrifies me. He blinks and it's gone, and I can't decide if I should take a step back or take a step forward.
"Let's get out of here," I say.
He nods and I open the passenger door. He climbs in and pulls the door from my grasp, shutting it with a decisive creek. Moving quickly, I get behind the wheel, take the keys from Dean, and fire up the car.
"How the hell did you find me, man?"
Pulling away from the ruins, I look over at him quickly. He has dropped his head back against the seat and the motion of the car rocks him sideways. As I watch, he rests his forehead against the window.
Chance… luck… an act of God…"You said that you'd passed a ruins, I knew the area you'd been drivin', so I tagged the GPS in your cell phone."
"How'd you get here?" He doesn't lift his head, and I see him close his eyes.
"I, uh, borrowed a car."
"Where is it?"
"I left it up the road a bit."
"I wiped it down."
He pulls his arms around himself. I can see him working to get a grip, get control. What the hell happened to you, Dean?
"Where's my D-Dad?"
The voice is soft, scared. I look in the rearview mirror and see that the girl has turned her head toward us, but her eyes still see nothing. Dean is twisting around in the seat, reaching back for her. As he does, I catch sight of the angry bruise on the side of his neck and remember the needle… the IV bag full of my brother's blood…
"It's okay, you're okay," Dean is saying in a low, soothing voice to the girl. "We're gonna get you some help, okay?"
"Who is she, Dean?"
Dean shakes his head once, his left arm over the seat, gripping the girl's limp hand.
"I don't know. But I saw her. I saw her there."
"Where? Where did you… where did he take you?"
I hear him pull in a breath and I brace myself. I almost don't want to hear. When I'd found him, his body had been absolutely still, had jerked once, violently, and then had once again gone still. That came close to sending me over the edge. I thought I'd just seen him die until I heard his low moan.
"I, uh," he releases the girl's hand and twists back around. His color is starting to return, but the hand that he lifts to rub at his forehead trembles visibly. "I went home, Sam."
He nods. "Yeah. Home. Back to Lawrence. The Djinn make you believe, man. They make you believe your wish comes true."
"Dean," I say, adjusting my grip on the Impala's steering wheel. "What did you wish?"
Dean drops his head back again, his hands resting on his thighs, pressing down flat in an effort to still their uncontrolled motion. I see the blue hospital road sign up ahead and flick on the right signal. I wait for him to continue.
He's quiet until we pull off the exit and turn toward the hospital.
"I wished that Mom never died."
I knew it. I can map his thinking – all of Dean's pain, all of my pain, all of Dad's pain… it all began in that one moment, that one night. And what if it had never happened? But he pulled himself out… he got out of it…
"My happiness for all those people's lives?" He isn't really talking to me. He is just talking. He's looking away from me out of the side window, his arms wrapped around himself once more. "They all died. All of them. Every one we'd ever saved…"
I open my mouth to ask him what he's talking about when suddenly I see. If mom never died, we would have never become hunters. If we'd never become hunters… would anyone have picked up the mantel? Would someone else have been willing to fight back the darkness? Seeing the hospital ER entrance, I turn the wheel and look over at my brother. He came back to this reality because he couldn't let them die.
Glancing at the myriad of emergency vehicles and police cars, I realize that I will have to park the Impala—
"Park in the shadow of the building," Dean voices my thoughts.
I pull over, climb out and open the back door. As I gather up the girl, I look at Dean. He's staring at the dash of the car with unseeing eyes.
"Come with me," I say, thinking of the wound in his neck, the loss of blood.
He glances over his shoulder at me. "C'mon, Sammy," he says. "You know I can't."
I pull the girl into my arms and step out and away from the car, kicking the door shut with my foot a bit more forcefully than what is probably necessary. Hiding from the law meant going deep this time. Going deep meant nervous glances out of motel windows. It meant changing the plates on the Impala and giving up that one last stronghold we had on our home. It meant that my brother has to deal with my care and not that of a doctor's.
"Hey," I call as I get closer to the automatic doors of the ER. Two medics are standing outside, smoking. They both lift their heads at the sound of my voice. "Hey, I need some help here."
In a simultaneous motion, the medics drop and crush their cigarettes, then approach me, using calculating eyes to determine the condition of the girl in my arms.
"I, uh, found her," I stammer. "In an old warehouse off of the highway. She had a needle in her neck."
"Good Christ," one mutters, checking her eyes, her pulse. The other turns and steps through the automatic doors, calling orders to people invisible to me. I simply want to give her to them and return to Dean. A gurney appears and they take her from my arms.
"You need to come in, kid, fill out some paperwork and stuff," one medic says to me without actually taking his eyes from the battered young form in front of him.
