Title: Riding Shotgun
Warning: character death
Word Count: 32K
Summary: "Sam doesn’t know how he can say his brother is dead when there’s still someone on this earth who looks at him like that."
For the Winchesters, death is never the end. Written for the 2011 spn_gen_bigbang.
Things stay the same as much as they don’t. Bartops get stickier. Women get younger. The gas they aren’t paying for gets more expensive. And under the watchful care of one Dean Winchester, 1979-2009, his baby brother Sammy lives well into his forties.
Or so Dean likes to boast.
It’s true, it’s all true, Sam just wishes his brother were a little more corporeal so he could smack him upside the head. It’s not like he wasn’t working his ass off to stay alive too, what with all the stabbing and burning and running for his life that he’s done.
And it’s a good thing, no doubt about that. The running list of nasties he’s killed is double most hunters his age – hell, double most hunters period, though he’s basically cheating because he’s had so damn long to rack up the tally. It brings pride to the name of Winchester, earns him a lot less shit at in-the-know bars than he used to get, and is almost, almost, enough to make up for the one creature from the black lagoon that he didn’t gank in time. Though, almost has been the name of the game for a while now, and Sam’s not really banking on that changing any time soon. Almost was a compromise between him and Dean years ago, to quit the drunken, tearful apologies so long as Dean knew Sam had only almost forgiven himself.
Dean, for his part, always seemed more interested in keeping Sam alive, fed, and in good company – though what food counted as edible and what company was good was an ongoing debate. Sam insisted on moderation for most things, and Dean insisted, “Would you just get fuckin’ laid already, Sammy? I can see your blue balls from here.”
“Oh yeah? We adding x-ray vision to the list of imaginary ghost powers now?”
Dean huffs. “Don’t need Superman sight, Sammy, that shit’s painful enough to spot a mile off.”
The irony is that Dean hasn’t been laid in a couple decades, but he’s never once bitched about the neglect of his own equipment.
All in all, the world’s a little weirder this side of forty. People call him sir despite the knife tucked into his waistband and the puffy pink scar that runs straight down under his left eye. Like it was a farce that he’d been able to hide where he’d come from for so long already, like it was time his face finally bore a tear track too fleshy to wipe away. Where he used to look sweet and inviting, it now takes an extra dose of charm to get women to speak to him in bars, much less invite him into their kitchens to talk about lost loved ones. School girls giggle and tell him he reminds them of their dads, and mature women – because he’s learned to call them that, oh boy, has he – have no interest in teaching him a damn thing. It takes a certain class of woman to handle Sam Winchester these days.
Not to say there aren’t any.
And there was seven years ago too, before the scar and the graying temples and the cough that rolled in with the first storm front of every year, sure as the leaves redecorating for autumn.
Her name was Anabel Montgomery of 25182 Cherry Street, Taylor, Michigan, and she was real grateful, honest, but she’d feel a lot better if he wouldn’t mind sleeping on the sofa, ‘stead of the upstairs where all the bedrooms were.
She never even saw the Tulpa, just knew Sam wasn’t the one who broke her front window, and that he needed a good number of stitches when it was all over. After that, he’d have passed out on the floor if that was all she had to offer, and he slept like the dead with the arm of the sofa in the crook under his knees.
In the morning, though, her gratitude wasn’t nearly so tempered by fear. When Dean had sauntered in to check up on him in the morning, he’d taken one look at the big breakfast spread she’d put together for Sam and sauntered right back out.
“You make her scream the name Winchester. I’ll be in the car.”
It was an oversight that she still didn’t know his last name when she got loud, but she was, at least, creative enough to make up for it.
When he stopped by again, some two years later, his invitation had been rescinded and the door never opened more than halfway. Anabel looked tired, haggard even, but she opened the door with a smile on her face. It wasn’t until she saw him that she ran her eyes from his face to his torn jeans and back again and closed the door so only her face was visible.
She blinked, fingering a pendant around her neck that he didn’t remember from last time, and lowered her voice.
