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This is the Place, Part One

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When Lucifer disappeared out of the room in Detroit wearing his brother, Dean had failed.

Sam was gone.

He'd trusted Sam to do this, and Sam was not in control, and now Dean had let Lucifer walk out of there to do whatever he wanted.

Sam was still in there.

Dean put his hands to his head, cradling the headache that was forming simply by virtue of his being utterly overwhelmed. There were tears in his eyes.

Sam was gone.

The drive took twelve hours. Dean had to stop for gas, and he cursed every tick of the meter as he stood there, huddled down in his jacket, trying to make it go faster by sheer force of will.

Sam was still in there.

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He was right, too. Bleeding out of his mouth and nose, face beaten to hell by Sam's fists, he heard himself saying, "I'm not going to leave you," over and over, trying to get Sammy to hear him. Cas and Bobby lay dead twenty feet away, and Dean kept saying it.

I'm not going to leave you.

And then Sam's face was clearing, and Dean saw Sam again--Sam as the man who'd made the decision, and Sam as the kid Dean had raised almost on his own--Sam as the one Dean had taught everything he knew, watched him walk away and dragged him back again--Sam as the brother he'd fought with and fought beside and protected and loved with every fiber of his being.

"It's okay, Dean," Sam said, putting up his hand—to keep Dean away from him, or the other way around—"It's okay. I got him."

Dean wanted to reach out, wanted to touch him. Wanted to hold his brother's hand, wanted to hug him and tell him he loved him and they'd make it all better, but Adam was there. And Sam opened the gate and dragged Michael down with him, and it was over.

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He stayed in Stull Cemetery until it grew dark, long after Cas and Bobby had left, kneeling on the patch of bare ground with his head in his hands. He couldn't even cry, couldn't remember how. It was almost like staring at Sam's dead body after Cold Oak, but Sam wasn't even there.

He had to get up. Had to get to his feet and walk to the car, start it up and drive out of here. He'd promised. He'd promised Sam he'd go, find Lisa, and live.

He'd die for Sam, a thousand times over, and Sam knew it. But Sam wanted him to live for him, and Dean wasn't sure if he could. Inside his chest where he was sure his heart was supposed to be, Dean felt nothing, just a wide, empty, Sam-shaped space that would never heal.

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Dean stood up. His knees protested and his back cracked, and he was way too young to be feeling stiff and sore like this, even after Cas's magic healing fingers. He rounded the car and opened her driver side door and slid in, and caught sight of the paper soda cup Sam had left in the passenger foot well, goddamn it.

The car smelled like them, like it always did: sweat and gun oil and Sam's girly shampoo and Dean's gel; stale chips and spilled Coke and spilled blood. Dean's throat closed, and he gripped the steering wheel, knuckles going white under the pressure. Sam's backpack was still in his seat: the demonology books, paperback novel, long-suffering laptop, all visible thanks to the broken zipper. There was half a chocolate bar stuffed in the front pocket, wrapper crinkling when Dean pulled it out to stare at it. It was just a Hershey's bar, but Sam always ate half and saved the other half for later, like they weren't going to stop at another gas station or something.

It was soft from sitting in the car and it bent under Dean's closing fingers. He shoved it back in the pocket and turned away, digging the car keys out of his jacket and jamming them into the ignition. The car squealed in protest when he turned it too hard and then grumbled to life.

He wondered if he could find a liquor store near a motel before he headed off to Lisa's, but then he figured if he didn't go now he'd never make it.

He wondered if Sam would be angry if he just ended it all right now, ate a bullet right here.

He wondered if he'd end up in Hell with him, and whether that would be preferable to Heaven without him.

The grumbling grew louder, working up to a roar, and Dean let go of the keys and the wheel, staring down. He could feel his baby purring underneath him, nice and normal, and still the noise rose, like an earthquake approaching.

Then the sound of rolling, groaning earth was overpowered by a rushing, sucking sound, and there was an ugly flash of light from the spot where Sam had vanished.

Blinded, Dean clambered out of the car again, holding his hands out and feeling his way around the front. He tripped and went to his knees and crawled, and then his hands were wet and the ground was wet and his knees were wet, and then he was coming up against a warm, familiar body.

"Oh Jesus, Sam?" Dean asked, voice cracking, stuck in his throat. He tried again, and heard a groan in answer.

"Dean?"

"Sammy? Is that you? Jesus Christ, tell me it's you, don't--"

"It's me," Sam said, and Dean could see him now, looking worse for wear than he'd made Dean, face swollen and body bleeding. "It's me. I swear to god. Dean. Dean."

Dean kept moving, working his way up Sam's body, and Sam lifted his hand, blood streaming down his wrist, to grab Dean's shoulder. Dean curled his fingers around the back of Sam's neck and Sam moaned in pain, and Dean buried his face in Sam's shirt, also soaked.

"It's me," Sam whispered again, reassuring him, and Dean sobbed like an idiot, trying to regain his bearings.

"What the fuck, Sammy?" he asked.

"Didn't fit," Sam said, and Dean realized he was losing consciousness, voice fading. "Didn't fit. Had to come out."

"Sam?"

"Hospital?" Sam replied, and he went limp.

