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First fic i wrote, and every time i read it it still seems like someone else did! (i think that's a good thing...)

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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

 

Sam woke up from his light doze as the Impala started bouncing across rough ground. Blearily peering out the window, he was shocked out of the remains of sleep when he saw a large earth bank heading straight for them. "DEAN!"

 

            "Wha'...Holy...!" The engine screamed in protest as the older of the brothers instinctively spun the wheel and gunned the accelerator, trying to accelerate through a skid before it started, knowing that braking would just send them skidding across the muddy ground with no control at all. Sam screwed up his eyes as the bank came closer towards them, bracing himself with both hands and his one good leg for the impact... The bank slid serenely past them with inches to spare as the big classic car careened back towards the road. Finally, the tyres bumped over the edge of the field and back onto smooth asphalt again, and Dean brought the Impala to a gentle halt.

 

            They both sat there for a moment, Sam clutching the dash, Dean's knuckles showing white underneath the livid bruises from their last hunt. Both brothers knew that if they tried to move their hands it would reveal their shaking, and neither was willing to appear scared in front of the other. For a long time the car made the only noise, engine growling smoothly in the night, then Sam spoke.

 

"Christ, Dean. We gotta find somewhere to stop."

 

"Next town's about twenty miles, looks big enough to have a motel." Both brothers tried to keep their voices light, but there was no mistaking the utter exhaustion in the older hunter's tone. Sam tried to keep any hint of anger or recrimination out of his next words, "Dean, we won't make it twenty miles. Since when do you ever fall asleep at the wheel?"

 

He gazed steadily at his brother, hoping Dean would see sense. He could be incredibly stubborn at times, but their last hunt had gone horribly wrong, and with Sam injured and unable to drive, it had been Dean who had taken them away from Jerome, Illinois. They had driven through the day with only the briefest of stops to fill the gas tank or to down a quick cup of caffeine. When night fell, Sam expected his brother to stop in one of the towns they passed and head for some seedy bar to get blind drunk. Instead, Dean had kept driving, until they had arrived at the side of the road next to the earth bank that had nearly just killed them.

 

When Dean just sat there saying nothing, Sam wondered if he'd pushed too far. His brother had been on edge recently, even before the disastrous hunt, too quick to anger, and what little humour he'd been able to dredge up had had a brittle and nasty edge to it. He was about to speak again, just to get an answer from his sibling, when Dean let out a shuddering sigh and nodded.

 

"Dean..."

 

Without looking at him, Dean shoved the car into gear and pulled a swift U-turn.

 

"There was that old farmhouse a couple of miles back."

 

Mute, Sam nodded, feeling his heart ache at the sight of moonlight reflecting from the single tear slipping down his brother's cheek.

 

      

Sam sat in the comfortable armchair beside a blazing fire, and felt miserable. He had watched as his brother hauled their bags in from the car, his own injuries making him all but useless and seeing Dean wincing when he thought Sam wouldn't notice.

 

They had barely spoken while Sam built the fire, and Dean placed their usual wards and protections in place around the old farmhouse. Once he'd finished, Dean had come to stand by the fire, chilled as much by the draining events of the last couple of days as by the wintry air. The warm firelight looked wrong on his pale, haggard face, highlighting the scratches and bruises, and the deep shadows under his eyes.

 

After a few minutes, Sam had suggested that he should get some sleep, but Dean had simply replied in a hoarse voice, "Not yet. Too many..." he had trailed off into a whisper, but Sam knew what his brother had left unspoken, ‘Too many memories, coming back as dreams.' He had sighed when his brother had pulled a whiskey bottle out of their bag, but said nothing as he sat there, staring into the fire and drinking.

 

Finally Dean had let Sam help him to a bed, the younger, taller man all but carrying the other. Sam had pulled off his brothers scarred boots while Dean lay there staring up at the ceiling, unmoving even when Sam covered him with the thick quilt. It was only when Sam was walking back through the door that his brother spoke in a low, hesitant voice.

 

"Leave the door, Sammy?" He nodded, knowing that really Dean meant, ‘stay in sight'.

