Fandom: Supernatural
Rating/Pairing: Gen. No applicable pairing -- Dean, Sam.

Notes: for all the flaws I see in the show, the characters and their brotherly dynamics fascinate me as does the premise. It's been awhile since I wrote Gen, much less non-slash in anything. (Although I started out as a gen/het writer.)
Summary: Post Hookman; spoilers through that (although mild).

Many, many thanks to my betas: raynedanser, i_naiad, Bone, and feochadn. Their suggestions and insights made this a much tighter story. All errors are mine. 


A Different Demon
by maygra

They are twelve hours and nearly 700 miles from Ankeny when Dean makes the decision to stop at an exit that's less than a town but more than a truck stop. Sam doesn't argue with him, but Dean thinks his brother would be perfectly happy if they kept going. They may have laid the restless and vengeful spirit of Reverend Carnes to rest, but it only agitated Sam's own demons and those were proving to be a whole lot more obnoxious and tenacious than pretty much anything Dean's ever come across, and no combination of rock salt or holy water or incantations are likely to lay them to rest.

The motel is a two-story, flat-roofed structure that actually looks like it's been refurbished in the past decade. The paint doesn't help make it any more appealing but it gives Dean hope that the water will be hot, the cable working, and the mattresses more comfortable than the floor. He could be wrong but he's gotten good at judging by appearances.

The credit card goes through and the key is a flat metal thing rather than a card. The room is small, but it has two beds, a working shower head, and a mini-fridge. All the comforts of home. Sam goes to get ice and Dean unloads the car.

There's a mental checklist Dean goes through every time they stop. What they need, what gets kept locked in the trunk. The list pretty much stays the same; he only ever adds or drops something off the end. One gun. One knife. Extra clothes. Shaving kit. First aid kit.

He glances up when movement catches his eye; Sam returning from getting ice, carrying the plastic bucket in one hand, still rubbing his shoulder with the other. The shoulder is bothering him more than the gash across his forearm or maybe it's just that the shoulder can be eased a little by rubbing it and the arm – well, nothing but ibuprofen once the lidocaine wears off.

It probably has already and Sam can be as stoic about physical hurts as Dean when he wants to be, which isn't often. Sam doesn't exactly whine about it, but he doesn't ignore the various aches and pains either. Not usually.

Today, though, today Sam's been as tight-lipped as Dean's ever seen him and that never bodes well. Inside the room, Sam puts the ice down and kind of stared at it, still rubbing idly at his shoulder and that bugs Dean to a degree he doesn't want to admit.

Dean knows it's not really the shoulder or arm that's bothering Sam, but he can't do anything about the other stuff, so focuses on what he can. In some other life, some other war, Dean's pretty sure he was an amazing field medic.

"You want to ice that or balm it?" he asks, and pops the top on one of the sodas they've already got in the room.

Sam looks at him kind of blankly, then at the ice and shrugs. Bad idea, and Dean almost winces with him. "Balm."

Dean doesn't offer and Sam doesn't ask, he just starts pulling his shirt off and oh, wow. Hell, yeah, that one probably does hurt. Right on the bone, the whole of Sam's shoulder blade turning an interesting shade of grey-green in the shitty hotel room lighting, and scraped, just lightly, but Dean doesn't have to even imagine how Sam's shirt has been chafing.

He makes Sam sit on the edge of the bed, because Sam's gotten tall. Dean can remember when his little brother finally passed him in height, when all the preadolescent softness of a kid gave way to the skinny, gangly teenager Sam still looks like as long as you don't look at his face. Right now, Dean doesn't want to look at Sam's face or in his eyes because Sam won't meet his gaze and Dean hates that almost as much as he hates seeing his brother's bruises.

There are bruises on bruises here because Sam's got them lower, too, around the ribs that didn't break the last time he got slammed into a wall. The bruises at his throat have faded though, and Dean doesn't even know how to express how glad he is about that. But there's still a healing cut on Sam's temple and he's got a new scrape on his cheek. Dean's got his own assortment of odd bruises and aches and scars but somehow, it's always worse to see them on Sam.

The tension in Sam's shoulders eases slightly when Dean rubs the tiger balm into his skin, but it's only the first layer of tension, the physical layer.  Sam has always, always worn his feelings just under the skin. He can be stoic -- he learned that. Learned it young, like Dean did. Learned it the hard way, because there was no choice. You don't get to cry or complain about fatigue or pain when there are things out there that can make you feel worse, or worse: can make you stop feeling them altogether.

But it's not like Sam to be stoic about how he feels -- at least it didn't use to be.

Watching him, Dean wonders if his father was like this too, more like Sam; once upon a time, before pain and anger and grief drove him to hide his feelings in silence and distracted stares and fighting demons and ghosts.