Dean could feel Sam's heart beating as he dragged his brother off the ground, pumping out his lifeblood all over Dean's hands and shirt. He maneuvered Sam into the back of the car and threw himself in the front, slamming the doors shut as he peeled out of the cemetery.

He had to go back to Lawrence. It was the closest, and he sure as fuck didn't want to spend any more time in this goddamn town, but he had to at least get a look at Sam, and he wasn't going to waste time on a motel now.

"What did they do to you?" he muttered, taking a corner sharply and wincing at the sound of Sam's body sliding in the back. "Shit."

He left the Impala in the no-parking zone at the ER dock, and hauled Sam out of the back. He felt the blood draining out of his face as he saw Sam, in the light now, chest sliced to ribbons and body broken. He'd been in Hell fr hours, and that could mean any length of time down there; someone certainly had had time to take out their frustration.

Sam was a deadweight, but Dean carried him, adrenaline surging, through the doors. The nurse at the desk looked up and Dean saw her eyes go wide with shock.

"I need some help here," he yelled, and realized he was shaking. Two nurses had a gurney in front of him and he laid Sam down as gently as he could, trying not to gag as he took in how much blood there was, how Sam's limbs were not supposed to lie at those angles, how ashy pale Sam's face was. If he hadn't heard Sam's voice already, he'd be sure he was dead again.

"What happened?" a nurse asked, pushing past him to get her hands on the stretcher. Dean followed them down the hallway.

"An accident," Dean said, not able to take his eyes off Sam. It was so much worse than he'd thought--how had Sam even managed to get a word out? He caught Sam's hand in his own and realized half of Sam's littlest finger was missing. That wasn't an injury you got in an accident.

They were pushing Dean away, and Dean held on tighter, hand slipping in Sam's blood.

"He's my brother," he said, raising his voice. "He's my brother, wait, please."

They were approaching the OR doors. "Sir, please let go," one of the nurses said. "We'll do everything we can."

"I'm not leaving you," Dean said, "Sammy, wait!"

There was a doctor then, standing in Dean's way, suited up like he was ready for a zombie attack or some shit. It stopped Dean in his tracks, and the doctor held up his hands, palm out, blue plastic gloves.

"Sir," he said, strange and half-muffled behind the mask, "We are going to do everything we can to help your friend."

"Brother," Dean corrected, like it was the only word he knew how to say.

"Can you tell me what happened?" the doctor directed, ignoring it.

"Accident," Dean said stupidly. He couldn't think of anything else, his whole mind occupied now with keeping Sam in his sights. "Is he gonna be okay?"

"We're going to do our best," the doctor said.

In other words, no, Dean thought, mind going flat. Sam was going to die of his injuries, and Dean was going to live, and the world was still not going to end. Sam was going to be ripped out of Dean's hands again--again--and Dean couldn't do a thing about it.

"Car accident?" the doctor prompted.

Dean shook his head, and then nodded. "No. I mean. Hit by a car. I think."

The doctor nodded. Apparently vague half-stories were all he wanted, really just so he could keep Dean occupied while they cut Sam's clothes off him and put a mask over his face and clipped a heart rate monitor to his finger.

Dean shook another nurse off his arm and tried to get past the doctor's shoulder, into the OR, but the doctor stopped him again. "Sir, we don't want to have to call security, please. We are doing our best, but you need to let us work." He glanced back through the circular window on the swinging door, at Dean's brother, dying on a stretcher. "I promise," he said, looking back at Dean. "We're doing everything we can right now."

Dean didn't need to get checked out by the triage nurses. He deflected as firmly as he dared for as long as he could, assuring them that the blood on his clothes was just Sam's. It was, too, except for the spill down the front which had come from his own face when Lucifer had decided to show Dean what for, but all the rest of the evidence of that was gone, and they ushered Dean into the bathroom to wash Sam's blood off his hands.

Sam was in surgery for almost six hours. Dean was escorted from the ER lobby to the OR waiting room after two, and he spent half of the other four sitting in the plastic chairs, or pacing the room with his hand over his mouth. He called Bobby, got the voicemail, called again. Twice. Left a message: "Bobby, it's about Sam. Call me."

He drank four cups of burned hospital coffee and turned away two offers from a nurse to show him to the cafeteria where he could find something to eat. Finally the nurse came back with a sandwich and forced it into his hands. He ate it without tasting it, wiped his hands on his t-shirt that was still tacky with dried blood, and went back to measuring the length of the room with his steps.

For half an hour in the middle, Dean came to his senses and went out to find a florist in a grocery store, where he bought fresh basil and angelica, thistle and caraway and cinnamon, and a bag of salt. He emptied out his wallet and ended up paying the last two dollars fifty in change.

He needed a shower, was worn out and running on fumes. He stared at the OR doors like maybe glaring hard enough could open them up and bring Sam out on his own two feet, and soon his head hurt and his back ached from sitting and he was probably going to pass out from exhaustion.

He bit his fingernails down to the skin, made his cuticles bleed, clenched his hands into fists to stop himself. Drank another cup of coffee and tried to get the nurse at the desk to give him an update. Couldn't even manage enough energy to flirt with her. Didn't care.

