Author's Notes: Italics indicate thoughts.

Unnecessary Risks


"Where have you been? I've been looking all over for you."

"Good morning to you, too." Sam sets his coffee down on the roof of the Impala and reaches into a pocket, pulling out a Pepsi and tossing it over to Dean. "You were sleeping, so I ran across the street for a few minutes."

"Next time, leave a note," Dean tells him shortly. Sam sighs as Dean climbs into the car and shuts the door. Like father, like son. Sam grabs his coffee from the roof of the car and gets in, casting a wary glance at his brother. Dean has been unusually tense since Burkitsville, and their recent brush with the reaper hasn't helped matters.

"I didn't mean to worry you."

"I wasn't worried." Dean keeps his eyes to the road as he pulls out of the motel parking lot, not wanting to see Sam's lost puppy look just now. Especially since Dean just spent the last half hour looking like the kid who lost said puppy. "I just want to get going."

Uh, huh.
"So. Where to?"

"Just the one stop at McNear's to fill him in, and then on to Flagstaff." Dean looks over at his brother. "That work for you?"

"It's that much closer to Dad."

Dean nods, but doesn't say what he's thinking; they won't find John Winchester any time soon. Not if he doesn't want to be found. It's he and Sam now, and that's enough. Dean clicks his fingers against the top of his Pepsi can. "Thanks for the soda," he says gruffly.

Sam smiles, familiar with Dean-speak, and knowing it's as much of an apology as he's going to get. "That's not all," Sam tells him, and tosses him the pack of doughnuts he bought along with his biscotti this morning.

"Donettes? Sweet." Dean tucks the chocolate-covered goodness into his jacket for later. He's still amazed by the things Sam remembers about him, even after four years apart. And it's the little things, like remembering what junk food Dean likes for breakfast, that seem to do Dean's defenses the worst damage. Dean grins at Sam fondly, his dark mood lifting for the moment. "Someday I'm gonna marry a girl just like you."

"Shut up."

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

"You coming or are you waiting for an engraved invitation?" Dean asks. They're parked out in the woods, and Sam is still leaning against the car, apparently not in any hurry to make the journey from there to McNear's front door. Dean's not exactly excited himself. Telling someone his cousin murdered his much-younger girlfriend is one thing; telling him Susan Reilly returned from the dead and bled the cousin dry is another. At least they can report the vengeful act put the neuntoter to rest. Another day, another satisfied customer…

"I'm waiting for my coffee to cool," Sam says innocently, blowing into the cup for emphasis. If he's lucky, he'll get a chance to eat the biscotti in his pocket, too.

"And?" This ought to be good…

Sam wrinkles his nose. "I don't like him. He smells like day-old sandwiches."

"Fine… I'll fill him in myself. But you owe me," Dean tells Sam, pointing a finger at him. He turns to head toward the house, and immediately steps into a pile of deer droppings. "Son of a - " Dean can hear Sam snickering as he shakes the foul stuff from his boot. "Man, I hate the woods," he grumbles. Dean shuffles around for a moment, wiping whatever's left on the footwear onto the grass before finally stomping off toward the front door.

While Dean's inside, Sam takes a cautious sip of his coffee and looks around, uneasy despite the fresh air. Something seems – off. The tiny hairs on the back of Sam's neck lift slowly, and his fingertips tingle where they grip the cup. The wooded area is dense and quiet. Too quiet, he realizes. No chirp of a bird or chatter of a squirrel; not even a breeze rustling in the leaves; the kind of silence that foretells a predator. Sam slowly begins to walk the perimeter of the area, uncertain what he might be looking for. When he makes out a flash of black in the trees to his right he ventures closer. Peeking out from beneath the brush is a black Honda Civic. Susan Reilly's car. And beside it, a dank and empty pit. Dean.

