Author's Note: Hi, all. This fic (set after the Season Two episode Hunted) was written for my good friend Jet for Christmas, but was delayed due to a croaking laptop. It's meant to be sweet, just like her. J Many thanks to Snow White and Eloise for their comments and help; I'm in your debt for sure. J


Staying Together

"That's all you've got?" Dean Winchester asks incredulously, steering with one hand and resisting the urge to chuck the cell phone in his other out the open window of the Impala. "A dog?"

"Boy, you think this is an episode of Medium?" Dean holds the phone back from his ear as the sharp voice blares from the device. "And don't be taking that tone with me. This never would have happened if you'd just talked to your brother." There's a frustrated huff, then, "You Winchester men, you're all the same; good hearts, but stubborn as mules."

Dean sighs, puts the phone back to his ear. "Anything else?"

"Try a coffee shop."

Dean makes an abrupt turn toward the center of town closest to the college. "You saw that?" he asks, hoping for more as his eyes scan the storefronts lining the street.

"No. The boy likes coffee."

Dean purses his lips tightly together. "Thanks, Missouri. I'll give you a call when I find him."

The psychic's voice softens. "Don't be worrying none; you'll know what to say."

The fuck I will. Dean snaps the phone shut, glancing at it warily. Shaking his head, he resumes his search. Two weeks. Sam's been gone for two fucking weeks now. He should have known it wouldn't be that easy; should have expected the kid to split again, no matter what Sam might have said. After all, hadn't he taken off for Indiana right after promising Dean he'd give him some time to think this thing through? Dean's jaw tenses, and he makes a concentrated effort not to grind his teeth as he pulls up to a light. Should have kicked his ass the first time.

He'd been so relieved at finding his younger brother safe, any inclinations he'd had toward ass-kicking had quickly been forgotten. Besides, he really can't blame Sam for being pissed, or even a little spooked. Hell, Dean's been pissed and spooked enough for both of them these last few months. But he'd thought after the mess with Gordon, and Ava's disappearance, that Sam had finally gotten the message that Dean wasn't going anywhere. Well, he might not have been going anywhere, but Sam obviously has other ideas. This is twice his little brother has given him the slip, and the deception is starting to grate. At first, Dean thought Sam had just gone for breakfast, like he has a hundred times before. He'd finally called Sam's cell and gotten voicemail. He's left several messages since, each one more agitated than the last.

"Sammy, get a move on. We gotta hit the road here."

"Sammy. You'd better not be sitting somewhere with your nose in a book. Get the hell back here."

"Where the fuck are you? Call me."

"Sam. Pick up the freakin' phone – I swear, if you've gotten yourself kidnapped by the cast of Deliverance again... Dude, just call me, okay? Please."

Then, finally: "I got your note, you shit, and this isn't over. You call me back, Sam. You call me back, or so help me, when I catch up with you I'm gonna - "

***************************************************************

Sam clicks his phone abruptly shut, effectively cutting off whatever threat his brother is about to make. He's listened to the messages several times over the last few days, the sound of Dean's voice bringing him comfort even as the older hunter's obvious hurt and fury makes guilt twist in his stomach. But the memory of Ava's fiancé, the blood-soaked sheets – the memory of Jess – keeps him from making the call that will bring Dean running to his side. He's been careful this time, not calling the roadhouse, not contacting anyone who might alert his brother. Staying with Dean will make his brother a willing target – for anyone who decides Sam might be dangerous, and for Sam himself. Sam pockets the phone, rubs a hand over his face. Time to go to work.

**************************************************************

Dean circles the block again, wondering not for the first time if maybe he's got this whole thing wrong. His every instinct tells him Sam will go to ground somewhere familiar, somewhere he blends in. With his shaggy hair and earnest smile, a college town seems a good bet; something rural and unassuming where Sam can complete his research unnoticed. Dean glances at the crinkled map spread across the passenger seat, frowning at the x's slashed over several of the circled possibilities. A dog. A freakin' dog?? Dean wipes a hand over his stubbled face. At this rate, what are the chances he'll find Sam before someone else does?