“I don’t, um, you. I’ve moved on, Sam.”
It was the familiarity that caught him. He expected, if anything, something more along the lines of, “Oh? You. Yeah. I’m married now, but I can give you the name of a clean motel in town.” Instead, she said his name like she knew it, knew him, like he wasn’t just a man who boarded up her window a few years back.
“You alright, Anabel?”
“Oh, me? Yeah.” She laughed quietly, casually, and it soothed Sam’s hackles. Women in trouble didn’t smile that easily. “Just exhausted, you know.”
He didn’t know, but he let it slide. “I’ll just be going, then.”
“Yeah, okay, thanks.” But she lingered, and when Sam turned away first, she cleared her throat.
“Sorry. Um, that I can’t invite you in.”
The door had opened a little more as she leaned her hip against it, her smile tugging up a bit brighter, her eyes downcast but watching him all the same. He was sorry too, reminded of the shy but giving woman he’d known briefly one morning, but Sam Winchester did not push these types of things.
“Hey,” he said. “Look.” Then he pulled a receipt for carrot sticks and beef jerky out of his pocket, and a pen. “This is my number. You ever have problems with your window again, you can call me.” Then he flipped the receipt over against the door frame and quickly squiggled it down with his full name. His real name. And sure, ‘window’ might’ve sounded like code for something else – hell, it was – but if anything nasty ever showed up in Wayne county again, he wanted her to be able to call for help.
She nodded, careful not to make skin contact when she took the paper, but as she pushed the door shut he heard her whisper his last name. He also saw, from the corner of his eye, her foot push something out of the doorway to close it fully. Something made of bright pink plastic.
He walked to the car slowly, eyes on her front picture window as she stepped to the living room. She was carrying another something, also pink, and when she leaned down out of sight she came up with a squirming bundle of blankets. A tiny hand reached for the toy, stubby fingers working to grasp tight enough, but when the plastic shook, Sam would have bet his whole weapons trunk that it rattled.
Sam still wonders, sometimes, when the nights are quiet and the motels are especially empty without a second bed, but now that there’s a Rawhead in Southgate, MI it doesn’t matter whose the baby is. Was. Is.
“Why’re we heading so far east?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Sam says, though he doesn’t know why he’s keeping this from Dean. It’s not like he’s tried to stop Sam from doing anything other than get himself killed for the past two decades. Sam, just, he doesn’t know how to say it.
“Is this about that chick who wouldn’t sleep with you again?”
“Her name is Anabel.”
“Aha.” Dean’s proud, puffed up like a rooster. “So it is. There’s plenty of other—”
“She’s got a kid. We’re just making sure she’s okay.”
“She does? Since when?”
Sam doesn’t answer.
He doesn’t even need to knock on the door, spotting Anabel, with lighter hair and fuller breasts and hips, sitting down to dinner with her husband and her two kids.
She said she’d moved on, Sam thinks, but the question remains.
They seem happy enough, chatting over potatoes and reminding the youngest to stop poking his sister. It’s everything Sam would have wanted, once, a scene he would have terrorized Dean and Dad with over canned chili in front of the TV, but he’s long since learned to appreciate any moment when he wasn’t the last Winchester standing.
The older sister is barely bigger than her brother, with a long dark ponytail, but that’s about all he can tell. He contents himself with that, because it’s enough. This woman’s safe, happy, and not in need of his services, window-related or not. They should really go back to Southgate.
“God damnit, Sammy, how could the battery be dead?”
“One’s enough,” Sam says, and trudges on. If the Rawhead doesn’t already know he’s here, it will soon. “I’ve still got the taser as backup.”
And, okay, he doesn’t know how the battery on the second electroshock is dead. He could have sworn he’d charged it. Maybe it was just old or, or maybe he picked up the same battery twice. Except, he would have noticed that, he thinks. He knows he’s reached the age where some hunters start getting sloppy – too many blows to the head just add up – but, no, he’s pretty sure. So he doesn’t know how it’s dead, but it’s too late to haggle over it now.