"Please, he's been in there for hours." Having Sam out of his sight was becoming physically painful, like the months they'd split up, when he'd known Sam was somewhere and couldn't find him, couldn't get to him, couldn't make himself call.

"I'm sorry, Mr…"

"Derringer," Dean said automatically, remembering the name on the card. The one that matched Sam's.

"Mr. Derringer," she went on, "I know how important this is, but I haven't had an update on your brother since the last time we spoke."

An hour ago, give or take. Dean scrubbed his hands across his face, pressing the heels into his eyes, seeing a lattice of blood vessels behind his lids.

"Mr. Derringer?" a voice said behind him, and then he was allowed to see Sam.

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Seeing Sam in the ICU bed, covered in plaster and blood-tinged bandages, tube down his throat, was worse than seeing his own body that way.

Dean stopped dead in the doorway, closing his eyes. He heard the doctor make a quiet, sympathetic noise behind him, clearing her throat, and Dean took another step into the room.

"Your brother is in critical condition," the doctor started, and Dean promptly tuned her out. He could see that, for fuck's sake. Automatically, Dean cataloged the damage: both legs broken, concussion, half of his right pinkie gone for good. Half of Sam's face was wrapped in gauze, over his left eye and around his ear. Dean saw lines of stitching under his hospital gown, across his chest, up to the edge of his tattoo. The lines of the ink were broken, burned away, and Dean thought, Gonna have to get that fixed.

Once the doctor disappeared with a murmur of, "… leave you alone for a moment," Dean tore his eyes away from the still figure on the bed and looked around the room for anything he could find to ward it. The pen from Sam's chart wasn't worth much-couldn't draw a devil's trap on the floor-but there were places he could lay the herbs without drawing the attention of the cleaning crew. He busied himself with that, looking at Sam over his shoulder every couple of seconds, like he couldn't believe he was lucky enough to have this. Even in critical condition, he was still Sam, and that was what mattered.

Finally he approached the bed, taking in Sam again. The skin around Sam's right eye was bruised, but intact, and Dean reached out to touch. His fingers tingled as they drew close, hovering helplessly over Sam's purpled cheekbone, and Sam's skin was warm and tender. He ghosted his thumb over the bruise and wondered again how long it had been for Sam.

A nurse appeared, popping in the doorway in her bubble-gum-teddy-bear shirt, and said, "Mr. Derringer, your brother will be out for a while. He's under some pretty heavy sedation. The better we can control the pain, you know, the sooner he'll be out of here."

Dean nodded, silent. What was she doing here? What did she want? He tried to make her leave by glaring at her, but she just smiled blithely.

"Are you from around here?"

"No," Dean said.

"There's a couple of hotels close by, if--"

"No," Dean said again, and she blinked.

"Sir," she started, but Dean shook his head.

"Sweetheart," he said, "I appreciate the offer to help, but I'm not going anywhere 'til he wakes up."

The nurse pursed her lips, not unkindly. Dean figured he looked just crazy enough to put it past her.

"Okay look," she said, "I see a lot of this, and I get it. Really I do. But, sir, you're covered in blood and god knows what--I don't think I've ever seen a stain that color, frankly--and I really recommend you find somewhere you can take a shower, maybe change your clothes, sleep for a bit. Dr. Andreas has put Mr. Derringer into a medically induced coma, and she won't be bringing him out of it for at least twenty four hours. We won't wake him up without you here."

Dean took a deep breath. He put his hands on his hips and turned away, eyes sliding over Sam's form, unable to look for too long. "How late can I stay?"

The nurse checked her watch. "An hour."

"Okay," Dean agreed.

When the nurse was gone again, Dean slid into the chair at the bedside. Sam's left hand was bandaged, and he had a heart-rate monitor clipped to his index finger, so Dean slid his hand under Sam's wrist instead. He turned Sam's hand over slowly, palm up, and he could feel Sam's pulse beating fast and steady in the hollow under his thumb. Dean looked up at his brother's half-covered face and tucked an errant curl of hair behind Sam's ear. Then he lifted Sam's hand and pressed his mouth to the inside of Sam's wrist, and he could feel his pulse all the better.

Somewhere he'd heard that your lips were more sensitive than your fingertips, and he'd known that it was true, but it had never mattered more than right now, feeling Sam's life secure, and knowing his soul was safe in there. Dean imagined he could feel it, pulsing like Sam's heartbeat, right under his skin.

When Sammy was little, Dean could get him to fall asleep in minutes just by stroking his hair, or rubbing the palm of his hand over Sam's back. Sam turned to Dean for hugs even when Dean was too old to think that was cool, and when Sam was at Stanford, Dean kept reaching out for someone who wasn't there, much longer than he should have.

He pressed his fingertips into the soft skin of Sam's wrist, tracing the edge of his big hand. Then up his arm, curve of his elbow, another bruise high on his shoulder. He touched the edge of it and Sam didn't flinch, didn't move, didn't fucking react.

"Sammy," Dean whispered, laying his cheek against Sam's palm. "What've I done?"

He stayed in Sam's room for forty five minutes, sitting beside him, almost motionless, listening to the slow whirr and click-hiss of the machine that kept Sam's lungs going, and it was hard to see his brother under all the packaging and wires.