 

He thought his knees would buckle when his brother whispered, "We lost them, Sam. I lost them."

 

 

Now he sat there, watching his brother through the open door as Dean slept. Several times in the long hours since Sam had retreated to the fire with tears streaming down his face at his brother's broken words, he had rushed back into the bedroom when Dean had started yelling and thrashing around. Gripped in nightmares, he was so exhausted that he still hadn't woken up, and it had taken Sam many minutes to calm his brother back down into a deep sleep, sitting uncomfortably on the side of the bed and holding the battered body as tightly as he dared.

 

He knew Dean would hate knowing that he had needed such comforting, and hoped that he had drunk enough to be unable to remember asking Sam to leave the door open. One thing was certain; neither would ever speak of it.

 

He wasn't used to being the comforter. Always, as long as he could remember, it had been Dean who was there to tell him that it was okay. Whatever had happened, Dean was always the one who had supported him. Now Dean was the one who was broken and needing Sam to be strong, and Sam didn't know if he knew how to.

 

Unable to stop it, his mind drifted back to the small diner in Jerome. He had watched as his brother eyed the scarily young waitress across the room and sipped at his own coffee. Finally growing impatient, he'd snapped his fingers in front of Dean's face, and then had to try hard not to smirk as the older man nearly jumped out of his skin.

 

He'd told Dean about the kids that had been going missing, and watched as those green eyes flashed with a burning, icy fury. He could almost feel sorry for whatever this thing was, but he remembered the pictures from the police reports too vividly for that.

 

They'd headed into the small town that the kids had all come from, and noticed that here; at least, the play area was in full use, even if there were way more moms and dads there than normal for a small town, with a police cruiser swinging by every few minutes.

 

Quickly, trying not to seem suspicious, they had asked around at the hospital, hoping for any sort of a lead on what this thing might be. When the doctors couldn't tell then anything useful, Sam had suggested that they try the local newspaper. The journalist covering the stories had given them a place where, Sam hoped, they might be able to find something.

 

            As they waited at the orchard that night, Sam couldn't help but drift off to sleep, hearing Dean humming quietly when he thought his little brother couldn't hear, the way he often did when he was nervous. Sam recognised the song, and hoped it wouldn't prove to be too apt. "Trembling, crawling across my skin, feeling your cold, dead eyes, stealing the life of mine. I believe in you, I can show you that I can see right through all your empty lies. I won't last long, in this world so wrong. Say goodbye, as we dance with the devil tonight, don't you dare look at him in the eye,"

 

         He'd been woken up suddenly to find himself sailing through the air, and didn't figure out what was going on until he'd landed with a heavy thud and felt half the wall they'd been waiting beside land across his legs.

 

          Pinned, he could only watch as Dean fought the thing, wincing in sympathy as it slowly tore the young hunter to shreds, but knowing that there was no way, good as he knew himself to be, he could even come close to matching the fight Dean put up.    

 

         Finally, the creature threw Dean to one side, and ran off into the night howling. Still trapped, Sam could only watch as his brother dragged himself closer. When he gasped out, "Sammy?" his voice was slurred and filled with pain.

 

"Wha' was that thing?"

 

"Hoping you'd know..." Sam hated to admit that he had no idea what the creature was, but before he could say more Dean had crumpled to the ground, whispering something he could barely make out.

"...goodbye..." 

 

Bright afternoon sunlight woke Sam, slanting straight into his face through the cracked and dusty windows. Squinting, he struggled up out of the armchair; rotating his stiff neck and hearing joints crackle in his shoulders and spine as he stretched. His gaze quickly went to the open bedroom door; Dean still slept peacefully, and Sam offered a quick prayer that his brother could stay in blissful oblivion for a while longer.

 

He turned to the fire again, wanting to try and keep the old farmhouse warm, but couldn't contain a hiss of pain as he knelt, the heavy bandaging on his leg pulling tight at the strain.

 

With the fire once again blazing away he checked on Dean again. Leaning against the doorframe Sam could see that the dark shadows under his brother's eyes were not quite as deep as they had been the night before, but when Dean stirred and slowly opened his eyes, he could see the instant that the sandy-haired man remembered what had happened.

