Dean glances over at Sam who is leaned up against the cool glass of the passenger window, out like a light.
It makes his heart jump.
Sam has always been a still sleeper, which Dean is thankful for on the rare occasions they share a bed. He doesn't snore either – in fact, most nights, Dean can't even hear him breathe.
It's a blessing turned curse.
Because right now, Sam looks all too much like he did on the floor of that wretched cabin.
Still. Silent. Corpselike.
Dean swallows hard and waits to see the rise and fall of Sam's chest before readjusting his eyes on the road before him. His hands would be shaking if not for his death grip on the steering wheel.
He feels like he has water in his ears.
Too close, he thinks. He was too damn close to losing Sam for real, forever, and the enormity of that – the sheer dread that brings Dean is making him lightheaded. The air in the closed confines of the Impala seems to be getting thick, his vision is getting hazy around the edges.
Dean decides to stop for the night, making sure they're out of Idaho state lines, in a little town just outside of Kemmerer, Wyoming. If his mental and physical state would have allowed it, Dean would have continued to drive all night, back to the bunker, distancing himself as far as possible from Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
But his emotional and physical exhaustion win out, and he chooses a bed and breakfast over their typical rundown motel. He wants Sam to get some proper rest, and he doesn't mind luxuriating a little to make that happen.
He makes sure to swing by the local grocery shop first, to get Sam some essentials.
Then Dean gets them a room, leaving Sam in the car, not wanting to wake him until he has to. When he returns to the Impala, he taps lightly on the passenger window to rouse his brother.
Sam opens his eyes, clearly a little startled until he sees Dean smirking at him through the window. Dean opens the door for him. "Hiya, Sleeping Beauty," he greets.
Sam returns his grin and wipes the sleep from his eyes. "Hey," he croaks. "Where are we?" He pushes himself up to take a look at his surroundings, raising his eyebrows when he reads the sign outside of the house they're parked in front of. "A bed and breakfast?"
Dean shrugs. "Figure we deserve to treat ourselves after that hunt."
"You can say that again," Sam agrees. He tilts his head at Dean. "But I thought you'd drive through the night." He glances at the clock. "It's not really your style to stop at—" he squints, "—8:30."
"Yeah, well, I'm beat, man. And you're on prescribed bed rest. Hence the luxury." He opens the door further. "C'mon, I'll help you inside."
Sam rolls his eyes. "I don't need help, man, if you just get the bags."
Dean relents, but it doesn't go unnoticed by him when Sam grimaces while getting out of the car.
Once settled in the room, Dean has Sam sit on a bed and then he presses a bottle of water on him. He knows how important it is for him to stay hydrated after losing so much blood, and Sam is looking a little peaked.
"Thanks," Sam acknowledges, taking the water gratefully.
Dean grunts and motions at Sam's abdomen. "Let me see how those stitches are holdin' up," he says, all business.
Sam sighs and lifts his shirt up to let Dean inspect.
"They look okay right now," Dean reports, "but one wrong move and those suckers will split wide open. You need to be careful, Sam."
Sam rolls his eyes again. "I know, Dean. I'm not exactly a rookie at this."
"No, but you are a clumsy Sasquatch." Dean punches his brother lightly in the shoulder as he makes his way over to the grocery bags he'd set on the counter. "You think you can stomach some grub?"
Sam swallows noticeably. "Maybe something small."
Sam nods, so Dean tosses him one. He takes one for himself as well, hoping some food in his system will help the churning in his gut. He pops open a beer too because that's his coping mechanism. Maybe it will stop the shake in his hands.
He carefully sinks into the adjacent bed and points the remote at the TV to turn it on. He begins flipping channels.
As he sips on his water, Sam watches him.
"What, Sam?" Dean growls, after five minutes of this.
"Are you okay? You seem tense."
Dean feels tense. He wants to scream because he needs to tell Sam about what went down at the urgent care, but he doesn't know how. He wants to cry because the ache in his chest – the one that started the second Sam was shot – hasn't gone away.
He wishes they'd never gone on that stupid hunt.
Sam knows it's bullshit. Dean knows he knows. But Sam lets it go. Neither one of them are up for looking at this thing under a microscope. Not now.
"How're your ribs?"
"I've had worse," Dean says, and it's not a lie. He barely even notices that pain on top of everything else. He sets the remote down when he lands on a college basketball game. It's March Madness right now, and maybe Sam'll be interested. Maybe it'll get him to shut up.
"Dude, are the Jayhawks playing?" Sam asks. "Turn it up."
Dean smirks and goes back to sipping his beer in peace.
It's the dead of night when it happens.
Sam is fast asleep and Dean finds himself at the table of the kitchenette, an old book in front of him, researching with no rewards. He couldn't sleep. How could he with Amara and Lucifer – fucking Lucifer in Cas's meat suit – out there, and what Billie said, and how he'd almost lost Sam for good, and how he'd almost died from an overdose – all for nothing, for nothing.