“One chance is pretty much all we’ve got anyway, right?”
Dean glares at him, two small shadows making up the sockets of his eyes, though the rest of him is a better light than the bare bulb swinging across the old tool shed they’ve boarded themselves up in. It was too open, otherwise, not enough time or enough cover at his back to get one weapon in each hand, and the most Dean can do up against a creature so solid is yell boo.
“Yeah, well, let’s make it count then. This needs more than one man, Sammy, and that taser’s like throwin’ down a switchblade against a machete.”
Sam snorts. “So, what, you’re saying it’s the size that counts?”
“I’m saying, let’s try not to get you killed.”
Sam sighs. “I got this, Dean. I’m not alone, remember?”
In the end the taser’s a bust, just like the 10,000 volts he tried first, but the wiring to the overhead lamp’s still live and when he gets it to surge it does the trick as good as anything.
The Rawhead fights hard, lumbering but accurate, and Sam getting close enough to jam both ends of the wire into his neck means he gets close enough to be smacked around himself too. Dean’s screaming his head off, something about running and living another day, but Sam’ll be damned if he lets this thing roam suburban Michigan one more night.
It convulses hard, hands outstretched for something to keep it from tumbling to its thick, misshapen knees, but all it gets is an elbow to Sam’s temple. It’s too late for the bastard, but if it could feel anything it at least had the satisfaction of knowing it sent Sam to the ground too. Hard.
The wooden stairs are especially unforgiving as Sam crashes into them, shredding most of them with sheer momentum, but his legs fly through with enough force to jar painfully along the concrete floor beneath them. They’re not broken, Sam can tell, but they’re –
“Dammit, Sammy, how bad is it?”
Dean’s in front of him, the only light now, laying himself more or less where the stairs used to be.
“Let’s get you to the car. We’ve at least got some ACEs up there.”
And some painkillers. And vodka. It’s not a bad idea, at least worth lifting his upper body, but the idea of curling his legs underneath him through the shards to stand is worth lying back down for.
“Five more minutes.”
He can practically hear Dean wince.
“You want me to just do it? I could get you to the car in two minutes, flat.”
His knees are throbbing enough that he actually considers it, but two minutes now isn’t worth the possession-hangover in the morning, so he shakes his head. Then wishes he hadn’t.
“Just, seriously, five more minutes.”
He’s pretty sure he shouldn’t let himself be seen, especially now with the mangled face and demented legs, so he keeps to the shade under a tree on the edge of the park. Anabel’s husband is here with their kids, and Sam’s just… wondering.
“What’re we doin’ here?” Dean asks, with a chilly gust that Sam had thought was just a breeze.
“Oh, okay. Yeah, I totally hang out in parks and stare at small children too. ‘Cause that’s not creepy at all.”
Sam laughs, and swats through Dean.
“Is this one of those vicarious things that you’ve gotta be sloshed to talk about?”
“It’s the little girl, right?”
Sam doesn’t look at his brother.
“You thinking you shoulda made time to have yourself one of those?”
He sighs, thinks fondly of the years when Dean was allergic to direct questions, but he still doesn’t answer. Then the sun breaks through the trees, warming his back, and Sam knows he’s alone again.
When the soccer ball tumbles over his boot, unperturbed and bouncing along to nestle with him among the trees roots, he doesn’t bother to look up. It’s only when two more feet show up, small and in plastic sandals with sparkles on them, that he rouses himself.
“Can I have my ball?”
He reaches for it, trying to keep his outstretched legs as still as possible, but his hands falter when he looks up, meeting those eyes.
The poor girl’s skinny and knobby all over, small for her age, and cursed with her father’s nose. She has her mother’s face, though, and her hair, and it does just enough to make up for his genes that he thinks she’ll be a high school beauty anyway.
“Mister?” She’s edging away, unnerved by his silence, and then tucking her arms around herself when Dean’s suddenly back.
“Way to creep the kid out, man.”
Sam blinks, and stares.
“Talk to her.”