Dean looks up as a blond co-ed with ample cleavage steps out from a coffee house. "Well, well, well," he murmurs, slowing to appreciate the view. "Can't say this was a wasted trip." It's when his eyes catch a glimpse of the sign behind the breasts, the one with the spotted dog, that he finds himself abruptly hitting the brakes. A Toyota Prius behind him honks petulantly. "Sorry." Dean waves vaguely, his eyes moving over the entrance to the coffee house. Deaf Dog Coffee. Dean blinks. It's a coincidence. I mean, a dog - a dog could mean anything. Sam could be at the pound. It doesn't mean that –

"- he's here," Dean utters, astounded as his little brother's tall frame shoulders its way out the coffee house's doors. He's still wearing the cast on his right arm, still hasn't cut his hair. He ducks his head and makes his way casually down the street; as if he hasn't put himself in grave danger by charging into this without back-up. As if Dean hasn't been worrying himself sick every minute that he's been gone. With a quick turn of the wheel, Dean swings the Impala into a loading zone and parks. It takes all of his self-control not to slam the door when he gets out, his hunter's gaze still trained on his quarry. Sam is almost to the corner now, about to cross the street, and Dean's impatience gets the better of him.

"Sam!" It's a harsh bark that sails above the trail of students, stops Sam in his tracks. For a moment, Dean thinks his brother's going to turn and walk back to him. But like a deer briefly stunned by a car, Sam suddenly bolts down the sidewalk. "Oh, you did not." Dean's breath hisses between his teeth. Son of a bitch…

****************************************************************

Sam slips out the door of the coffee house, mentally calculating the contents of his wallet. Two hundred and forty-four dollars. Two term papers at fifty bucks a pop, plus several odd hours of tutoring students; just enough to pay for food and the weekly rate at his crap motel. His credit cards sit idle in his wallet, an unhappy reminder of his duplicity every time he opens the creased leather. But there are lots of things Sam can't afford right now, and alerting Dean to his whereabouts is one of them. Suddenly weary, Sam ducks his head and makes his way through the bustling students.

"Sam!" At first Sam thinks his brother's angry voice is a manifestation of his guilty conscience. But as the heads around him turn in curiosity, Sam's heart begins to beat painfully against his ribs. Shit. He can't talk to Dean now. Not like this. Not when - Sam doesn't remember the exact moment his feet start pounding the pavement; only recognizes he's running as the world flies by faster. He dodges a UPS deliveryman and a political science major toting a petition, and heads for an intersection. He glances behind him, just for a split second, and instantly regrets it.

Dean's weaving in and out of the sidewalk traffic, wearing an all-too familiar expression; the one Sam usually sees just before Dean kills something. Stubborn bastard. He's been able to out-sprint Dean since he was fifteen and hit his growth spurt, but what his brother lacks in speed he makes up for in stamina. He's not going to give up. Sam turns forward again, determined to lose the other hunter, even as he hears Dean's voice yell for him to stop. There's something wrong about the command, a desperation Sam has no time to process as the sounds of screeching brakes rattles the air.

Sam staggers to a halt in front of the truck, can almost touch the grill in front of him. Panting and dazed, he turns and looks for Dean. His brother has frozen on the sidewalk, the horror at seeing Sam nearly flattened slowly morphing into fury. The intensity of that look causes Sam to take a step backward, oblivious to the truck driver now yelling out the window of his cab.

"Sammy," Dean warns, although Sam can only read his lips from this distance. There's no doubt in his mind now. Dean is going to kill him.