He wishes he'd been the one to shoot Corbin dead.
Gosh, he was so stupid.
He reaches, with a shaky arm, for his bottle of beer, but ends up knocking it over instead. It goes crashing to the ground and glass litters the floor.
It all catches up to him then. It's like a direct punch in his gut, and Dean can't move. He goes to take a breath and wants to scream out with pain when his heart tries to burst out of his chest. He can't get air in, he can't breathe, oh God…
Sam is awake and at his side before Dean can even blink. He's grabbing at Dean's shoulders, shaking him.
"What's wrong? Dean?"
That's when Dean's arms revive, and he grabs for his chest, pressing hard. He tries again to take a breath, but can't. His vision swims dizzily in front of his eyes. He feels himself loll forward, and Sam catches him with a grunt against his chest.
"Whoa! Jesus, Dean, take a breath, man. You're okay. Just breathe."
"Can't," Dean manages to get out past lips that feel swelled up. He closes his eyes tight when images of Sam plague his vision. Dead Sam.
He feels bile surge up his throat and he hiccups on a sob. With it, comes everything in his stomach. Sam stumbles back and Dean feels himself falling from the chair. Before he lands, though, Sam's arm catches him and flattens across his chest. Dean doubles over it, and throws up again. This time the arm stays firm and strong. Dean clings to it and tries to remind himself that this arm belongs to Sam. Sam, who is alive – a little worse for wear – but alive. And that's all that matters.
Finally, Dean manages to suck in a breath and with it comes a shooting pain through his ribs. He moans as his heart hammers against his rib cage at a startling rate. His head sags as his chin rests against his chest. He is totally and completely spent.
"Dean?" he hears through clogged ears. "Talk to me, man. You okay?"
"Yeah," he grunts. "Jus' gimme a minute."
"Okay, man, okay," Sam says, and Dean can hear the trepidation in his voice.
Fuck, I scared Sammy, he thinks. If he's being honest, he scared himself a little too.
Sam rubs his back while Dean wills his heart to slow down. He's taking shallow breaths because deep ones hurt too much. When he stops panting, Sam asks if he's okay to move.
Dean nods. He just wants to lie down.
Sam crouches down so he can get his shoulder under Dean's armpit to help him stand. "I got it, Sammy," Dean protests. "Your stitches…"
"Shut up, Dean."
Sam maneuvers Dean around the mess on the floor and to his bed. He deposits him on the mattress and helps him lean against the headboard, stuffing a pillow behind his back.
Dean mumbles his thanks and opens a bleary eye to focus on his brother. His brother, who is in the process of removing his shirt because he hadn't been able to dodge Dean's sudden bout of sickness.
"Sorry, Sam," Dean breathes. And he is. He's so sorry and embarrassed and just feels downright miserable.
"Hey, it's no big thing," Sam reassures him, tossing the shirt aside. "You know, between the two of us, we're two for two on not being able to keep our guts where they belong."
Dean gulps hard at the image of Sam holding his insides in with just his hand. He swallows back more bile. "Not funny."
The expression on Sam's face lets Dean know he wasn't trying to be. He watches as Sam goes into the bathroom and grabs some towels to put over his mess on the floor of the kitchenette, to be dealt with later. Then he fills a glass up with water and brings it back to his brother.
He kneels down at Dean's bedside and reaches up to feel his forehead. Dean would have batted his hand away – in true Winchester fashion – if he'd had the strength.
"You coming down from it now?" Sam asks gently, recognizing Dean's panic attack for what it was.
Dean can still feel his heart in his chest and his hands feel numb, but at least now he can breathe. "Yeah," he answers softly. And then, because he feels obligated to be the one to initiate it, he says, "We need to talk."
Sam bows his head and licks his lips. He lets out a deep breath and then hoists himself up to sit on the edge of Dean's bed. "I disagree."
Before Dean can ask what he means by that, Sam is reaching out and pulling him in for a hug. It's not a forceful hug. It's gentle. Sam is cognizant of his stitched abdomen as well as his brother's busted ribs. He guides Dean's head into the crevice of his neck and bare chest. They fit together like a puzzle piece.
"Right now…" Sam whispers, and hugs Dean a little tighter, "…this is what we need."
Dean closes his eyes and tears escape down his cheeks out of relief. He can feel the beat of Sam's heart pressed up against his chest, can feel Sam's warm breath on his neck. And this is what he needs.
It makes him feel whole again, when just moments before he felt shattered. The pieces of him are being put back together, all stemming from his brother's embrace.
Tomorrow, they will talk. Dean will put everything out on the table. His fears, his regrets, his entire heart and soul.
It will be a hard conversation, one that will test their relationship all over again.
But for now?
For now, they're not letting go.
They need this. Just a big brother and a little brother, fitting together.