“Hi,” he blurts out, too loudly. “Your ball. Sorry.” He lean-rolls himself, trying not to look too much like an invalid while he slowly breathes through the twist of his legs, but he eventually turns back to her, balancing the ball between his fingers. “Here.”
He holds the ball out, but when she doesn’t take it he lays it along the ground and rolls it to her, leaning into the sunlight as he does. She barely gets her hands on it when she jumps even farther back, squeaking and startled, like it’s burned her. Sam’s at a complete loss. It’s the scar, it must be. Or how he’s forced to lurch along like a reanimated doll today. He’s good with kids, great with them because, even after so long on the road, he understands that dichotomy of loving their parents but wanting to be their own person even before they can tie their own shoes. But now… now no child has ever been more important than the one standing in front of him in a Teddy the Happy Puppy t-shirt, and she is freaking out.
He’s so worried about getting her to stop squealing, about the other parents around who must think he’s torturing this poor girl, that it takes him several moments too long to notice that she’s actually pointing at the ball.
“What?” he asks, dumbfounded and slow.
Sam can’t help it, he laughs, and when that earns him a glare he laughs harder.
“Where?” he asks, because he can’t see a damn thing. She has to screw up all her courage, inch closer to the ball, point, and kick the thing back to him.
It’s tiny. Microscopic. He squints and has to lean in closer and then much farther back just to see it, but she’s six so he’s willing to let it slide.
First he flicks it into the grass, then polishes off the rest of the grime with his sleeve until the ball he hands back to her is the cleanest in the whole park. She grins up at him before grabbing the ball and running back toward her family.
“That what you came for?” Dean asks, and Sam half-whirls to meet him. He kind of wants to get out of here so the memory stays as it is, untarnished, and before people spot him conversing with thin air and ask him to leave.
He has… a daughter. Who’s short, and awkward, and afraid of spiders, but will grow out of all that just like he did. In a completely overwhelming moment, he kind of loves her, this little girl who’s only afraid of things she can see. Who has nothing else to fear, knows nothing about the things that go bump in the night. He can kill so many things, spiders the least of them, and he’ll gladly fry them all if it meant she never had to know about any of them.
He can’t even count how my times, by now, he’s told Dean to just let it go. A stomach gash, a fractured femur, a gushing head wound. They could all have been the end, been his and Dean’s ticket out of here, and Sam was alright with that. They’d worked hard, he’d said, he was as close to almost-repented as he was going to get, and fighting some baddie was as good a way to go as any.
But Dean, as much of a dead pushover as he was, had never once let that slide. Dean ushered him from one cover of safety to another, dragged his ass to a hospital when by all rights he should have bled out on an anonymous motel bed, and found him every hidden escape route and back door that have led him right to this day.
Just before reaching the jungle gym, the girl remembers the manners her Mama taught her, and turns back to yell, “Thanks, mister!”
It gives him one last clear view of her eyes.
He regrets how they startle him again, resents it even, because he knows those eyes. Knows how bright they are, how he can follow them through the dark and how, even when Sam’s the last one left to come up swinging, there they are: over his shoulder, at his back, assessing him even before assessing the situation. At the very worst of times—
Except… except for the worst. The guilt twists up into something new, sharper, that tendrils out of his stomach and wraps up behind his lungs, in between his ribs, and it stings in a way Sam didn’t think he was capable of feeling anymore. He knew those eyes, once, but now they only belong to a grade-schooler who will never even know his name.
Because genetics is a funny, funny thing.
“Sammy?” a voice asks, a voice he’s followed all his life, coming from where the sun cuts through the branches. “Car?”
Sam nods. He’s grateful. He’s grateful, he is. For so much. He can even picture the hand he knows is resting on his back, guiding the way even now, and leaving the shiver on his spine.
“I’m not on board.”
“You’re never on board,” Sam says, piercing the key into the ignition anyway and starting her up. “You used to like a good throw down.”
“All I like is getting out alive,” Dean answers, and when Sam pauses to roll a dirty look his way, he makes a show of settling into the passenger seat. “Fine. Fine.”