"Yeah, uh," I say. "I just need to, uh…" I back away quickly and am relieved when I am able to disappear into the shadows of the building while they wheel her inside.
I climb back into the car and glance at Dean. He has his arms wrapped around him again in that oddly disturbing gesture of protection and his forehead is resting on the window. I can't tell if he's awake. I start the car and see him jump.
"It's okay, man," I reassure him.
He blinks at me, almost as if he can't tell if I'm real. Maybe he can't…I reach out and clap a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"Let's get back to the motel, okay?"
He nods, and looks back out of the window. The motel is a bit of a distance from the hospital and by the time we stop in the space behind the building, Dean is sleeping. I almost wish I can leave him here in the car. There is a line between his eyebrows that only appears when he's in pain. I don't think he realizes that. Even Dean Winchester has his tells.
"Dean," I say, reaching out to touch his shoulder again.
His reaction is immediate and instinctive. His hand whips up to grab my wrist; his grip is iron. I hold completely still, waiting for consciousness to surface a fraction more, then repeat his name. He blinks his eyes open, looks up, out of the window, then down at his fingers bruising my wrist. Slowly, he releases them, and I resist the urge to rub at the finger marks he's left there.
Without a word, he sits forward and opens the car door. I watch him carefully as he steps out. Come by and get me first, I'd said. If it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna save you… But, from everything, Dean? He moves slowly around the front of the car and when he starts to walk around the building, I get out of the car, close and lock the door.
I follow him into the motel room, turning on the lights behind him. He moves over to the far bed – my bed – and drops down on it heavily. His color looks better, but he seems bone-weary. He picks up a magazine I'd left on the bed earlier that night and begins to idly flip through it. I turn from him and fish my phone out of my pocket, calling information, and then the hospital. I knew he'd need to know that we'd been in time.
It doesn't take me long to get the information I'm after.
"Thank you so much for the update," I reply. "Bye."
I hang up the phone and look at Dean. "That was the hospital. Girl's been stabilized. Good chance she's gonna pull through."
I sit down on the bed, watching him. Waiting. I thought I'd lost you there for a second…
"That's good," he says softly, tossing the magazine aside.
"Yeah…" I take a breath, watching his profile. "How about you? You all right?"
He rests his forearms on his knees, dropping his head for a moment. "Yeah, I’m all right," he says. He shakes his head once in wonder. "You should have seen it, Sam… our lives…" A small smile appears at the corner of his mouth. "You were such a wussy…"
I grin at his tone. His don't be such a girl, Samantha tone. It's the tone he's used throughout our lives to push me to hit one more target, to throw one more knife, to hang on until he could get me to home and help, to pull me through life.
If Mom hadn't died, would I have still gone to Stanford? Would I have still met Jess? If Mom hadn't died, would Dean and I still have been close? Would we have still needed each other like we do now? Would it still be hard for me to tell where he ended and I began?
"So we didn't get along then, huh?" I ask.
He shakes his head sadly. "No…"
"Yeah," I look down. It doesn't seem fair, really, that he would be pulled into that world and not have everything he needed to be happy. "I thought it was supposed to be this perfect fantasy—"
"It wasn't," he interrupts me, his jaw muscle bouncing. "It was just a wish. I wished for Mom to live. Mom never died, we never went hunting, and you and me just never… uh, y'know…"
He still isn't looking at me. The set of his shoulders, the way he holds one hand with the other, the muscle in his jaw… I see Dad in him. I see sadness in him. In an instant I think of what that might have been like. What it might have felt like. There was a time in my life when I was happy having nothing to do with Dean. But from the moment he returned to me, I haven't been able to imagine my life without my brother.
"Well, I'm glad we do."
He lifts his head slowly and turns to look at me. His eyes are tired and sad, yet… yet I see hope tickling the edges.
"And I’m glad you dug yourself out, Dean. Most people wouldn't have had the strength. They would have just… stayed."
But most people aren't my brother. And Dean would crawl out of hell if it meant that he saved someone… if it meant that he saved me.
"Ah, lucky me…" a sad smile flits across his face and he looks down. "I tell you, though, man…" He stands up and crosses the room. I see his weariness in the way he carries his body. "You had Jess, Mom was gonna have grandkids…"
I tighten my jaw, suppressing the instinctive flinch at the thought of being with Jessica again, of having a family with Jessica. He turns and leans on the dresser across the room, his hands tucked into his pockets, his shoulders curled in. I wonder what that must have looked like to Dean – seeing me with Jessica, seeing me happy.
"Yeah, but… it wasn't real," I offer.
He looks down. "I know."
When Dean raises his eyes to meet mine, the longing in them tears at me. I have seen this before, and have ignored it. There is a pleading in my brother's eyes that I don't know what to do with. Dean was silently asking for help.