Sam moves quickly toward the house. He's left Dean alone again, and he knows all too well what can happen when he leaves his brother alone. Please let me be wrong. Just as Sam swings the front door open, a panicked Hayden McNear shoves past him and runs for the woods. Sam ignores him and enters the darkness of the home. Dean is struggling to rise from the living room floor, blood streaming from a wide gash in his t-shirt. And Sam smells it before he sees it. Susan Reilly. Or what used to be Susan Reilly, her once-perfect face bloated and rotten with weeping sores. And she's coming fast.

Sam looks down at his hands, surprised to see he's still clutching his coffee. But only for a second. He chucks the cup at the creature's head and rushes to Dean's side, his ears ringing with the neuntoter's screams as the steaming liquid hits its eyes. Keeping his gaze on the reeling corpse, Sam crouches and throws an arm around Dean's waist, carefully pulling him up. The neuntoter staggers around blindly, fury and pain contorting its twisted features. "It was never after Silkes; it's been after McNear the whole time."

"Yeah? What gave it away?" Dean asks, pulling out his gun and putting two rounds into the creature before leaning against Sam. "Just get us to the car… I hate the woods, man," he mutters again, as he stumbles along with Sam through the open door and outside. The corpse soon mounts an ungainly pursuit. "Why does the bad shit always happen in the woods?"

"Dean," Sam says urgently, looking over his shoulder.

Dean looks back to see the creature just yards behind them, and fires another round into the neuntoter's head. A chunk of skull and flesh flies away, but the corpse only totters briefly. "Get the crossbow."

Sam gets Dean to the Impala and leans him against the side before grabbing the bow from the trunk.

The neuntoter is close now. Close enough that Dean can see its razor sharp nails, and his own blood slicking the tips. "Sam!" Dean warns, but the arrow is already a hiss in the air, and it hits its mark perfectly. Sam lets the weapon fall from his fingers and moves to where the creature has collapsed, wounded and writhing. Bracing himself against the oozing stench, Sam drops to his knees and drives the wooden arrow through the corpse's back, impaling it to the ground. A thick, yellow bile bubbles up between its bloody lips. The neuntoter blinks at the gurgling sound, its skin mottling to grey, and then dissolves completely. A whisper of ash floats away in the air.

"Congratulations, Sammy. You just nailed the Prom Queen." Dean straightens a little, wincing as he does so. ""What'd you douse her with in there? Holy water?"

"Uh, no. That was my vanilla latte."

Dean manages a pained huff of laughter. "No, really." Sam doesn't say anything, and Dean's eyes narrow. "Sam? Are you telling me you went after a neuntoter armed with a friggin' latte?"

"No," Sam shoots back. Dean looks at him expectantly. "I had a biscotti, too," he mutters.

"What were you thinking?"

"I was hungry this morning."

"That's not what I - . Jesus, Sam!" Dean feels even the tips of his ears flush with temper. "You can't just - I swear I'm gonna - "

Sam tries his most reasonable tone. "Dean. Calm down. If you'll just stop and listen for - "

"No." Dean grinds out. "Nuh, uh. We'll talk about this later. After we call the sheriff and get us a room for another night."

"But - "

"Still bleedin' here, Sammy," Dean reminds him.

Sam sighs and goes to fetch the crossbow.

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

"That was a dumbass thing you did."

"You could just say thanks," Sam points out, smoothing some antibiotic ointment over the neat stitches he's made in Dean's side. Dean sits as still as he can on the shoddy hotel bed, but he doesn't have to do it quietly.

"If you thought something was wrong, you should have gone back to the car and got a weapon."

"You could have been dead by then."

"I could have been dead anyway," Dean tells him, and Sam stiffens. Dean knows this isn't what Sam wants to hear, especially after their recent close calls, but he's not going to lie to him. Dean has a responsibility here, and has since the moment John Winchester placed Sam in his arms all those years ago. What did you see in my heart? A young man with an important purpose. A job to do. And it isn't finished.

"Now you're just being morbid." Sam takes a strip of gauze and starts taping it over the wound.

"I want your word it won't happen again."

"No."

"No?" Dean's brows raise in angry surprise. Sam's still busy, though, and misses the warning signs.