Then he left the room, taking his coat, and tipped a little salute to the nurse, now behind the ICU desk. He took the elevator down to the first floor, switched elevators, and went back up to the floor above Sam's.

It was late--long past dinnertime, and the sandwich the nurse had forced on him hadn't lasted. Dean felt his stomach twisting, growling with hunger, but he ignored the discomfort and instead found his way through a door, down a hallway, and into a staff locker room.

He flicked on the lights--Save the Planet! Turn me off!--and zigzagged his way through the maze of red metal lockers to the shower stalls. Dean stripped, throwing his blood-stained clothes in a pile on the shower floor, toeing off his boots and abandoning them at the corner of the stall.

The water came out hot, scalding hot, and ran red off his arms and down the drain. There wasn't any soap to be had, but he scrubbed dirt and sweat off his skin until it was flushing pink with the heat of the water and the hard pressure of his hands. He had to get back to Sam--Sam was waiting for him.

The water ran cold, and Dean turned it off. He dried with a towel monogrammed M left on a bench, and swiped a set of scrubs from the clean laundry pile. He stuffed his old clothes (too bloody and dirty and wet now to be any use) into the trash can, and took the stairs back down to Sam's floor.

The nurse at the desk was the same as before, and Dean waited until she had turned around to check the whiteboard in the office behind her before he sidled past, silent on bare feet, carrying his near-ruined boots in one hand.

He closed the door to Sam's room behind him, still stealthy-quiet, the only noise now the hiss of the ventilator and the muted beep of the monitor. Sam's heart rate was 75--high for a resting rate, especially Sam's. Dean estimated he normally ran about 50 when he was on his stupid laptop looking up stupid hunts for his stupid big brother, but now he was in a state of heightened action, somewhere inside that falsely asleep body.

Dean eased into the seat beside Sam again, tucked his fingertips under the edge of Sam's side and laid his forehead against Sam's wrist, and was asleep in seconds.

He woke up once in the middle of the night to the hunger pains in his stomach, to see that there had been a tray of dinner left by the bed, and the nurse's initials on Sam's chart. She'd come in to check his vitals and come back with food, and left Dean alone. There was a slip of paper under the edge of the tray that said, I'll charge you extra for a coma patient eating soup.

Dean ate gratefully, scarfing down the soup and gross hospital bread roll. Sam lay just as still as ever beside him, and as Dean set the tray aside and eased himself onto the edge of Sam's bed, taking Sam's hand back in his own, Dean wondered how they could've gotten to him so fast, and how the fuck he'd gotten back out.

He'd said he didn't fit. Maybe the cage was only built for one. Maybe Sam's soul was incompatible with the make-up of Lucifer's cage, vessel status be damned.

Still, someone had got their hooks into Sam, and their knives, and their heavy sticks. Dean was surprised he'd made it to the surface with his skin intact.

Maybe someone had pulled him out. A thank-you gift from somebody upstairs for sticking the Devil back where he belonged. Sam used to believe in God. Dean wondered if God believed in Sam.

Now he couldn't even ask Sam what had happened. Sam might not even know. But he couldn't find out either way, with Sam laid up like this, put into a coma to deal with the pain.

Dean shoved the food tray away with a rattle, suddenly angry. He thought about Sam, just yesterday, sitting on the hood of the Impala with a beer in his hand, long legs tucked up under him, making a decision. Dean wished he'd seen it sooner--the man Sam had turned into, the way Sam had always trusted him. He wished he'd given Sam the benefit of the doubt earlier, when he'd probably deserved it. Then maybe the first decision Sam could have made with Dean's true blessing wouldn't have had to be this one.

Sam slept on. Dean stared at him, shifting closer. He put his hand on Sam's leg under the blanket, mindful of the edge of his cast. Sam's legs were propped up to accommodate the casts, and that left Dean's hand high up on his thigh. It should've been weird, but it wasn't. Dean slid his hand up, over Sam's hip, across his stomach, very gently. The bandages on Sam's torso covered the ugly cuts, but Sam's stomach expanded gently as he breathed. It was almost like he was doing it himself. Dean lay his hand flat for a minute, and then he tilted forwards and tucked himself all along Sam's body, resting his head beside Sam's on the pillow, cradling Sam's injured arm against his chest. He fell asleep comforted by the smell of Sam--no sulfur or shampoo or hospital antiseptic--just Sam.

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They didn't wake Sam up for two more days.

Dean didn't bother getting a motel room. The nurse, Carrie, was on the night shift every evening, and she him a wink and a obligatory warning that visiting hours were ending, and then ignored Dean until she had to come back to check on Sam.

"I really shouldn't be letting you do this," she said one evening, coming in when Dean was awake.

Dean crossed his arms, put his feet up on Sam's bed. He was wearing his third set of stolen scrubs and hospital issue slipper-socks, and he looked fucking ridiculous, but he wasn't about to leave. He'd rather look like a patient or a nutjob than be escorted out.

"Then why?"

Carrie regarded him for a long time, brow furrowing slightly. She sighed, put her hands on her hips. "Because I think this is all you got," she said, "and I don't feel like it's my place to take it away from you."

Dean's face remained mercifully impassive. She shrugged one shoulder, up and down.

"Anyway," she said, and left.