****************************************************************

"I'm gonna kill him," Dean growls under his breath, as Sam turns and tears off down the street. He gives chase again, dashing through the still stalled intersection and cursing Sam's freakishly long legs. Still, Sam's pace isn't what it used to be – either the cast or recent brush with death is throwing him off. Within minutes Dean is gaining ground. He doesn't bother yelling for Sam to stop, even as Sam breaks and heads across a park. Dean just keeps running until he's close enough to hear Sam's measured breathing; close enough to snatch the back of Sam's jacket in his fist and roll them both to the ground.

Dean lies there on his back, tries to catch his breath as Sam pants into the grass beside him. He's not stupid enough to take his eyes off Sam, though. Not this time. Instead, he waits just long enough to find his wind before releasing his grip on Sam's jacket and pushing to his feet. "Get your ass up and come on. Unless you want to finish this right here."

"Uh, no, but - "

"Now, Sam."

Sam lifts his chin from the lawn and eyes him warily. He hasn't seen Dean this incensed since – well, since he took the bus to Magalia when he was fourteen. And that sure as hell didn't end well. Resisting the urge to sigh, Sam climbs to his feet. He's unsurprised when a middle-aged jogger pulls up beside them, frowning as Dean once again grabs hold of Sam's jacket.

"Hey. Is everything alright here?"

Dean reaches into his pocket and flips open a badge. "Ace Frehley, FBI. I'm taking this man into custody."

The man leans in to peer at the logo. "That's an IRS ID."

"You wanna get audited?" The jogger backs away, then heads off down the trail. "Yeah, thought so," Dean mutters, and shoves Sam ahead of him.

****************************************************************

"How did you find me?" Sam steps backward into the small motel room, momentarily flattening against the dingy wall in order to allow his brother entry.

"Did you really think I wouldn't?" Dean asks, reaching a hand back to shut the door. His eyes narrow on the dimly lit room, taking in the sinking mattress of the still-made bed, the scatter of notes and articles tacked above the rickety desk in the corner. Bell jar much, Sammy boy?

"Ash helped you, didn't he?"

"Missouri. Shut up," Dean tells him, pointing a warning finger in his direction. "It was gonna happen; this way was just faster." He scowls at his little brother. He looks like crap. There are dark circles beneath Sam's eyes, and he looks like he's dropped some weight. All this emo shit, and for what? "You wanna tell me what the hell this is about?"

Sam flexes his jaw, not responding. There's no good way to say this, no way Dean's going to give him an out. Why can't he just leave it alone?

"Sam?"

It's more of a command than a question, and Sam shakes his head. "It's not safe for you to be around me."

"Damn it, Sam. We've been through this already - "

"You know it, Dean," Sam insists. "I saw your face when we found out about Andy. And after Ava's fiancé? You were freaked."

"I was surprised," Dean snaps. "It doesn't change anything."

Sam actually laughs, but there's no humor to the sound. "It changes everything. It changes me. You don't think you'd eventually end up wondering when I was gonna turn this thing on you? Christ, Dean – I've already shot you. What's gonna be next?"

Dean won't dignify the words; simply snatches up a sweatshirt hanging over a nearby chair and slings it at Sam's chest. "Get your shit together."

"No." Sam scoffs, tossing the garment aside. "I'm not your responsibility anymore, Dean. Dad's dead; you're off the hook. "

Dean takes a step toward his brother, then somehow checks himself, forces his fingers to uncurl. "I will pick your scrawny ass up and throw you in that car," Dean warns.

"Fine. Just look me in the eye and tell me that nothing's changed. Tell me you're not afraid of this. Of me."

Dean's jaw tightens. "Nothing's changed. And I'm not afraid of you."

"I don't believe you."

"Fuck, Sam." Dean runs a hand over his head in frustration, his every muscle fraught with tension. "Fine, if you won't hear it - " A low growl rumbles from his throat, and then he reaches out and seizes his brother by the shirtfront.