"But I wanted to stay," he says, his voice shaking slightly. "I wanted to stay so bad. I mean ever since Dad… All I can… All I can think is how much this job has cost us," his lips tremble as if he wants to say something else, but can't bring himself to complete the thought. His eyes slide off to the side, seeing something there that I will never be able to see. Seeing a life lost, a life he never had.
"We've lost so much," he whispers. "We've… sacrificed so much…"
I can't take this. I can't bear to hear this pain in his voice. I'm tired, Sam… I'm tired of this job, this weight on my shoulders, man, I'm tired of it…
"People are alive because of you," I say.
Dean looks down. I know he doesn't believe me. I press forward.
"It's worth it, Dean. It is. It's not… fair, and, y'know, it hurts like hell, but…" What would I do without you… Crash and burn… Jessica smelled like lilies. I wonder if she smelled like lilies in the Djinn's reality. "It's worth it."
Dean lifts his eyes to mine, and all I see is sorrow. Complete and empty at the same time. He shifts his eyes away, staring again at nothing and slowly releasing a breath. The bruise on his neck has grown, and I can see a bit of red from the puncture.
"You want me to take a look at that?" I ask.
He blinks, confused.
"Your neck," I nod at him.
He lifts a hand to his neck as if just remembering the fact that less than an hour ago he'd been the Djinn's food supply. Without waiting for his answer, I stand up, toss my cell phone on the dresser next to him, and grab our first aid kit. If I have anything to say about it, we'll run out of bullets before we run out of first aid supplies.
He flinches away when I press a gauze pad saturated with disinfectant against the seeping puncture wound.
"Don't be such a baby," I say, flicking my eyes to his face. My comment receives the desired response when he lifts an eyebrow and the side of his mouth quirks in a small grin.
"Nice bedside manner," he cracks, but leans his head away, allowing me access to the bruise.
It isn't as bad as others he's had, but I wonder about infection. I take extra care in cleaning out the small hole, then apply some antibiotic cream and a clean bandage. As I press the tape on the bandage down, I notice the skin on the back of his neck is warm. I shift my eyes to Dean, but he's once again staring at that empty space in time.
"What first crack at the shower?" I offer.
He shakes his head. "Too tired, man."
He pushes away from the dresser and from me, pulling the green shirt from his shoulders as he does so. I see the rope burns on his wrists from where he pulled himself free to save me from the Djinn.
"Wishin' is hard work," he says.
I smile, but it's empty. His attempt at brush-off humor is more telling to me than if he were to actually admit how messed up he was about this. As he sits on the bed closest to the motel door to pull off his shoes, a thought occurs to me.
He tips his chin back, acknowledging me, but doesn't reply. I lean back against the dresser, mirroring his earlier position.
"You didn't say anything about Dad."
He goes still. It's as if someone pressed pause on the movie of our life. For a moment I wonder if he's even breathing.
"He was, uh…" he slowly leans forward, and rests his forearms on his knees. "He wasn't there, Sam. He'd died a few years ago."
Somehow, that makes it better and worse at the same time.
Dean pulls in a breath, then straightens up. "Stroke. In his sleep."
I nod, letting out a breath. "Good."
This makes Dean smile. He lowers himself back on the bed, not bothering to pull down the covers.
"That's what I said," he murmurs. "He was buried. I mean, they buried him… tombstone, the works."
He closes his eyes and flops his hand in a lazy circle. I know what he means – no secret funeral pyre, no ashes, no worries about a spirit.
"I went there," his voice is getting softer, his words slightly slurred from exhaustion. I narrow my eyes. Is he shaking?
"To the cemetery you mean?"
"Yeah, I, uh… I talked to him."
I swallow. I wonder how often Dean wishes he could do that now, in this life, in this reality. Just talk to Dad. Who did Dean really talk to, anyway? Me?
"Knew what he'd say before I went there, though," Dean murmurs.
"You knew what… what he'd say?" I ask. I pull my eyebrows together, studying his face. His eyes are closed, his face turned away from the circa 1972 lights that are hanging in front of the motel door.
"Knew I had to hunt the Djinn, Sammy…"
Oh. He is right… that's what Dad would have said. I close my eyes and rub a hand over my face. When had this happened to us? When had we become the shield that stood between an ignorant populace and the forces of darkness? Why did my brother not deserve a chance at happiness? Who decided that I was something special, a pawn in the universal chess game of good versus evil?
"Stop thinkin' so loud, Sam," Dean says, quite clearly this time, and I open my eyes. He is looking at me, his mouth pulled down into a frown. His eyes are shadowed; I am unable to see anything there but concern for me.
"You should have come by to get me first," I say.
He shakes his head.
"We could have taken that Djinn together, Dean. You don't always have to do this stuff alone."