When they did wake Sam up, Dr. Andreas was there. Dean looked away as they shone a little flashlight into his eyes to check for responsiveness, and removed the breathing tube, nodding when Andreas said, "His throat might be sore for a while." Dean held Sam's hand and shoulder while a vaguely familiar nurse emptied a syringe into the IV drip, and he held his breath for what felt like minutes.

Sam's one visible eyelid fluttered, and he took in a slow, deeper breath.

"Sammy?"

Sam took another breath, and his fingers clenched in the sheet. Dean gripped his shoulder harder, grounding himself.

"Sam."

Sam coughed, body shaking, and grimaced in pain. Dean put his other hand to the middle of Sam's chest, very gently, mindful of the lacerations sewn up there.

"Sam, Sammy, it's me. It's Dean, man. Open your eyes, huh?"

Sam obeyed, one hazel eye opening. Dean watched him struggle to focus on their faces, and he tried to smile.

"Hey, Sammy. Hey."

Sam's mouth opened hesitantly, Dean watched his tongue flick out to wet his lips, and he rubbed his thumb into the soft spot below Sam's collarbone.

"Can you hear me? Gimmie something, here, man; you are such a stubborn pain in the ass."

The corner of Sam's mouth twitched, almost a smile, and Dean grinned.

"Atta boy, Sammy."

Dr. Andreas stepped in then, and Dean was content to just rub his thumb under the collar of Sam's hospital gown and watch his brother's face.

"Mr. Derringer," she said, and Sam's mouth twitched again. Little shit was smirking. "You were in an accident, do you remember?"

Sam's mouth turned down, eye clouding, and Dean shook his head.

"Trauma often does that," Andreas went on. "Not to worry. You're in excellent hands, now, and I'm confident at the moment. You seem to be improving as quickly as can be hoped. Your brother has been here the whole time, keeping an eye on you." She glanced at Dean, smiling, and Dean shrugged, embarrassed. "Don't try to move too much. You'll be kept hydrated, and we'll think about putting food in you soon, but… baby steps. How are you feeling?"

Sam's eye flicked up to Dean, and Dean tilted his head. Sam blinked slowly. Dean frowned. Sam's face was relaxed, but he looked a little bleary, a little uncomfortable.

"I think he's okay," Dean said. "In a little pain, maybe. Right Sam?"

Sam blinked again, only it looked more like he was winking, sharing a joke, and he licked his lips again.

"They've got you on some crazy stuff, dude," Dean said. "You thirsty?"

Sam closed his eye.

"Okay, buddy. No worries. Just take it easy, okay. I'll be right here."

Dr. Andreas touched his elbow. "Mr. Derringer, we'll come in to check on him in a few hours." She made a few notes on the chart, and then stuck it in the holder beside the door. "Looking good, though. Baby steps."

When she and the nurse were gone, Dean hauled the chair up beside Sam again, tucking his hand back against Sam's neck. "How you doin', Sam? You wanna sit up, or you okay?"

Sam turned his head slightly so he could see Dean better, and his cheek was soft against Dean's hand. Dean rubbed his thumb over the edge of his jaw, soothingly.

"Dean," Sam whispered, barely more than an exhale, his voice all rough and cracked.

Dean smiled, chest tightening, and tipped his head to the side. His eyes burned, and he blinked a few times.

"Jesus, Sam," he sighed, squeezing Sam's shoulder again.

Sam fell asleep ten minutes later, tired out from just staring at Dean as Dean told him about the nice nurse, and Dean slipped out to grab lunch.

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After Sam woke up, Dean thought Carrie would get firmer about letting him stay. But instead she told her supervisor, and her supervisor told the whole night shift staff, and now everyone and their gaggle of nursing students knew Dean on sight, and left him and Sam alone. Dean slept some nights in the chair, and some nights with his head on Sam's bed by his hip, and once or twice nestled against Sam himself.

Sam had been lucid enough to roll his eyes at Dean's wincing and complaining about his stiff neck, shifted maybe an inch to the side, and patted the bed with his fingers. Dean was careful not to jostle him, and the bed was way too small for the two of them together, but he tucked his head in against Sam's shoulder, and Sam's hair tickled his face, and he fell asleep with Sam breathing in his ear.

He had to figure out where he was going to take Sam, as soon as he could. He didn't think anyone was coming after them-- they would've, by now, and Dean probably wouldn't have been able to stop them-- but he hated hospitals, and he hated seeing Sam in one. The minute they moved Sam out of the ICU, Dean was checking him out of there and heading up to South Dakota. The Impala was parked in the garage, slowly racking up a parking toll that Dean was not interested in paying, and Bobby was waiting to hear from them.

Finally he got word that they were thinking of moving Sam, considering his marked improvement, and then when they were actually moving him, Dean went down to the department's main desk.

"I'm checking out my brother, Sam Derringer," Dean said to the aide, and the guy pulled up Sam's chart, frowning.

"Mr. Derringer isn't in a position to be checked out, sir. He was just moved out of the ICU into General Surgery, and there are several notes on here that indicate he needs supervision for some time yet."

"I'm checking him out," Dean said again, more firmly this time, and his hand clenched tight into a fist on the desk. The aide blinked.

"Let me just talk to his doctor."