That lasts another sixty miles, but then Dean’s back at it, stalling the car out with some mysterious engine trouble that Sam would have to be dumber than a performing monkey to buy into. Dean, however, takes the opportunity to name hunters and states and the mountain ranges that hide their bones (or, if the stories are true, lack thereof) like a long enough list will do the arguing for him.
“And Joe McKline? With what’s-his-face up in Minnesota?”
Sam rolls his eyes again, guns it a little harder. “What’s-his-face? You can’t even remember his name?”
“That’s my point, Sammy. Wendigos don’t just kill you, they eat you up until there’s nothing left to be remembered by. It’s a two man job, at least.”
“And what are we? One man and a whiny cold spot? We’ll be fine.”
“Who’s to say I can even get that far into the woods? This is reckless, Sammy, and I know you’ve been in the mood to throw caution to the wind since – what? – Ohio? Michigan? But it’s not worth—”
“Dean.” Sam’s voice is sharp, a no-nonsense tone that sounds more and more like their father’s each day, and when he hears it he clears his throat mildly and starts again. “I’m not wet behind the ears anymore, Dean. We’re not. And if I’m free-floating without a net for a few minutes – it’s not like I haven’t before. I’ll just lead it back towards the car.”
Even if he doesn’t, it’s not like hasn’t done this, been the only able-bodied man on the team, for longer than he’d care to count. In the beginning, sheer skill had made up for the lack of brotherly back-up, and now he’s got experience to step in if he’s ever lacking both.
The car is wedged uncomfortably between two trees less than half a mile off, and it’s just dumb luck that lets them find a path in, even with all of Dean’s ability to find traction in the mud and bank turns through trees no car should be able to do.
They’ve got rope, flare guns, a fuckton of gasoline, three lighters, a sat-phone, a pound of soy trail mix, one gallon of water and Sam’s favorite bone-handled knife. It ought to be enough. They’ve also risked a salt ring, keeping Dean and the supplies in and the pissed off motherfucker wendigo out, because Sam had grown up with a security blanket like every other child, only his was $8.99 for a five pound bag and tasted mighty fine on pork sandwiches too.
This wendigo’s a tricky bastard, especially cunning or maybe just socially crippled, but Sam can’t get it to come far enough out of its cave. He’d follow it in except, yeah, when was that ever a good idea? The tepid orange of the sunset only extends so far into the gaping mouth in the cliffside, a good six feet maybe, and beyond that there’s nothing but pitch black and an early death. Sam only brings it up once before he admits it was a stupid idea in the first place.
“Are you unbalanced? I bet it laid a trap right in the open, barely even in the shadows, and you’d be walking right into it now.”
Tossing flares into the cave? Maybe equally as stupid, because a pissed wendigo is a vengeful wendigo, but it has the double perk of drawing the damn thing out and lighting up the entrance enough to check for damn, were you really that oblivious traps.
“Just aim straight ahead, these things aren’t good at zig-zagging.”
“Yeah, got it.”
“A second flare’s not worth it though. Go for the gasoline.”
“Dean. I know. I got it.”
“Just run as soon as you toss it, I’ll watch for the landing—”
“Damnit, Dean. Not my first rodeo.”
“I’m just getting our strategy down.”
“It’s down. Just shut up.”
Dean’s nostrils flare and he straightens up, looking Sam square in the eye. He’d been crouched down with Sam behind a felled tree, partially because wendigos are supposedly spirits and they didn’t want Dean to tip it off, but mostly ‘cause hanging back with Sam was just his MO these days. Sam envies him the hours of crouching he can pull off without needing to stretch.
He’s goading him, he knows, but he’ll care about that later.
Dean just blinks though, milky white, and says, “Let’s try to get this done before dark. On your count, Sammy.”
Sam huffs, rolls his own neck, and doesn’t even bother to steady his hand when he launches the flare straight towards the open pit of the cave. A perfect shot, straight and true, and Sam thinks, See? Experience. Reckless, my ass.