 

The walls behind those green eyes shook for a moment, and then steadied as they took in Sam watching.

 

"I'll get some coffee going."

 

Dean nodded, then groaned slightly as the movement woke up his hangover. He saw a faint smile twist Sam's lips as his brother turned away. Thinking of coffee led to thinking of breakfast, and Dean's stomach revolted at the thought. Bolting up from the bed he stumbled out of the bedroom, suddenly realising he didn't even know where the bathroom was in this place. Sam was there, pointing down the hallway to an open door, so Dean staggered in that direction, just making it to the toilet in time.

 

From the kitchen Sam could hear his brother retching and spitting and he winced. Adding an extra scoop of coffee into Dean's mug, he rummaged in their bag for the bread he'd brought at one of their few stops yesterday, knowing what would be coming soon, one way or another.

 

Carrying the two steaming mugs, a few slices of bread and a long handled fork back into the front room, he set the stronger black coffee on the mantelpiece above the fire, then arranged the first slice of bread on the fork, and held it out to toast over the flames. By the time Dean came in, he'd eaten the first slice, had another one ready for his brother and a third starting to brown.

 

"You need to eat something, Dean," he warned when the shorter man just shook his head at the sight of the toast. With a sigh, Dean took the slice from his brother, juggling it slightly as he alternated small bites with sips of coffee. Sam knew he was really suffering, even in the grips of a hangover; Dean normally wolfed his food and drank coffee like it was going out of business.

 

The silence between them was strained as they ate their late breakfast, and Sam nearly jumped when Dean spoke.

 

"How's the leg?"

 

"It's fine. A bit stiff, but other than that its fine."

 

"Good."

 

There was another long pause, and Sam realised just how quiet it was here. Their usual ‘homes' were run-down motels in the loudest areas of town, but this farmhouse was miles from anywhere, or anyone else.

 

He shivered, remembering the last time they'd holed up in somewhere so remote; seeing Dean pinned to the wall, screaming in agony with the demon possessing their father happily watching blood pour from his eldest son wasn't something Sam was ever going to forget.

 

"We should check you out, Dean. That creature was pretty vicious."

 

"I'm fine."

 

Sam exploded at his brother's curt reply. "No, Dean! You're not okay!" He knew shouting at Dean wasn't the right way to handle this, but he couldn't help it. Damnit, he was scared to see the older man like this, so he just carried on ranting at his brother.

 

"That thing hurt you. Do you think I haven't seen you limping? Let me help, Dean. Just once, don't argue, don't play the ‘it's my job to protect you' card and let me help." He stood there for a moment, panting, wishing he could ‘un-speak' the words that had stormed out of his mouth, but at the same time glad he had finally said them.

 

Something dark swam in behind Dean's eyes, and he stared furiously at Sam for a long, poised-on-the-brink moment, ready to descend into violence. Then his shoulders sagged, and he drew in a long, shaking breath.

 

"Yeah. Okay. Let me just grab a shower first though, will ya?"

 

Sam felt his heart start beating again when Dean relaxed. He'd never seen his brother look at him like that before, and he was damned scary with hatred burning in his eyes. "Okay. I'll run an inventory; see what we need to get laid in." Dean nodded carefully and headed for the bedroom, emerging a few moments later with a towel and a bundle of clean clothes.

 

Without realising it both brothers had tacitly agreed they would rest up here until they were both physically well again. They had spent long enough on the road, together and apart, to know when they needed to stop moving for a while.

 

            While Dean showered, Sam sorted through their bags of belongings. Normally, the guns came first, but he just couldn't face that now, so he turned instead to their mutual pack of toiletries, food and basic necessities. He scribbled down a list, as always knowing that once they got to the store he wouldn't even need to look at it, but that if he didn't write it he wouldn't come back with anything they actually needed.

 

He remembered the store in Jerome, and the clerk, a young girl named Allie who Dean had pushed him into making a date with. When Sam had turned up at the café where they'd agreed to meet limping heavily after their first encounter with the creature the night before, she'd been very sympathetic, and slowly he found himself growing fascinated by her vibrant energy.