"No," Sam repeats simply. "Because I can't promise it won't. Look, man, you need to stop worrying. I had a hunch, and everything worked out fine - there. How's that?"

Dean takes a moment to glance down at his side. "Looks good," he says shortly, reaching for his t-shirt.

"Careful," Sam admonishes, as Dean puts the shirt over his head and awkwardly wriggles into it. Dean then scoots up onto the bed so he's sitting with his back resting against the headboard, watching as Sam walks over to the dresser and starts putting the supplies back into their first aid kit.

Dean's jaw tightens as Sam goes about his business, satisfied with the day's events as long as Dean is okay. Dean accepts Sam will be in danger; the Winchesters have always been in danger. But he'll be damned if he'll accept unnecessary risks. Sam hasn't scared Dean this much since that taxim hunt in Omaha. A goddamn miracle Dad and I didn't shoot him. He wasn't even supposed to be out there. Dean remembers the night vividly; the car ride back to the motel was tense and ominous. John hadn't said a word. Even Sam was silent except for the occasional odd sniffle. As soon as they got back to their room, John pulled Sam over his knee and spanked him, and for once Dean didn't try to talk him out of it. Sam didn't sit very comfortably the next couple of days, but he never wandered from his post again.

"Sam."

"Yeah?" Sam has put away the kit and turns around.

"Something's sticking me… Would you mind?" Dean gestures to his left side, and ignores the twinge of guilt when Sam's face immediately furrows with concern.

"Let me take a look." Sam walks up between the beds to take a seat next to Dean. The wound is on Dean's other side, and Sam leans carefully over his brother and eases up the worn shirt. "Nothing's poking the gauze - "

"That's good," Dean says, and grabs the back of Sam's jeans. Dean pulls him forward and over his lap in a single move, securing him with his left forearm pressing down on the younger man's back.

"Dean. What are you doing?" Sam asks, trying to sound calm and stifling his instinctive urge to fight the awkward position. He shifts just a bit to test his brother's grip, and finds it unyielding. He might be able to break it, but it will mean injuring Dean further. "Have you totally lost your mind?"

"Maybe," Dean responds grimly, and brings his hand down on Sam's backside in the first of a series of smarting blows.

"Damn it, Dean," Sam growls, twisting as much as he dares in order to avoid what his brother is doing to him. "Stop being a jackass and let me go."

"Sorry; can't do it, Sammy," Dean tells him, making sure to spread out the stinging swats. He wants to leave an impression on Sam, not bruises. "I'll let you up when you make me that promise I asked for."

Sam winces under the onslaught. It's been a long time since he's been spanked - even longer since he's been spanked by Dean - and the experience is even more unpleasant than he remembers. Under any other circumstances, he'd already have broken Dean's hold and launched an all-out brawl. But even after the faith healing, there's still a part of Sam that fears Dean might slip away again, that won't risk harming him. And he damn well knows it. Sam glances worriedly at Dean's side, grateful not to see blood seeping through his brother's shirt. "Dean – be reasonable," Sam pleads. "You'll tear your stitches."

"Then you better keep still."

Sam bites back a groan at the terse response, unable to completely still his movements as Dean's hand continues to set him on fire. Writhing brings him some small measure of comfort, but it doesn't stop the smacks from coming in an awful, horrible rhythm. Unable to stop himself, Sam puts a hand back to block the blows, but it's only caught and pinned neatly behind him. Sam swears under his breath, his eyes hot and wet with frustration. Dean won't stop until he gives in; he never has. "When those stitches are – ow! – out, I'm gonna – ow! Damn it, Dean! – I'm gonna kick your ass!"

"Yeah? You and what beverage?" Dean wants to know, and swats Sam a little harder. His palm is stinging like it's been stuck in a bee hive, and he can only imagine what Sam's backside feels like. After another minute or two, Sam's breath is coming in odd little hitches and grunts, and Dean senses his little brother is nearing his threshold. Hoping to give Sam a little more incentive, Dean's next words are stern. "The jeans can come down, you know."