But experience’s got nothing on a wendigo hovering just within the line of shadow, gushing forward like it’s riding the wave of a burst dam, and it’s out of the cave before the flare even hits the packed earth.
Sam runs – he’s not an idiot – but the gasoline jug is heavy and he doesn’t really want to spark up the whole forest if he can help it. It’s pure instinct that has him checking over his shoulder to track its new hiding place.
It’s smarter than that, though, or angrier, and Sam digs his heels into the soft moss at his feet as it bum-rushes him straight on. Not that he can really track it by eye, not moving that fast, but Dean’s put himself directly between Sam and the cave so it’s a pretty good bet. Sam holds his breath, hoping that the safety of a spirit versus spirit duel is still on their side.
The wendigo stills just behind Dean, like it’s surged through him and found the cold stuck to him like cobwebs, or maybe calling like some ghostly instinct. It leaves the thing suspended in midair, a rarity, all spindly legs and reaching arms and bald, deformed skull exposed to the light and the elements in a moment of true vulnerability.
Sam fumbles for the gasoline, even sloshes some out in the creature’s direction, but it sends the wendigo off. Dean’s already there, though, and it rebounds at an angle, a skewed, crazy angle, and then they’ve lost it. He leaps back into the salt, too treacherous to be without it without a clear line of sight, but the thing’s just gone. There’s no sign, no rustle of branches, nothing but one sonic, booming crack and the furious rustling of branches.
The last thing Sam hears is, “Sammy, run! Run!”
It smells like moss and dirt, wet and moldy, and when he tries to breathe in he gets a mouth full of greenery and a burn down the back of his throat. He pulls his hands in to his sides, shaky elbows up behind him like a grasshopper’s legs to hopefully get some leverage, but his palms sting and no amount of scrabbling at the loose topsoil seems to be helping. It’s freezing, winter set in sudden and harsh on the mountainside, and he lays his cheek back down on the dirt. He pants softly while he waits for Dean to come find him. He tries calling his name, but if Dean answers Sam can’t hear it over everything else. There’s the loud whoosh and call of ringing in his ears, but maybe that’s just his own chattering teeth. He can’t tell.
His vision comes back last, hazy and over-bright, and nothing makes sense at first. They were waiting outside a – a cave, and that’s gone. Gone like Dean and the weapons and the gas. He calls for his brother again, desperate to not to be lost because his limbs won’t work, frozen and numb, and his skull is throbbing with each pulse of his veins.
“Shhh, shhh, Sammy. I’m here.”
“The salt,” Sam croaks, but Dean’s shushing him all over again.
“It broke. We’re fine, it broke. You’ve got a – Jesus, Sammy. You’re fine.”
Sam blinks, and tries to push himself up again. He’s eager to figure out where he is and then never come back here, but the success he makes is met with a sharp pulse of pain that roils up his back and down his arms and between his ears. His legs are blessedly untouched, but it’s still sharp, pain like each cell in his upper body bursting one at a time in sickening waves, like electricity that’s so constant the only relief is when the nausea momentarily overtakes it.
“Stop it, Sammy, stay down. God, Sammy.”
He groans and collapses, curling his fingers into the dirt until there’s mud under his fingernails and stuck to his face, heaving sharp breaths through the pain.
“Dean?” he asks, hopeful.
“You’re fine,” he says, sounding every bit the authoritarian that he used to when the older kids in school had still been fond of swirlies and Dean would take him home sopping wet. And if Dean’s being a little too insistent on this one, well, that’s just Dean.
He hears Dean suck in a breath, hears the words stick in his throat, and he starts to tense against the news before his back reminds him that’s a painfully bad idea.
“It’s alright, Sammy. You’re just a little pinned down, but you’re fine. A little heave-ho and you’re good as new.”
“Pinned by what?”