He closes his eyes, choosing sleep over arguing with me. I sigh, moving over to the bed. I reach over Dean and grab the far side of the quilt, then pull it up and over him. Silently, he turns on his side and I see his hand snake under his pillow. His eyes open immediately when he does not feel the reassuring grip of his knife.
I turn, see it, hold it up, the blade glinting in the yellowish light, then hand it to him. He takes it and slides it under his pillow, flicking his eyes up to me, and I see gratitude an instant before he closes them again. I sit on the opposite bed, resting my chin in my hands, and watch him. I wonder how many times in my life he has done the same thing for me. How often does Dean watch me sleep, watch to make sure I do sleep, watch to make sure nothing comes in the dark to take me away, watch to make sure I don't leave?
I ignore the passing of time. I ignore a nagging thirst building in the back of my throat. I ignore the call of my own pillow. I watch. I wait. I don't know what I wait for, but something inside – in the place that Dean taught me to listen to – repeats a mantra: watch him. Watch him, wait for it.
As I listen to the mantra, I think of what little Dean had revealed of the Djinn's reality. He'd seen Jess. I had been with her, even then. The Djinn had granted Dean's wish – Mom hadn't died. And everything about that world, the Djinn had dug from Dean's subconscious. The creature created a believable reality where Mom was safe, and I was happy. And to Dean, my happiness meant returning me to Jessica.
I wonder, now, how I define my happiness. Not turning evil one day currently ranks pretty high on the list. Not burdening my brother with my salvation. I lean back against the headboard of my bed. Dean stirs slightly at this movement, but doesn't wake. What about you, Dean? Dad had been dead there, too. And he hadn't mentioned much about his life. Only Mom and me. Does he truly not see the possibility for his own happiness?
Dean mutters something unintelligible, and I look over at him. There is a fine sheen of sweat on his face and his eyebrows are pulled together in a grimace. I look at the digital clock. 3:00am. I've been sitting here for nearly three hours.
I lean over the distance between our two beds and touch his cheek with the backs of my fingers. His face is hot to the touch, but the sweat is a good sign. Still, I need to move. We'd dealt with our share of infections over the years and I know that time is our greatest ally and fiercest enemy. And I have no real way of knowing how long the Djinn had been draining Dean – how much blood he's lost. I have to assume that it had been from the moment I lost him…
"Dean," I say, leaning over him, and tapping his cheek lightly. "Dean, hey."
He swallows and turns his face away. I see his lips move rapidly as if he's tearing into someone, but no sound emerges.
His head turns back toward me, his brows pulled together in a fierce frown. His lips are moving silently and I see his chest heaving a bit from the effort to breathe. I lay my hand on his shoulder and feel the tremors shift through his body. I need to get him cooled down…
I duck into the bathroom and fill the sink with cool water, wetting two cloths. I bring them and one dry towel out to the room with me, snagging a water bottle and some Tylenol on my way to Dean's bed.
I toss off the quilt so that he lies on the bed in his jeans and black T-shirt. He is turned slightly onto his side, away from the lights, his left arm under the pillow, his right twisted behind his back. I shake my head as I sit on the edge of the bed. Dean is never still, even in sleep. And he ends up in the strangest positions. Jess used to tease me about literally sleeping like the dead. I often wake in the exact same position I am in when I go to sleep.
I sit the wet towels on top of the dry one on the nightstand, and try to rouse Dean again. His murmurs increase, but don't make sense. They are a jumble of words and thoughts from a brain too full of history, and too weary from recent events to separate. I touch his face again and cannot tell if he's hotter or not. I silently wish for a thermometer, or antibiotics. We normally have both in the first aid kit, but the antibiotics ran out while Dean’s shoulder was healing, and I have no idea when we lost the thermometer.
"Maybe it's a good thing you won't wake up, dude," I say as I pick up one of the cool, wet rags. "Talk about the ultimate chick flick moment."
I lay a cloth over his forehead, then take the other and begin to wipe the sweat from his cheeks and neck, carefully avoiding the white bandage. He twists away from me, a soft groan of misery escaping his lips. A stab of worry cuts through me. I can deal with fever dreams… I can deal with Dean being grouchy from pain… this… this helpless, quiet misery rolling off of him is more than I can handle.
"Dean, you need to wake up, okay?" I need you to wake up.
I remove the cloth from his forehead. It has already absorbed the heat from his skin and left no cooling residue in its wake. I grasp his shoulders and pull him up off of the pillow toward me. His head drops limply back.
"Dammit, Dean," I mutter. "Freakin' human superhero." I lay him back gently, and his mouth starts its rapid movement of silent wrath.