"No. No! Don't. Please don't," Sam says, tears unexpectedly slipping from his eyes. He buries his head in his free arm, unable to face his imminent defeat.

"Then I want to hear you promise," Dean says, still spanking. "We've got all day," he warns, when Sam doesn't immediately respond.

"Fine!" Sam yells, his throat thick with tears, "I promise, you bullheaded son of a bitch!"

"Promise what?" Dean heaves a silent sigh of relief, easing up on his swats just a little.

"Not to s-save your sorry ass!"

"Saving my sorry ass is fine – just don't do it without a weapon," Dean tells him, and landing a final smack, ends the spanking. He releases Sam's hand and slowly eases the pressure on his back, his hands quickly moving to steady his brother as Sam pushes himself up. "Easy, tiger," Dean murmurs softly, gazing at what he can see of Sam's flushed and tear-streaked face as he moves awkwardly to his feet. "Sam…" Dean begins, wanting to explain, but not sure how.

The wounded look Sam flashes him kills the words in his throat. Without a word, Sam turns and walks into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Dean leans back against the headboard and shuts his eyes, mentally and physically exhausted from the ordeal. It's gonna be a long day…

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

When Sam comes out of the bathroom, Dean is watching the room's small television. Ignoring the furtive glance from his brother, Sam finds one of his books in his duffel bag and stretches out on his bed to read, careful to keep on his side. He feels better after washing his face, calmer, but every now and then a rogue tear is angrily brushed away. Sure, it's perfectly fine for Dean to put his life on the line twenty-four/seven, perfectly fine for him to save Sam's ass any way he sees fit. But it's not okay for Sam to do the same for him. What's it going to take for me to see it? He doesn't want my help. He and Dad have never wanted my help…

"Sammy." Sam doesn't bother to look up from his book; doesn't even bother to correct him on the hated nickname. Dean sighs. "So, what, Sam? You're never gonna speak to me again?" Again, there's only silence from the room's other occupant. A few years ago, Dean wouldn't have given Sam an option, simply pulled his brother to him and insist he accept his comfort. And though he's never been too good at soft words, Dean always managed a hand to the back of Sam's neck, a squeeze to his shoulder, to let him know all the things he felt but didn't say. But Dean suspects the usual tactics won't be enough today. "Okay, then. You know where I am."

Something in Dean's voice, a certain weary resignation, compels Sam to look over at his brother. Dean's still sitting there, watching television. He doesn't look angry; just tired as he lifts the remote to change the channel. But his aim isn't steady, and Sam realizes Dean's hand is shaking. Worry overtakes his anger. "You're still in pain."

Dean looks over, confused. "I took some ibuprofen; I'm fine."

"You're not," Sam says, getting up and retrieving the keys from the side table. He remembers how pale and sickly his brother can look, how fragile, and suddenly he's done caring whether Dean wants his help or not. "We're going to emergency care."

"Sam! Would you put the damn keys down and wait a minute?" Dean swings his legs over so that he's sitting on the edge of his bed, watching as Sam reluctantly puts down the keys and folds his arms across his chest.

"Your hands are shaking." Sam doesn't bother keeping the accusation from his voice.

Dean curls his fingers into the worn bedspread. "It's no big deal. Just delayed reaction."

"Yeah. To the pain."

"To you," Dean growls. "You scared the hell out of me, Sam." The words are out before Dean thinks about them, and Sam's eyes widen slightly in surprise. The room is silent for a moment, and then Sam walks back to his bed and sits down gingerly, looks expectantly at his brother.

"Talk," he orders quietly.

Dean grimaces. "You won't like what I have to say."

"Too bad."

Dean sighs again, clears his throat. "Things have changed."

"No kidding," Sam mutters.

"You and me," Dean says, and waits for Sam to look at him. "That's what you said; back in Burkitsville. Did you mean it?"

"You know I did," Sam tells him, wondering where this is going. "Do you have a point?"

"This isn't a temporary thing."

"What isn't?"

"Dad isn't coming back anytime soon."

"I think we've covered that."