The more he gets his bearings the more his body wants to lie catatonically still, and he’s starting to grit his teeth just to speak now. Through the blur of his blinking eyes he sees the white light of Dean. Close, probably holding onto his hand, but Sam hadn’t noticed. A shiver wracks through him, jarring all those jagged, delicate spots in his body he had just started to relax, and he has to turn his face full on into ground to keep a cry from tearing his throat raw. He can’t tell why he’s taking it so bad, why this hurts so much fucking more than anything else he’s endured besides that stabbing in Cold Oak, but he just squeezes his eyes shut and tells himself he’s being a baby. That Dean would tell him to man up, if he were really here instead of the wet-nurse version of himself.
“A tree, Sammy. You’re stuck under a tree.”
And fuck, but that might explain it. Around here, these hulking conifers, no wonder.
“I’m gonna handle it,” Dean goes on. “I’m gonna get that fucker right off you.”
Sam shakes his head, no need to avoid escape by possession when they’re gonna end up there anyway, but that stokes the hellfire burning at his skin, his shoulders and fingers and spine. He’s so grateful that his legs are unaffected that it isn’t until this new wave of pain abates that he thinks to wonder how that is, and why they’re not in agony too.
“No, it’s fine. We’ll get that gone and truck your ass to the hospital. Same as always. You’ll be flirting with the nurses by morning.”
Sam squeezes his eyes shut and concentrates. He pictures his feet flexing, digging miniature trenches in the loose earth, but his toes send no feedback.
“Dean,” he grits out, “I can’t—”
“You can, Sammy. You just open those eyes up and keep ‘em that way, you got it?”
He focuses on one toe, communing with it and ordering it, with no degree of uncertainty, that it had better fucking wiggle.
His toe gives him nothing.
He knows this is bad. Even as he says again, more desperate and frantic this time, “I can’t!” he’s trying to buck up. He tells his knees to flex, for his whole back to push up against the barrel-wide tree that must be nestled against his spine, and even though he can see it in his head, all he accomplishes is another whip of pain lancing up his spine and rattling his teeth. He cries out in earnest, probably proving just how much he’s still the little brother with the tears tracking down his face, itching at his tender scar and slipping into his open mouth along with all the caked dirt beneath his face.
Then Dean’s hands are all over him, and he can feel the breezy whisper of his touch even if he’s too cold to recognize Dean’s particular brand of frost. Dean’s in his face immediately, leaning down to promise with that voice, that conviction that Sam always wants to believe.
“I’m gonna get you out of here. You hear me, Sammy? We’ve been through way worse shit than this, and—”
Sam pulls in a deep breath like it’s the last one he’ll need, maybe the last one he’ll get, and says, “I can’t feel my legs.”
He’s quiet, especially in the face of Dean’s desperate promises, but it shuts him up real fast. Sam winces his eyes open to slits just in time to see Dean’s face. And in it, he can see the heartbreak. Dean’s launched instantly into mourning like he’s doing it for both of them, because they know what this means. This isn’t a curse, or venom, or some other side effect of some particular nastie, this is a good old fashioned spine injury.
Dean’s still there with his endless platitudes, his promises and denial, and despite himself Sam almost smiles. There are some things he’ll always be able to count on his big brother for, dead or not.
It still doesn’t change anything though, Dean’s assurances and threats of violence far more empty than they were against the bullies that plagued Sam’s school days. And, really, it’s Sam’s fault. For leading them here, and putting them in this position. For forgetting to value his time with any Dean, even if it was the wrong one.
Dean had been right about this hunt but, for once, the ‘I told you so’ would only offer a mockery of relief.
This had been a job for at least two people. Sam and a haunted, temperamental car could never amount to anything more than a one man operation.
Sam blinks, watching Dean grab for him and yell, but the only words he can make out are to stay, and maybe his name too. He starts to flicker, like any ghost with someplace else to be, and Sam would think it’s his own vision going except for the look of panic on Dean’s face. But then, maybe it is his vision, because the dark is coming on too fast to be night and he just wants to close his eyes again, just for a minute. He forces them open for an extra second, staring at Dean with his translucent eyes and frostbitten hands.
Then Dean’s gone, all of him, and there’s no reason for Sam to keep his eyes open any longer.