"Thanks," Sam says when Dean recaps the jar.

"You want me to look at your arm?"

Sam stares at his arm like it belongs to someone else. There's blood on the bandage but it's dried, and he flexes his fist, stretching the skin across muscles and tendons. Thin skin that slides over the knobby bones at his wrist, across his jaw when he tenses that, too.

"No. Thanks. It's okay."

It's not, but Dean lets it slide.

He knows Sam is different from him. He's always known it.  And not just in the "get away from hunting--have a normal life" kind of way. When he doesn’t have a better explanation, he thinks Sam must be like their mother. Not that Dean knows it, but Sam isn't like him and he's not like Dad and that leaves only Mom, who Sam remembers not at all and Dean only vaguely remembers in a way that is less like memory and more like wishing he could remember.

"You want food?" Sam asks, checking his wallet for what little cash they have left, and Dean wonders if they shouldn't have hit Laurie up for a little something, or maybe a little petty theft, but no. Sam would rather starve than have stayed for even that much.

"Sure. Want me to go?"

"Naw," Sam says and there's a fleeting smile as he puts on a clean shirt, long-sleeved to hide the bandage even though it's warm outside. He won't take the car; there's a convenience store a block away. Dean doesn't even tell him what he wants and Sam doesn't ask, slipping out of the room without another word.

Twenty minutes, Dean guesses, bets himself and sips at his soda, letting the caffeine and the sugar calm him down. Calm him inside because he won't show the nerves to Sam, ever, if he can help it. Both of them ready to fly apart would be very bad thing.

He doesn't even need to wait for Sam to come back to know how it will play out. Sam will bring back as much food as they can afford, twice as much for Dean as he ever gets for himself, or in this case, he'll come back and tell Dean he already ate his, sip at the extra large coffee he'll buy. He won't have eaten, but he'll lie and Dean will let him get away with it for now.

Dean works his nerves out by eating or tapping his fingers to music, or giving Sam a hard time. That's a new coping strategy. It works more or less.

Later Sam will eat something; a granola bar or fruit and by the next time they stop for a meal, he will actually eat real food. But not now, even miles and hours away from Laurie and her father, from the college town and the Hookman…right now, food isn't something Sam wants or needs.

It's not the Hookman or his hook that's hurting Sam. At best the cuts and bruising are distractions, and Dean squeezes his eyes shut and rubs them, wondering if Sam hasn't been rubbing his shoulder to keep the pain fresh rather than to ease it.

He doesn’t know and that bugs the shit out of him. He'll need to watch Sam, see if he's throwing himself in harm's way just a little too eagerly.

Sam returns right on time and Dean knows he isn't prescient even though it plays out pretty much as he thought it would. The only difference is that Sam, along with his coffee and Dean's hot dogs, brought back one of those little plastic jugs of milk which he drinks before he finishes his coffee.

Sam falls on the bed like he's actually going to use it.

"What made you pick law?" Dean asks him after the first hot dog is gone and he's pretty sure Sam's closed eyes don't mean anything but that the ceiling is really kind of disgusting to look at.

"I figured having a lawyer in the family would probably be a good idea," Sam says, and Dean grins at him. It's a lie and they both know it because Sam was done. He really thought he was.

"Bail us out?"

"Plead your case for insanity." Sam is dry and not angry or even sad talking about it because it is done. That part anyway. It's not what hurts: not the career lost, not the love of the law although Dean guesses both of them are real enough.

Dean finishes his hot dogs and tosses the trash and flings himself down on the opposite bed on his stomach. Looking across the short divide between the beds, Sam's eyes are open now, but not tracking the patterns and stains on the ceiling, just staring upward. "We need to do laundry," Sam says after a couple of minutes without ever looking at Dean.

Dean hides a smile in his elbow. Yeah, they probably do. It's a lull and a break, a couple of hours to sit around and listen to bad music and read old magazines and wait for the dryers to stop spinning. It's Sam's way of saying he needs a break, that they're far enough away. He's gotten better at it, finding that pragmatism works better than bitching -- not that Sam has entirely given up on the bitching.

"There's probably a laundromat in town."

"There is. I'll go." And suddenly Sam is on his feet and gathering up the shirt he discarded earlier and Dean's denim jacket, checking the pockets. "You want to change before I go?"

Dean sits up because this isn't what he expected, for Sam to want to do it right now. Maybe in the morning after they've slept in a little, checked out.

"It can wait until tomorrow," he says, and Sam shakes his head, stubborn.

"I'd rather get it done," he says and he's out the door, leaving it open. He opens the door of the Impala, reaches into the back to grab the bag of other filthy clothes and hauls it out, shoving his shirt inside.