"No," Dean said. "Let me talk to his doctor." Andreas had been strangely absent ever since Sam had woken up. Dean figured that was standard-- once a doctor had done her duty, she was on to other patients unless disaster struck.

Sam was awake when Dean finally found his room, and he looked relieved to see Dean standing in the doorway. He reached out with his uninjured hand.

"Dean," he whispered, voice still hoarse, and Dean crossed the room in two long strides and took Sam's hand in his.

"Hey, man, sorry about that. We're getting out of here, okay?"

Sam nodded, wincing as he shifted on the bed. "We still in Lawrence?"

Dean nodded. "'Fraid so. Bobby knows we're coming, though." He rubbed his thumb gently across Sam's temple. The bandages on his face were gone, and he was going to have a wicked new scar on his forehead, but both his eyes were open and clear and focused on Dean.

He could also see that Sam was still in pain, riding a low level of morphine. He wondered how much he could steal before they had to get out of there.

"Sam," he said, eyes flicking to the stand.

"They bring it in one bag at a time," Sam said, clearing his throat. "I can push the button and get a new dose every half hour. Hey, can you--?" He was reaching out for the breakfast tray beside the bed, and Dean handed him the lukewarm teapot. Sam closed his mouth around the spout and drank the tea right from the pot. Dean watched his throat working, marveling at how beautiful he was, beaten up and still going strong.

"Right," he said, baffled as to where that thought had come from, "I brought clothes." They hadn't been washed since the last time Sam wore them, but Sam snorted at him and took the sweatpants out of the bag Dean threw in his lap.

"Can you help?" he asked after a second of staring down at his uncovered legs, both of them still firmly encased in plaster.

The boxers were easier, and Dean looked away to give Sam a modicum of privacy as he hiked them up around his thin hips. The sweatpants didn't seem as interested in stretching around the casts, but Dean cut the elastic with his butterfly knife.

"Jesus, Dean," Sam hissed, "you can't fucking have that in a hospital."

"Never had a problem before," Dean said, easing the t-shirt over Sam's head with surprising gentleness. "But then, we don't do a whole lot of regular hospital visiting." Sam was stiff and slow, easing his arms back down, and Dean found himself running his hands over Sam's upper body, assessing his condition the only way he knew how. His ribs were tender and bruised still, one or two cracked, and Sam shied away when Dean touched them, pulling the shirt down between his skin and Dean's fingers.

"Can you stand?" Dean asked. "Never mind. Don't move. Sam, I said don't move. I'll be right back."

He found a wheelchair sitting alone down the hall, and brought it back. Sam was sitting up on the edge of the bed. His heart monitor was making an unhappy flat-line noise behind him, and Dean saw the clip lying on the bed. Sam was unfamiliarly thin under the clothes, shoulders hunched, and Dean slid his arm under Sam's, around his back.

"Jesus, dude, what did I just tell you?"

"Not to move," Sam rasped, grinning. Dean rolled his eyes and tightened his arm, lifting and easing Sam down off the bed.

They got stopped in the hall by Dr. Andreas. "No, no, no, wait a minute," she said. "We haven't released him, Mr. Derringer, stop right there."

Dean turned around and stepped in close to her, one hand still resting on the wheelchair. "Look," he said, trying to keep his voice level. "I really appreciate what you've done, we both do, but believe me when I tell you that I've gotten Sam through worse than this." That was probably true. "I'm going to take real good care of him, but we really don't have time to stay any longer."

She blinked, brow creasing in confusion and alarm, and Dean knew he was going to win.

"We really do need to keep him under observation," she said hesitantly, obviously trying to pull out the authority she thought her medical degree afforded her.

"No," Dean said. "You can strongly recommend that, but legally he can check out now."

"He might develop complications, an infection."

"If you were worried about that," Dean growled, "you damn well should have kept him in the ICU, shouldn't you?"

Andreas scowled, but an hour later, after Dean had signed off on the insurance papers he didn't read and Sam had acknowledged the risk he was taking and they both had gotten a lecture about physical therapy, Dean was pushing him out into the parking lot.

"Fuck it's cold," Sam croaked, and Dean paused, pulling off his jacket.

"You are such a whiny bitch, Sammy," he muttered, wrapping the old leather coat around Sam's shoulders. Sam smiled, slow and tired. "You hurt anywhere?"

"Yeah," Sam said. "I'll be fine."

"You wanna lie down in the back?"

"No," Sam said, reaching out for the car's passenger door handle. "Hey baby. Long time, no see." He sat just touching her for a long time, and Dean stayed silent and unmoving, watching a tear run down Sam's face and wondering if he should look away. Finally Sam took a breath and rubbed his uninjured hand across his face, and Dean could move again.

Sam slept for two hours while Dean drove, heading north to Sioux Falls. Dean kept looking over to check that Sam was there, long and lean and pale in the passenger seat, and he found himself reaching out to touch. Sam's hands were warm where they lay on his stomach, and Dean traced the tendons in the back of his hand. For an hour, Dean drove with one hand on the wheel and one hand wrapped around Sam's wrist.

It was familiar and comforting, driving: the road thrumming beneath them and the car holding them safe and quiet inside. Dean put some music on low, and he saw the corner of Sam's mouth quirk up as it played.