Not seeing another way around the situation, I take three Tylenol out and crush them on a piece of motel stationary with the butt of my gun. I sift the powdered medicine into a shallow glass and add water until the mixture is cloudy. It's diluted, but it's something. I lift him up and twist myself until I am sitting behind him, my back against the headboard, his back against my chest. I use my shoulder to prop his head up, then hold the glass to his mouth.
"Listen to me," I say, my voice close to his ear. His face is hot against my neck. "You need to swallow this, okay? Dean. Dean!"
I bark his name harshly and he jumps slightly. I am relieved.
"Dean, drink this, okay?"
He obeys, but I can feel that he's not aware. He is pliant, relaxed against me. I put the glass on the nightstand, and then I sit back, one arm holding him in place, the other bracing me on the bed. I know my added body heat isn't helping him, but I can't bring myself to move. Winchesters just don't do close.
After all Dean and I have been through since Jessica died… the only times I can remember being close to him like this are when one of us has been injured. He doesn't hesitate to touch me when I've survived strangulation by a possessed lamp cord, or when my eyes bleed from the secret guilt of responsibility for Jessica's death, or when a vision guts me and leaves me shaking and numb, or when he's just stopped someone from beating the shit out of me… or when I've just beat the shit out of someone else.
But Dad never taught us how to show affection to each other. I suppose you can't teach what you don't know.
"In the closet…"
Dean's words begin to become clearer, but they still don’t make sense. I slide out from behind him and lower him back down on the pillow. I turn his head and gently pull the tape back from the bandage, checking the wound. It's bright red around the puncture hole, but there isn't any pus. I apply more ointment and wince in sympathy when Dean grimaces at my touch. I press the bandage back in place.
He is still so hot. Knowing that even in his current condition he would still effectively knock my head from my shoulders if he woke up right now, I carefully remove his jeans, leaving him lying on top of the quilt in his boxers and black T-shirt. With the grace of David Copperfield, I am able to pull the covers from under him so that he's now lying on the sheets.
I tilt my head and look at him. He is frowning, his face tilted to me.
"No monsters, Dean?"
"Not gonna get you…"
"Not gonna get who, Dean?"
"Won't let them get you, Sammy."
Me. Of course. I check the clock. 3:45am. I sit on the opposite bed and weigh my options. If his fever breaks by dawn, I can give him more Tylenol and we ought to be okay. If it doesn't, law or no law, I am going to have to do something.
A yawn overtakes me and I shake my head, blinking and rubbing my eyes. I can't sleep… if I sleep… who will watch out for Dean? My eyes grow heavy. Someone needs to protect the protector once in awhile. I feel myself sink slightly in the bed. Maybe if I rest my eyes for just a moment, maybe they won't feel so…
The hand over my mouth is like a firebrand. My eyes open instantly, and in my line of sight is my brother, shirtless, crouched over me in nothing but his boxers, his knife gripped in his opposite hand, pointing down, toward the bed. He's looking over his shoulder, but he keeps a firm hand over my mouth. I try to say his name, but his fingers tighten across my lips and he looks at me.
His pupils are wide; there is barely any green around the edges. He looks back to the empty room, and I see the arm holding the knife begin to shake. I slowly lift my hand to his arm, wincing slightly at the heat I feel there. He feels my finger wrap around his wrist and looks back at me.
"Don't," he says again.
His eyes are on mine and I realize he is waiting for something. I shake my head helplessly and he lifts his fingers away. As he does, I catch sight of the puckered scar on his shoulder. My heart hitches at that. At the non-memory of doing that to him.
"Dean," I whisper.
"Don't," he says a third time. He shakes his head once at me, his eyes narrowed, fierce. "Gotta get to him this time."
"Get to who?" I whisper, my eyes darting down to the knife in his trembling hand. The point is poking through the quilt and into the mattress beneath me.
"Dad," Dean looks back over his shoulder, and I take advantage of his awkward position to push myself forward and topple him.
His fingers release the knife and he slides from the bed to land on the floor with a thump. Even from the floor, he continues to look into the far corner of the room. I skip my eyes over to the darkened corner, my heart hammering, almost wondering if I'll see Dad standing there. Dean's eyes are intense as he stares into the darkness. I pull the knife from the mattress and lay it on the nightstand. I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and look down at my brother.
Dammit, he's shaking. He's shaking again, and has gone pale. His bandage is clean, no bleeding, but something…
"He wasn't there," Dean whispers, his eyes open wide, staring at the dark corner.
"Dad wasn't?" I ask, sliding off the bed to sit opposite him on the floor. What happened to you, Dean? I know now the reality the Djinn caused him to see. I know how badly he wanted to believe it was real. I know that he dug himself out. I just don't know how. And I don't think I'll ever know what it cost him.
Dean simply stares into the dark corner. He isn't blinking and watching him makes my own eyes water.
"I didn't get there in time," he says.