 

Her kid brother had come bouncing in at one point, embarrassing them both by asking Sam if he was going to marry her and make babies, but he watched her and saw she clearly doted on him. Dean walked through the door and for once, he didn't make an ass of himself. Instead, he offered to look after the seven year old so they could spend a bit more time together. Sam and Allie watched them through the window as Dean led the boy over to the play area, clearly liking the smart little boy; both brothers easily making the comparison between their own relationship and that of the little boy and his caring older sister.

 

When Dean finally came out of the shower, his water-darkened hair made his skin look even paler, but Sam was pleased to note that he moved more easily. The limp was almost gone, though apparently nothing could help his brother's hangover. Shirtless, the full range of his injuries was apparent and Sam winced as he saw them. Dark bruises spread across the muscled chest from the bottom of his ribs and radiated out from his left shoulder. There was a clear set of bite marks there, and more deep scratches covered his skin, some of them looking strangely fresh. He put it down to the long immersion in water.

 

Dean flopped down into the chair by the fire and declared, "Alright, Nightingale, do your worst." Snagging the first aid kit he'd left out on the table, Sam crossed the long room to painfully kneel next to the armchair. Dean smirked.

 

"Now what?"

 

"Karma."

 

"Karma?"

 

"In advance."

 

"Dean, what the hell are you talking about?"

 

"I figure you're about to start pouring freakin' acid onto me and all that stuff, so, you get pain first. Karma."

 

Sam closed his eyes. "In advance."

 

"Yep." Dean snuggled down into the chair, only to bolt upright with a startled yelp as Sam swabbed a peroxide soaked pad hard across the deepest scratch on his stomach.

 

"You son of a..."

 

"Karma, Dean. Remember?"

  

Forty minutes later Sam gazed at his brother, astonishment clashing with concern as he contemplated Dean's sleeping form. He had actually managed to fall asleep while Sam was cleaning and dressing the dozens of angry red scratches from the fight on the first night of the hunt.

 

The exhausted hunter seemed very young as he shivered slightly, goose-bumps appearing on his bare arms. Deciding not to wake him, Sam hobbled into the bedroom to fetch the quilt. Suddenly feeling exhausted himself, he sat for a moment on the edge of the bed and found himself crying, shoving the back of a fist hard against his mouth to stop any noise escaping to wake his brother but wanting desperately to scream, to shout out to anyone what had happened.

 

A thought occurred to him that stopped him short, that made his breath catch hard against the lump that suddenly formed in his throat.

 

Was this what Dean lived with every day? This need to hold emotions inside, just to appear strong so he could protect his baby brother? Had he lived with this nearly every day of his life?

 

Sam couldn't remember a time that he has seen his father comforting the brother he had come to lean on as well. In fact, the only interaction he really remembered between the only two members of his family that he knew was concerned with hunting.

 

In a blinding flash he saw how his brother had been turned into a hunter with no life before their seemingly never-ending quest, and no real prospect of a life after it. He knew that Dean would have happily sacrificed himself for their father in the years before John died; he knew why Dean was so willing to put his brother's safety before his own. It was because hunting, and the need to protect Sam was all his brother had ever really known.

 

That instinct had grown to cover their dad, even to cover the victims of the supernatural creatures they hunted, but never to include Dean himself.

 

Tears sprang into Sam's eyes again as he contemplated the true nature of his brother's sacrifice to their family, and just what it must have meant to him when their father had given his own life to save Dean's.

 

God, the confusion that must have made him feel, to be told that Sam came first, always, Sam, then the hunt for the demon that had killed their mom. And then to know that their Father had given up the long hunt, had gone to hell to save him? No wonder he had been so screwed up by their father's death.

 

Sam looked through the door at his brother, feeling as if his heart might shatter if he couldn't find some outlet for the storm of emotions that surged through him, love, awe, even a little fear for and of the brother that would willingly give up so much for him; love, again, but something almost like hatred for the father that would do this to his own sons, even though he knew that John had had no choice in the matter.