They barely stopped for lunch-- Dean got a burger he could eat with one hand at a drive-thru he wouldn't remember, and let Sam steal some of his fries. Dean wanted to go as far as he could: get as far away from the scene of the disaster as possible.

By three o'clock they were somewhere north of Omaha on I-29. Dean looked over at the passenger seat to see Sam shaking almost imperceptibly, eyes squeezed shut, breathing shallow.

"Jesus Christ, Sammy," Dean growled, grabbing at his brother's hand again. Sam winced and turned his head away with a quiet groan.

"Dean, don't-"

"Fuck, Sam, if you're hurting-"

"I'm fine," Sam said, but his voice was tight.

"You're not fine," Dean said, throwing on his blinker and pulling off at the next exit. "Look, man, we've gotta have some kind of new system okay? Honesty policy or some shit. Don't tell me you're fine when you're not."

The first motel they came to was a Motel 6--normally way out of their price range, but Dean pulled in anyway. He left Sam in the car while he got a room, argued with the clerk over check-in time, and pulled around the building, cursing under his breath. Sam was breathing slowly and shakily when he opened the passenger side door, and when Dean bodily lifted him into the wheelchair he'd stuck in the back as an afterthought, Sam let out such a tiny noise through his clenched teeth that Dean might not have even heard it, had he not been attuned from the age of four to every nuance of his brother's moods and needs.

It felt like that now-- Sammy needed taking care of, and Dean was the only one who was going to do it. That was his job. It had always been his job. He'd neglected his job for too long now, but by God Dean was going to put it back together.

Guiltily, as he unlocked the door and maneuvered Sam in, he thought about Sam's demand to grow up, and thought fuck it. Sam could grow up when he could walk, and if he wanted then to walk out of Dean's life, Dean would have to let him. At least he wouldn't be dead.

Sam had stopped shaking by the time Dean got him laid out on the second bed and the two Vicodin Dean fed him helped a lot too. Sam was asleep in fifteen minutes, and although his face didn't completely relax, Dean was at least glad to see the color returning.

He sat for a minute on the edge of Sam's bed, staring at him. The bruising on his face was starting to heal, purple middles fading to a sickly yellow at the edges, and the stitches over his eyebrow might come out in a few days. Dean was lucky Sam hadn't had a serious concussion, and as Dean felt the back of Sam's head gently, he felt a great wave of relief to find the swelling less than it had been.

Sam's cracked ribs looked sore, and Dean could feel that Sam's breathing was shallow and careful, even knocked out like he was by the drugs. He was going to have to insist that Sam breathe deeper or they were going to have to deal with pneumonia on top of everything, and Dean was not gonna let that happen.

Dean watched Sam's eyes moving under his eyelids. He reached up and brushed a lock of Sam's stupid hair off his forehead. Maybe he could convince Sam it was time to cut it. Dean had cut Sam's hair since he could remember-- barber shops were not something the Winchesters had time or cash for.

He got off the bed, washed his hands at the sink, and stepped outside to call Bobby.

Bobby picked up on the first ring. "Dean. Where are you guys?"

"I dunno," Dean said. "Outside of Omaha. We had to stop, Bobby, Sam can't take any more driving today. We'll be up there tomorrow, I bet."

"I don't think you should," Bobby said after a moment. "Dean, you boys would be better off laying low for a bit."

"Why?" Dean asked, clutching the phone in his hand. "What's going on?"

"Well," Bobby said, "since you ganked the Devil, things have been a bit unstable."

"What do you mean, 'unstable'?" Dean demanded.

Bobby sighed. "Look, the demons are pissed. They thought the war was coming, and they're mad it's over already. Just-- just stay put, Dean. Don't hunt. Don't draw attention to yourselves."

Dean paused, realizing his pacing had taken him around the parking lot and back. "You're saying we can't come to you."

"I don't think it's a good idea, just now." Bobby shuffled some papers, and Dean could picture him sitting at his desk, frowning. "Everyone and their demon brother knows you could show up here. So do what I tell you and stay put. Settle down or something. Get a job. Y'all deserve a little quiet, I think."

"Yeah," Dean agreed after a moment's silence. "Okay. Yeah."

"We'll stay in touch," Bobby said. "Take care of yourself, son. Take care of Sam."

"Yeah," Dean said again, and then Bobby hung up.

Dean put his phone back in his pocket and turned to look at the closed motel door. Sam was in there, safe and sound, behind a line of salt and a couple of wards, and he was going to be okay.

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Dean woke up in the middle of the night, coming to full awareness instantly, hand closed around the handle of his knife. He wasn't sure what had woken him, and then he heard Sam's ruined voice from the other bed.

"Dean?" It sounded strange in the darkness: panicked and unsure, not like Sam. Dean sat up and pushed the sheets back, and crossed the small space between the beds.

"Sammy? What's up?"

He saw a pale shape move in the dark, and then Sam's hand was on his face, warm palm and sterile bandage cupping his jaw, sliding across it. Then the hand was gone.

"What's wrong, Sam?" For a minute, Dean thought about climbing into bed with Sam, which was stupid. They hadn't shared since Sam broke six feet, and Dean was twenty, and they'd stayed in that apartment in Telluride with the pines out front and the freezer on the back porch. But Sam was hurting, and Dean's first instinct was to make it better, and he'd missed the sounds of Sam just being there.