He is confusing me, but that's the thing about dreams. They aren't always supposed to make sense. Unless they are of your girlfriend pinned to the ceiling above your bed… The only thing that is clear to me is the pain in my brother's voice.
"Sam had to come get me…" he whispers. I blink at him. "I should have known. I should have known," he finally blinks. He holds his hands up, his palms to him, and then slowly curls his fingers into fists. "I should have known."
Sam had to come get me…I press my lips together, knowing that my telling him Dad's death wasn't his fault would fall on deaf ears. He doesn't hear me when he's awake, much less in a fever dream. I see the tremble increase and lean toward him, thinking to help him back onto the bed.
"I made the wrong wish," he whispers. I stop, my hand hovering above his scarred left shoulder. "But it wouldn't have mattered." He looks at me then, and I realize that he's coming out of it. He can see me. "Would it?"
I shake my head. "No, Dean. It wouldn't have mattered. It wasn't real."
He closes his eyes and his head falls back against the bed behind him. I drop my hand to his shoulder, the heat from his skin seeping up through my palm. I cast a quick glance at the clock. 5:00am. He's still too hot. I tell myself that I'll give it one more hour. Going to a hospital… it is so risky. But losing Dean to a fever because I was afraid we would get caught…
"I lose," he whispers, and I look at his face. It's pulled together in a grimace of pain – but it's a pain emanating from a place inside of him that he would never let me see in the coherent light of day.
I pull him toward me, gripping his shoulders in my hands. His head bobs limply on his neck and he doesn't open his eyes.
"You don't lose, Dean."
"Yeah, I do," he says, his lips barely moving.
"You came back," I argue. "You saved those people."
"I lose Dad… I lose Sammy…"
His voice is getting fainter, his body lax in my hands. But I can't let him go, not with that thought on his lips.
"You don't lose me, Dean. You're going to save me." You have to… I need you to save me…
He opens his eyes then, looking directly at me, knowing me. For one, brief, fever-bright moment, the mask he wears even around me is made transparent and he says, "What if I can't?"
Sammy, when Dad said I might have to kill you, it was only if I couldn’t save you… and, now, if it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna save you…
I believed those words. I believe him. I believe in him. I believe in him more than he believes in himself right now.
"You will, Dean."
His eyes roll up, his lids flutter closed and he goes completely limp in my grasp. I quickly adjust my grip, pulling him sideways and to me, his head rolling against my shoulder. There are purple shadows under his eyes that have been present since I found him strung up in that warehouse. I shift to a crouch and pull his arms up over my left shoulder, moving him so that I can get a grip on his legs.
His body is a weapon, and is heavy. I stagger slightly as I stand and try to lay, rather than drop, him back on the bed. I see his black T-shirt balled up beside the pillow. He must have struggled out of it when I'd been… resting my eyes. I pick it up and toss it on the floor on top of his jeans. He stirs restlessly on the bed, and I retrieve the wet cloths – no longer cool – and take them into the bathroom to soak them in cool water again.
I return to the room to see Dean sitting up in bed, eyes glassy, staring into the dark corner once more. A strange chill crawls from the base of my spine to my hair. His eyes look so empty…
He doesn't blink. I step closer and can see him shaking. A teardrop of sweat runs down the side of his face. I am relieved at this sight; maybe his fever is breaking. I set the towels down on the nightstand and step close to him.
"Dean, lie back down."
He doesn't move. I can feel a fear grow from the chill in my spine and crawl into my heart. I reach toward him, gently touch his shoulder, and I am surprised when his hand flashes up to grab my wrist once again, just as he'd done in the car. He looks at me, and all of the breath leaves my body.
"I’m supposed to lose, Sam."
I can see that he's present now, he's with me, but yet… yet he's not. His skin is hot, and he is trembling under my hand. But his eyes…
"I won't win."
I want to sit down. My body suddenly feels too heavy for my legs. Inexplicably, a line from Metallica’s No Leaf Clover jars loose in my head:
"Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel is just a freight train coming your way..."
"Sure you will, Dean."
He shakes his head, shivering again. I try to push him back against the bed, but he resists. I push again and this time he allows it, falling back against the pillow as if his spine vanished. His eyes close as if they weigh 100 pounds and he turns his head to the right, wincing slightly. I pull the sheet up. I look at the clock. 5:35 am. I should give him more Tylenol.
"You with me?"
"Yeah, Sam." His voice sounds old. Weary.
"You need more Tylenol," I say. "We have to bring your fever down, or—"
"We're not going to a hospital," he interrupts me. His face is still turned away.
My jaw automatically tightens. "Dean, we can always—"
"No," he says, turning to face me. "Give them to me."
I hand him three more pills, and the water. Propping himself up on his elbow he swallows them, then lies back, shivering.