 

Dean was sleeping by the fire, eyebrows drawn together into a slight frown, a light sheen of sweat beading his gently furrowed brow. The sight sent a wave of protectiveness through Sam that stopped every other thought or feeling stone dead.

 

Pushing himself to his feet, he swiped a rough hand across his eyes and grabbed the quilt with the other, hobbling quickly back to his brother. Carefully tucking the heavy material around the bruised and torn body, Sam laid a hand on Dean's forehead and frowned slightly himself. It was no surprise that the young hunter had a slight fever, but Sam found that need to protect his brother welling up even stronger at the thought.

 

Remembering all the times he'd fallen ill as a child, he fetched two Tylenol from their large bottle and a glass of water, then hobbled back to the fire and gently shook Dean's uninjured shoulder.

 

"Dean?" His brother's frown deepened, and he turned his face away from Sam. "Come on, Dean, wake up." Green eyes blinked open, clouded with pain and memories.

 

"What?" he slurred. Sam almost grinned at the irritated tone, but he could hear the anguish that ran underneath it.

 

"You need to take these."

 

Rolling his eyes, Dean swallowed the pills with a mouthful of water, then sat back and pressed the cool glass against his brow.

 

"You okay Sammy?"

 

Sam felt like screaming at his brother, but instead spoke in a low, calm voice.

 

"I'm fine Dean. Quit worrying about me, all right?"

 

A tiny smile quirked one corner of Dean's lips.

 

"'S my job to worry, little brother."

 

"Yeah, well, it shouldn't be." This time Sam couldn't keep the anger from his voice, and Dean raised a questioning eyebrow at him.

 

"What's eating you, Sammy?"

 

"Nothing."

 

"Don't lie to me, Sam. What is it?"

 

Sam sighed.

 

"Why is it your job, Dean? Why do you always have to be..." he couldn't finish, knowing Dean must be hating this, what he always called a ‘chick-flick' moment. There was a long pause.

 

"Be what Sam?" Sam just looked away. "Be what? Be your big brother? Don't really have a whole lot of choice on that one, man."

 

‘Be the strong one, all the time! Be the one to sacrifice everything!' Sam yelled in his head, instead he just nodded once and said quietly, "You should get some sleep," and limped away. He knew Dean watched him go, but right now he couldn't stand to face his brother, so he went outside without looking back.

 

 

In the bright moonlight Sam found himself hobbling aimlessly round the house. Lines from a song played in his head, "...you came to rescue me, so I came to believe you were my remedy..." and the music seemed to tear at his over-burdened heart but he still couldn't cry. He didn't see the pale figure leaning heavily on the window sill to watch him anxiously.

 

Letting out a long breath he looked up at the sky, relieved to see the stars, even the empty void between them was better than the scene playing over and over in his head with no respite, the scene in the cave where they'd found Allie's little brother.

 

The whole place stank of damp, rotten earth, of the creature's heavy musky scent and of blood and fear. The broad hulking back was turned towards them, bent over something on the ground that looked black in the dim light filtering down from somewhere above.

 

Allie screamed as that thing moved, and Sam had to wrap both long arms around her to hold her back, but the creature turned towards them and he gagged at the sight of what it held in its mouth. She broke free and ran towards her brother, in her hysteria straight into the waiting claws.

 

Sam had to look away, to look up at his brother seeking some kind of assurance that it would be okay, but Dean's eyes were riveted onto the scene, searching desperately for a way to help them. Sam saw the moment that those green eyes changed as the hunter realised that there was only one thing he could do...

 

 In the moonlight, Sam spat the bitter taste from his mouth and stumbled away from where he'd fallen to his knees to retch at the memory. Turning back to the house he saw his brother standing before him, and knew that whatever he was feeling, it was grief for his brother that had made him change their roles, for this night at least.

 Fully aware now of what his brother lived with, he realised that what had happened, what Dean had done wasn't something his brother could lock away inside to take care of Sam without losing his sanity. Staring into those haunted green eyes, he waited.






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