"You're here," Sam whispered, and then he coughed.

"Of course I'm here, dude," Dean said, finding Sam's shoulder in the dark and squeezing gently. "I'm here. Whatever it was, it's not real. Just a dream, man."

"It is real," Sam said, and Dean could see him turning his head slowly back and forth on the pillow. "It's real, Dean, you know that. It's all real, and it—it hurts, Dean, it hurts so bad."

Dean sank down onto his knees beside Sam, and Sam reached for him again. He put his hand on Dean's cheek, thumb stroking his cheekbone, and Dean put his hand over Sam's heart, feeling it pound under his palm, gradually slowing as they looked at each other.

"You want some water?" Dean asked eventually.

"Yeah," Sam breathed, letting his hand drop, and Dean clambered to his feet.

"Okay, man. Anything you need, let me know, okay?"

"'Kay," Sam said. Dean could see his face relax, his eyes close.

Dean dropped the plastic cup in the sink and swore as it clattered, and he heard Sam huff a laugh from behind him. When he handed the cup to Sam, Sam promptly spilled it on his shirt. Dean snorted and muttered, "Go easy, dude," and Sam let his breath out in an involuntary sigh when he relaxed again.

Dean put the cup down on the table and started to turn away, but Sam caught the front of his t-shirt in his hand.

"What?" he said, almost a growl, but unable to hide the indulgent edge.

"Stay?"

"What-- Sam, no." Sam's mouth turned down in a frown, and Dean felt his resolve crumbling. "You're not exactly tiny, dude."

"Hospital bed was smaller," Sam said, tugging on Dean's shirt. "Dean."

Damn him. Saying Dean's name like that shouldn't be so convincing, but there he was, already contemplating the best way to get in with Sam without jostling him. "Okay," he said finally, "but don't take up all the room, asshole."

He watched Sam try to shift over and fail, wincing, and put a hand on his chest to stop him. He clambered in from the other side, feeling strange that he wasn't between Sam and the door, and stretched out on his stomach, not exactly cuddled up to his brother, but still touching him.

"Fuckin' hot in a bed with you," he grumbled, muffled in the pillow, and Sam harrumphed. "Like a goddamn furnace." Sam shifted, awkwardly, trapped in one position by his legs and his stitches, and Dean reached out and put his hand back on Sam's chest. "Keep still or I'm leaving," he said, but he didn't mean it. He slid his hand off Sam's chest again, tucking it with his other underneath the pillow, and settled down to sleep.

Half-dozing, listening to Sam breathe, he felt Sam's hand drift across the space between them to settle just against his ribs. He breathed in deeply to feel the pressure increase, and heard Sam exhale on a sigh.

He dreamed of Hell, but not in a way he ever had before. This time it was him and Sam, standing tall, back to back, fending off the terrors and the demons easily, playing off each other. He could feel Sam against him, firm and strong and reliable, and he knew they were going to win.

____spacer____


When he got out of the shower the next morning, Sam was awake, staring at the ceiling with a glazed expression on his ashen face. Dean yanked on his boxers and hurried to him, laying a hand on his forehead.

"Hey, Sam, dude, what's going on? You okay?"

Sam let out a noise that was halfway between a whimper and a squeak, teeth bared, and shook his head. Dean let go of him and squeezed his shoulder instead, mindful of his injuries.

"Calm down, Sammy," he said, "It's okay." Sam closed his eyes and took a deeper breath, and another, the tension in his face and neck relaxing marginally, and Dean rubbed his shoulder. "That's it. Slow down. Chill out. There you go."

Sam opened his eyes again and looked up into Dean's face. "Hurts," he said. "Sorry, Dean, sorry."

"Dude, seriously," Dean scoffed, shaking his head. "I'm only giving you one Vicodin this time. That shit knocked you out so fast yesterday."

Sam took another careful breath. "And that's bad why?"

Dean's grin lasted a moment, but then he rolled his eyes and shook his still damp head over Sam, spraying his face with a sprinkle of cool drops. "Like we need you addicted to something new."

"What the fuck--" Sam started, eyes going wide, and Dean put his hands out again.

"Sorry, I didn't-- I didn't mean that. That was low."

Sam scowled at him and looked away, obviously wishing he could do a lot more than give Dean the cold shoulder. "I'm clean," he muttered. Dean stepped away, feeling like an asshole, and came back with a pill and a cup of water. Sam took it after he'd satisfied himself glaring at Dean.

"I'm gonna go-- uh." Dean rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. "Gonna look for a job."

Sam blinked and tried to sit up, failing until Dean got his arms around Sam's body and helped him shift so he was resting against the headboard.

"Why?"

Dean looked at him like he was touched in the head. "Because we're laying low for a bit, 'til you get better, bitch."

"We're not going to Bobby's?" Sam asked, unconsciously touching the bruise on his forehead.

"Not today," Dean said, and explained what Bobby had told him while he got dressed.

"Shit," Sam said.

"Yeah." Dean tugged on his boots and tied them. "I'll be back in a few hours. Call me if you need anything."