"Freakin' genie," he mutters.
I sit on the opposite bed and watch as he pulls the quilt around him and curls up on his side, facing me. He blinks once, then I see his eyes drift to the dark corner of the room.
"What did you mean?" I swallow, and cast a glance to the dark corner. "What did you mean… you won't win?"
He closes his eyes and shivers again. I see him clench his jaw to keep his teeth from audibly chattering. "Nothing, Sam."
"No, man, tell me."
He pulls closer in to himself, ducking his head. I resist the urge to touch his forehead, to check his fever. Dean is like a caged animal when sick or hurt: he will lash out before he realizes you are trying to help him – except when he's too far gone. He is coherent enough now that I know I am better off letting him burrow into the quilts and waiting him out.
"Dad's gone. We're in this alone. And when I save you, I lose you."
"You want normal, Sam," he says, his voice further muffled by his weariness. "You deserve normal. You desrve to have what I saw… I know it can't be Jess… but you can have that. I want you to have that."
I look down at my hands. I pull at the thin leather strap at my wrist. I think. I weigh my words. And then lift my head to look at him and I blurt out the first thought that comes to mind.
"What about what I want?"
This surprises us both. I see the short hairs on the side of his head fan as he slides his head across the pillow so that he can meet my eyes.
"What if I don't want normal, Dean? What if I want this?"
His eyes are glassy, bright with fever, and he narrows them at me, confused.
"What if…" I swallow, looking down. "What if this is just how it's supposed to be?"
"If you say that you're supposed to go evil, I swear to God—"
I shake my head, looking at him. His shivering increases before my eyes, and I stand, pulling the quilt from my bed and laying it over him.
"No, man," I say, my hand lingering on his shoulder, feeling the trembling of his muscles as they struggle against the fire invading his body. "I mean, what if we are meant to do this job – what if Mom had to die, we had to live like soldiers, Dad had to… to do what he did."
Dean closes his eyes, but I can tell he's listening to me.
"Bobby said that there was a storm comin', man," I remind him. "He said more and more demons are walking around. What if this is our… y'know, fate?"
Dean opens his eyes to mere slits, but I can see him thinking. He presses his lips out, and I watch as he blinks.
"Someone has to stand up for the people who can't stand up for themselves, Dean."
"So," he says, his voice slightly raspy, "that's us, huh? That what you figure?"
"Maybe," I nod, sitting on the bed. His cheeks are flushed, and there are tiny beads of sweat on his forehead. His shivering is shaking the bed beneath him. Tylenol against a Djinn-induced fever is like spitting on an inferno and expecting it to douse the flames.
"I need to get you some help, Dean."
He shakes his head. "Be fine."
"No," I stand. "You won't."
I look at the clock. 6:15am. Hopefully it is late enough. I grab my jacket from the back of the chair and pull it on.
"Where'r you goin'?" He shifts slightly in the bed so that he can see me. My eyes search his neck for any signs of bleeding on the bandage. It's still white.
"Stay there, okay? Don't try to get up. Just lay there. I will be back before seven."
"You aren't the only one who can hustle, man."
I leave him quickly, his hollow eyes, too large for his face sometimes, boring holes into my back. It doesn't take me long to get what I am after – a worn, frayed prescription pad from a hospital in Missouri buried in the depths of the glove box. Dean had snaked it when we were leaving the hospital after I'd been thrown into one wall too many and he'd been worried. Using my best physician’s scribble, I write out an order for Cipro. I know from experience this is one of the strongest antibiotics out there, and Dean isn't allergic to it.
As I drive the ten minutes to the drugstore, the ramifications of what I am about to do run through my head like memorized text from one of my law books. I knew long before Dad died that I could never return to the life I'd started with Jess in Palo Alto. But it took losing Dad… it took seeing how that loss has devastated my brother, even now, to force me to admit it to myself. I walk into the pharmacy knowing that this is just one more mark against me, and I don't care.
I return to the motel by 6:50am. I practically sprint up to the door, silently praying that Dean is where I left him, huddled, shivering in the bed. I know it's foolish to think that he would listen to me, but I still allow myself a brief fling with hope. I open the door and stare blankly at his empty bed.
I hear him before I see him. His breath shakes as he exhales. I turn toward the sound and see him sitting, clad in only his boxers, in the same dark corner of the motel room that he's been staring at all night. I swallow and close the door softly behind me.
"Hey," I start, approaching him cautiously.
I can't tell if he's here, if he's with me. As I get closer, I can see he's holding something in his hands. It's his knife. Without thinking, I dart my eyes to the empty surface of the nightstand where I'd set the knife earlier. The fingers of Dean's right hand are running up and down the hilt, the silver ring that he is never without catching briefly on the finger rests, then skipping over them in a rhythm of memory.