Dean watches him from the door and Sam looks at him, not a single thing showing except for fatigue and that tight-jawed look that distorts his face. "You want me to wash what you've got on or not?"

Dean shakes his head and Sam nods, shoulders the bag and starts walking.

No reason to take care of laundry now, except Sam apparently thinks there is. Dean  doesn’t know why that is, but he could guess. He guesses a lot around Sam and it's kind of unnerving how often he's right. "Hey, Sam!" he calls and Sam pauses and turns. "You want me to help?"

Sam hesitates, actually thinks about it then smiles and shakes his head. The smile he gives Dean is so patently false, it’s a wonder Sam can even keep it in place for more than a few seconds. "No, I'm good. See you in a couple of hours."

Dean lets him go, closes the door and settles back on the bed. A couple of hours. It's not that much or that long. It's also not about laundry or needing a break really, except it is. Sam wants a break from him, from Dean, his brother, even more than from the job, or the hunt or the quest or whatever he wants to call the unrelenting drive behind their lives.

Well, not "their" drive because Sam's doing this for the same reason their father always had: one specific, end goal in mind; and Dean does it because it's what he knows, and most of the time what he likes.

Having Sam along makes things more complicated. Dean never really thought about that part of it at the beginning. Mostly he was thinking that Dad was gone and had been gone long enough for that to be unusual and worrisome and, really, it wasn't like there was a long list of people Dean could turn to when he needed help. Which was pretty much why he never really thought about asking for help from anyone. But Sam was different; Sam was family, Sam was smart and this was Dad, for God's sake. And Sam had been good, back then, at eighteen, seventeen. He'd been good at twelve and more determined than good before that.

And he's good now, but careless or out of practice and Dean tries very hard not to think too hard on that.

He can't settle and the motel room is really too small to pace in. Maybe he'd be better off alone, except he knows that's wrong, that he doesn't work that way. Yes, he can hunt ghosts and demons all by himself; lay their spirits to rest or kick their asses back to the other side of hell with the best of them -- and the best of them are all Winchesters. But he can't do this alone. He can' t not have his father or Sam to come back to, to remind himself that he's not alone, and he's not on his own, and he's not the only one who needs an insanity defense for the shit they do all the time.

He takes the gun, locks the rest of their stuff in the car, locks the door to the room and then walks. Sam walked, so it can't be far and it isn't, just past the convenience store and Dean hesitates outside. Sam needs space and sometimes Dean does too, but not distance.

Sam's half asleep in the hard, molded-plastic chair, but he's quick to wake when Dean stands in front of him. Still he jerks and winces and Dean fights not to smirk at him. "You could be asleep in a bed, you know."

"So could you," Sam shoots back but just rests his head against the plate glass window and closes his eyes when Dean drops into the chair beside him.

Dean doesn't even know which machines their clothes are in. Not that it would be hard to figure out; it's late, there aren't that many people here. There's a TV, though, and it's bright. The chairs are hard as hell and Dean doesn't move, even when Sam's breathing tells him his brother's asleep. A machine not far in front of them sounds and no one else moves to transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer and Dean doesn't move. Sam's not touching him or leaning against him or anything but Dean stays where he is because any time Sam can sleep for more than fifteen minutes at a time is a good thing.

He makes it all the way to forty-five before he jerks awake, but he isn't screaming and Dean thinks Sam waking up probably has more to do with the fact that  been sliding down in the plastic chair for the past five minutes than anything sliding through his sleeping brain.

"Clothes need to go in the dryer."

Sam glares at him. "You couldn't do it?"

"Hey, man. You're the one that wanted to do laundry tonight," Dean says and grins because Sam glaring and pissed off is ten times better than Sam staring off into space or someplace inside himself. The distance between them has closed and it doesn't matter that Sam's annoyed and tired; he's right here again.

"You gonna stick around and watch me fold?" Sam asks him once the dryer is going.

"I don't know, do you do tricks while you're doing it?"

Sam rolls his eyes and shakes his head but Dean doesn't miss the twitch of his lips.

"I'm hungry again. You want something?" Dean asks him and Sam thinks about it then nods.

"Yeah, but not…"

"Not hot dogs. Gotta be someplace else in town," Dean agrees. He'll go. Sam will eat and maybe, maybe he’ll grab another couple of hours of sleep again. Dean can't fix that. He can't stop the nightmares and despite the fact that he keeps asking, he's not really sure Sam talking about them will help either.

But Sam's back with him now and really, that's the only thing Dean wants most of the time. He can fight the ghosts and the demons that lurk in corners and towns, under rocks and in shadows. He can't fight Sam's demons for him, but he can sure as hell make sure Sam doesn't fight them alone.

Personally he prefers the ones they fight together. But like family, you don't always get to choose.



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