Whether it's lack of sleep or mere surprise dulling Sam's reflexes, Dean doesn't know. Doesn't care, either. He drags Sam with him to the sagging bed, taking a seat before wrestling the younger man over his lap. Dean can't remember the last time he was this pissed. Sam has always been able to get under his skin – it's practically his fucking job, for crying out loud – but this thing has gone too far. Dean might regret kicking Sam's ass, but he's sure as hell not going to feel bad about beating it.

"Dude - this is insane," Sam pants, struggling to free himself from Dean's steely grip even as Dean traps his legs between his. He rarely has occasion to feel Dean's full strength, and its power never fails to astonish. With Sam's left arm pinned tightly against Dean's stomach and his right virtually useless in its cast, his brother manages to hold him in position with annoying ease.

"Starting to look that way," Dean remarks tersely, swatting his hand down hard onto the seat of Sam's jeans and feeling a grim satisfaction at the small yelp it elicits from his brother.

"Damn it, Dean!" Sam tries to twist in Dean's grasp, his confidence faltering as Dean's continues to land heavy slaps to the worn denim. "This won't resolve anything!"

The smacks don't stop, and Dean's voice above him is entirely too reasonable. "Maybe not, but I know I'll feel better. Can't say the same for you."

Sam grits his teeth against both the growing sting and his own impotent fury. "I swear I'll kick your ass for this."

"That threat would work a lot better if I was actually afraid of you, little brother, but since I'm not…"

"What? So you're Dad now?" The words are laced with both hurt and defiance, but Dean's past the point of sympathy. "You can't just spank me like a kid and expect me to fall into line!"

"Yeah?" Dean wants to know, his own temper sparking. "Well, you can't just take off like a kid every time you get spooked. You've been doing this job long enough to know that going in blind and without back-up is a dumbass thing to do. We're a team. You wanna leave, you come and tell me to my face – you don't just disappear the minute I turn my back!"

"You wouldn't have let me!" Sam shouts.

"Damn right I wouldn't have," Dean agrees, pausing in his spanking to reach beneath Sam and unfasten his jeans. Sam goes rigid as the denim is tugged down his legs.

"What the hell are you doing?" There's a frantic edge to the demand.

"What I'd do any other time you ran off and almost got yourself killed," Dean fires back, yanking the briefs down as well and ignoring Sam's roar of indignation. "What I should have done when I found you in Indiana. Actions have consequences, pal. That hasn't changed at all, and if you can't get it through your thick head, riding in the car is gonna get awfully uncomfortable for you."

Sam winces and bites back a cry as a resuming smack echoes loudly in the small space. He squirms under the ensuing onslaught, the smart swats scorching his bare skin in a measured, unfailing rhythm. Whatever reasons he had for ditching Dean again slowly dissolve. The pain of the childish punishment and Dean's obvious disappointment strip away his defenses, and suddenly he feels every bit the kid Dean's accused him of being. Sam's eyes start to burn and he blinks fiercely, tries to keep the waver from his voice.

"Okay, I get it, alright? Just let me up, man."

"You don't get it," Dean tells him, delivering a series of sharp swats to Sam's already glowing backside. "You think I'm only here because of Dad? That following orders is all I care about?"

"I – no. I know it's not," Sam admits, hating the way his chest is suddenly tight, like he can't get in enough air. Dean doesn't seem to hear him, though.

"When are you gonna start trusting me, huh? Have I ever let you down?"

Sam gulps. "No. I – I do. I trust you." Sam hangs his head, hot tears finally streaking his face. Dean doesn't deserve this. And maybe he does. "I don't trust me." The smacks still abruptly, but Sam's already a collapsing dam. "Mom – and J-Jess. I just - . Not you, too, man. I'm cursed."

Sam's voice breaks on the last word, and Dean sighs at the tearful admission. Finally. Dean can do this. Law geek Sam can out-argue the best of them, but he's never been able to refute the simple logic of their childhood. "Who's the little brother here?" Sam doesn't answer, and Dean finds himself losing his patience. He lands two quick swats to the backs of Sam's thighs. "Sam?" he asks, softer in the wake of his brother's quiet sob.