"I wanted to stay, Sam."
I crouch in front of him. His knees are pulled up, forcing his body back into the corner far enough that I can't clearly see his face.
"But… if I had…"
"You would have died," I conclude for him. "The Djinn would have drained you."
I feel my heart stutter at this thought. At the thought that I had almost been too late. I thought I lost you there for a second… You almost did…
"If I had," he repeats, "he'd get you."
"The Demon, you mean."
I see him nod, but still can't see his face.
"Can't let that h-happen," he says and I see him shake hard as the chills shoot through him.
"C'mon, Dean," I say, reaching for him. "Give me the knife."
"You asked me," he starts, his breath coming in quickened pants as he visibly works to quiet his shivers. "You asked me why it was our job to save everyone… you asked me if we'd done enough."
I see him nod. I look closer, wishing I could see his eyes.
"I knew then," he says softly. "I knew I couldn't stay. I knew I had to use the knife."
"Use the knife?" I ask, almost afraid of his answer. Is that how he'd gotten out? He'd… he'd had to…
"Die in your dreams, you wake up, right?" he asks.
"You would never give up, Sammy… not when… not when we don't know…"
I can't take watching him shiver, watching the tremble of his hands. I close my fingers over his and gently pull the knife away. He allows it, but doesn't move.
"You wouldn't give up either, Dean."
"I wanted to, Sam," he whispers.
"But you didn't," I say, pulling him toward me, pulling us both to our feet.
Dean sways, and I hold him tighter. I need to get him back to the bed, get this medicine in him, get the Djinn's fever out of him, get my brother back. I need his bravado, his humor… I need to hide behind his walls because I don't know how to build my own.
"You're the reason," he says, allowing me to lead him back to the bed. I sit him down on the edge and hand him the pills and some water. I watch him closely as he obediently swallows the medicine, then lies down weakly on the white pillow. I pull the covers up to his shoulders.
"I'm the reason for what?" I ask because he is still looking at me with those too-big eyes.
"The reason I came back."
I shake my head. "No, Dean," I argue. "You came back because it wasn't real. You came back because you had to save those people."
He closes his eyes and I can see the shivers begin to abate as he burrows further under the covers. "If I didn't have you around," he says, his words beginning to slur with exhaustion. "All m'life… if I didn't have you around… I wouldn't have cared about saving those people."
I sit down on the opposite bed, staring at him. His jaw trembles slightly as the chills work their way out of his body. I wait. I watch. After a bit, his shaking eases up, and I see him begin to breathe easier. I watch my brother. I think about his strength, about the strength it took to do what he did, the strength it took to come back to this life, this pain, this reality. Come back to me.
It's his strength that is going to get us through the coming storm. Not my abilities, not my logic, not even my knowledge. It's Dean's strength, his will, the force of his light standing between me and the darkness that beckons me, that grabs at me with greedy fingers, that tempts me with easy power and taunts me with ideas of the truth.
I watch as the morning light brightens into day, then passes into the afternoon. I watch while Dean sleeps, restless at first, heavy with memories, anxious with dreams. I watch as his sleep shifts to true oblivion. I watch as the fever leaves him, as peace smoothes the lines from his face and he looks almost young for a moment. I watch as, hours later, he opens his eyes, blinking at me.
He reaches up and rubs at the still-white bandage.
"Yeah, Dean," I say softly.
"Time is it?"
"In the morning?"
He blinks again. "What day is it?"
"It's Sunday. You've been out of it for about twelve hours now." And you scared me to death, by the way…
I smile at his bleary eyes. "Yeah, man, I'm okay." I’m okay as long as you're here… I’m okay as long as you've got my back… I'm okay as long as you're okay…
"Freakin' genie," he grumbles and pushes himself to a sitting position.
Before he can dodge me, I hand him more antibiotics and water. He takes them, then looks up at me. The familiar shields are back in place. I can no longer see inside of him. I see only what he wants me to see.
"Next time we fight a Djinn, I'm coming by and pickin' your ass up first," he says, lifting an eyebrow.
I shake my head, feeling my lips turn up in a slight grin. "Now, why didn't I think of that?"
In the power struggle between fate and destiny, we are simply pawns, collateral, marketable materials traded and sold, soldiers used up in battles that no one can win. But once in awhile, someone will stand up, grab the reigns of fate, and ride it into submission. I lie back on my bed, weary from my vigil, as Dean stands on shaky legs to head to the bathroom.
In between what life is, and what we wish life could be is where we find our purpose. If Dean could turn his back on a chance at having the only thing that he'd ever wanted – a family – then I can stand up to the Demon's plans. Not in front of my brother – he'd never allow that. And not behind him – although he will try to step in front of me. But next to him. I will stand beside him and we will face this storm together.