"He isn't here to play good cop/bad cop with me."

Sam blinks. "Good cop? One of you was playing good cop?"

"I need to know you're gonna listen to me, and not put all your faith in this 'I see dead people' stuff. You could be John Edwards; we still take the precautions. If there's one moment I don't think you're being safe as you can be, you and I are gonna have a problem."

"But I was safe; I told you. I had a feeling - "

"Did you also have a feeling you were gonna get your ass beat for that stunt?"

Sam blushes. "Ah, well - "

"Didn't think so." Dean leans forward to rest his forearms on his knees, careful as he feels the stitches in his side tighten. "So until you're all-seeing, I call the shots. And I say safety first."

Sam considers. It's true he doesn't know much about his visions yet, and he has been acting a lot on impulse and gut instinct lately. Still, it's the best of what he has to offer – sometimes all he has to offer. And he's not too sure that answering to Dean will be much more preferable to answering to his father. "You're asking a lot."

"I'm asking you to trust me."

"You just tricked me," Sam reminds him, shifting to ease the persistent ache in his butt.

"Which is exactly why you need to listen to me," Dean insists. At Sam's dubious look, he continues. "Look. What you tried to do for me? Back in Nebraska? Dude, I appreciate it. Everything, okay?" Dean glances up at Sam, hoping he's reading him as well as he usually does. "I know you - I mean, it's not like I don't - I'd have done anything - "

"Yeah," Sam says softly, with a hint of a smile for his brother's discomfort. I love you, too.

Dean swallows, actually pinkens a bit. "Someone's already died so I could live, Sam, and someone else is gonna," he says, thinking of Layla. "You're not adding yourself to the list by taking unnecessary risks; someone's gotta keep my eyes sharp, watch my back... Besides – well, you know... You're still the little brother. Even if you are freakishly tall." he grumbles.

That does make Sam smile. For a moment. Then, "I'm not eight anymore. If you even think this gives you free license to boss me around - "

Dean grins at the thought. "No more than absolutely necessary."

"You owe me a coffee."

"I owe you a lot more than that." And the look on Sam's face makes Dean think he's not so bad at soft words after all.

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

"You didn't."

"I did," says Dean, climbing into the car and handing Sam his coffee. "Drink up, Francis." A half-day off and a good night's sleep has left Dean refreshed and clear-eyed, and suddenly he feels a little more hopeful about what awaits them in Arizona. He pops in his AC/DC cassette and hums along as they make their way to the interstate. Beside him, Sam sips carefully at his coffee, pausing every once in a while to resituate himself in the seat. Dean bites at his lip to fend off a smile. "Comfy?" he asks innocently.

"Bite me." Sam reaches into his pocket with his free hand and takes out the package of Donettes he's retrieved from Dean's jacket, ripping into the plastic with his teeth.

"Hey!" Dean says, watching Sam pop the first one into his mouth. "I thought those were my doughnuts."

Sam swallows with relish. "You snooze, you lose," he replies. "So what's the job in Flagstaff?"

"There's been some animal mutilations there – some cattle with puncture wounds and their blood drained."

"Chupacabra?" Sam asks. "Isn't that a little north for their tastes?"

Dean shrugs. "There's been sightings as far north as Michigan, but who knows? I'll believe it when I see it."

"Let's just hope that's not at close range," Sam says dryly, tossing the remaining Donettes over to his brother. "I think we've had enough close calls for a while."

Dean catches the doughnuts in one hand and drops them into his lap, taps his fingers on the steering wheel. "So. About this chupacabra…"

"Yeah?"

"What do you think is the best way to take it out? Donette or biscotti? Maybe a nice cup of warm cocoa?"

"Shut up."

Dean smirks and turns up the stereo, drifting off into his thoughts. He's not sure what they'll find in Flagstaff, but at least he and Sam will be together. They'll stick to their training, follow their Winchester rulebook, leave no room for mistakes. And as long as Sam's at his side, Dean will be able to keep him safe... Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not. And maybe, just maybe, that's what scares him the most.

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