"I am." There's a world of reluctance in the hoarse words.

"Right," Dean praises. "And who's the big, handsome brother?"

If Sam had the energy he'd roll his eyes. "You are."

"Exactly. Which means you listen to me."

"Does not."

A smile quirks Dean's mouth. "Totally does." He pauses, wanting to find the right words. "Look, Sammy; we're gonna figure this out. But together. I meant what I said before - long as I'm around, nothing bad is gonna happen to you. Okay?"

"Define bad," Sam grumbles, clearly unhappy with the present proceedings. "Do I have a choice?"

Dean's smile widens. "Nope."

Sam scrubs at his eyes with his free hand, exhausted, but oddly more at peace than he's been in weeks. "Okay."

Dean reaches down and tugs up Sam's briefs, then does the same with his jeans. He lifts his leg from Sam's, steadies the younger hunter as he awkwardly gets to his feet.

Embarrassed, Sam moves to turn away, only to have Dean's fingers catch his wrist. "I'm not sitting on your lap," Sam warns him.

Dean snorts. "Just sit down, smartass."

Sam takes a ginger seat on the edge of the bed, flinching at the pressure on his throbbing backside. Guess Dean was right – that definitely hasn't changed. He's surprised when Dean's warm hand curls around the nape of his neck, gently guiding his head down to his shoulder. The comforting scent of leather and gun oil is thick on his brother's shirt, and Sam blinks away tears. His brow furrows even as a familiar sense of calm envelops him. "Dude; are you hugging me?"

"Dude, can you shut up?"

Sam huffs, a small smile touching his mouth, and does just that.

*****************************************************************

"Sam." Sam shoots Dean a startled glance from the passenger seat. "Do you think you could sit still for more than a minute at a time? You're starting to make me nervous."

Sam scowls. "I'm not nervous, I'm – never mind."

Dean throws his little brother a smirk. "Seat not as comfortable as you remember?"

"Shut up."

"Awww, come on, Sammy, lighten up. You've ridden with worse." Dean chuckles. "Remember that time you called Dad a Nazi? You rode the whole way to Columbus on your stomach."

"Yeah, well, I was thirteen, not twenty-three, Dean. Even Dad would draw the line somewhere."

Dean raises a brow at the open road. "Oh, you think so?" He glances over at his six foot four little brother, who never looked this pouty when he actually was thirteen. "Dad would do whatever it took to keep you safe, from anyone or anything. And that includes yourself." There's a soft snort of disbelief from the right side of the car, but Dean chooses to ignore it. "He never stopped. Even at Stanford, you were only as far away as you believed you were." Dean turns back to the highway, away from Sam's look of surprise. "You aren't alone, Sam. Even if it seems that way."

Sam stares at his brother for a moment, but Dean's face has gone shuttered again. Still, Sam has had enough experience with Dean-speak to know what his brother is saying, and he reaches into his pocket for his cell phone, his next words deceptively casual. "So you love me, huh?"

"Hey!" The expression on Dean's face is priceless, and Sam snaps a picture with the cell's camera. "I did not say that."

"Sure you did," Sam replies, pocketing the phone again with a small grin. "I think it's sweet." Then, "Oh, wow. Are you blushing?"

Dean shakes his head. "I swear, Sam, one more word, and I'm gonna - "

"Kill me?" He turns toward the window so Dean won't see his amusement. "Yeah, alright. I'm getting that a lot lately."

"Wonder why?" Dean mutters, but after a moment, a reluctant smile tugs at his lips. If a chick flick moment is what it takes to convince Sam they need to stay together, then Dean guesses it's worth it. Doesn't mean he's going to let this kind of shit slide; not by a long shot. He steps a little harder on the gas and turns up the AC/DC, pleased at the thought. Just for that, I'm letting *him* call back Missouri.

Back to more of Relic's Stories