Dean wasn't stupid. He knew he was walking into a trap the moment that bastard answered Sam's phone, but what choice did he have?
Dean had already failed Sam in so many ways – he hadn't been able to protect him from Hell – he hadn't been able to keep Castiel from tearing down the wall in his head and he hadn't been able to keep that Leviathan from nearly braining him to death with a crow bar - and then there was Amy -
He wasn't about to let him down – not again.
Dean passed by what had to be the same damned scrubby mesquite tree for the hundredth time and suddenly stopped the car. A plume of dust and dirt flew up from the wheels and through the haze, Dean saw clearly now what had caught his attention.
He quickly stepped out of the car and cupped his hands over his eyes to shade them from the broiling sun as he peered off into the distance.
About a half-mile from the road stood a copse of dead trees and on those trees, he could make out the large, black bodies of birds. There had to be at least twenty of them, hopping from barren limb to barren limb while others flew in hungry circles in the sky over them as if in anticipation for something on the ground.
He knew right away what they were – vultures … waiting for something to die.
"God …" Dean muttered.
The heat was staggering and if Sam was out there – if he was hurt and out in this sun –
He never realized that the dog-days of summer could come so late to Texas and that even in mid-October there could be 100 plus degrees temps and Sam may have been out there already for hours.
He hurried to the trunk and popped it open, pulling out supplies and weapons, then grabbing as much water as would fit in his bag before slinging it over his back and taking off at a sprint.
Dean barely felt the sting and scratching of the mesquite trees' thorns as he plowed through the brush and ran. He had only one thing on his mind – get to Sam.
He suddenly came to a screeching halt.
Two bare feet was all he could see peeking out from beside a large boulder.
"Sam!" He yelled as he ran again.
There was no movement or reaction, but two birds sitting in a nearby tree took flight as Dean rushed forward and covered the remaining distance separating him from the body lying on the ground.
Dean held his breath as he rounded the boulder and got a full-view of everything. Sam lay stretched out on the ground nearly naked, his skin bright red, hair plastered to his face, lips chapped raw and bleeding and worst of all, he had two long wounds on his abdomen running horizontally across his stomach. Dean swallowed a lump of bile down, but he didn't stop for even a second before he was on his knees beside his brother and cradling his head between his hands.
"Sam? C'mon man …"
Dean could feel the heat radiating off of his little brother, but he could also feel the light thump of a pulse under his fingers and that alone left him flooded with relief.
But Sam wasn't out of the woods and Dean needed to cool him down. He shucked off the bag and dug immediately inside for the water. He took one bottle and opened it then lifted Sam's head up so he could tip a small amount onto his lips.
This finally brought some kind of reaction on Sam's part. His tongue flashed out and licked at the water and at the same time his eyes fluttered open. Encouraged by this sign, Dean tipped the bottle up a little further and poured a healthy measure into his little brother's mouth.
Sam lapped at the water greedily until he coughed and sputtered. "Whoa … take it easy, Sam … a little bit a time, okay?"
Sam coughed weakly again and sighed. He looked up at Dean uncomprehendingly, his eyes bright with fever and pupils blown, "Real?" He asked in a voice as rough as the ground that sat on.
Dean had seen that confusion and fear on Sam's face before … he saw it almost every morning when Sam woke up drenched in sweat from whatever nightmare memory of Hell Lucifer had cooked up for him during his time there. Dean grabbed Sam's hand and squeezed down on the scar that was still healing. "It's me, Sammy … I'm here … I'm real."
"You're gonna be fine, dude." Dean assured him while pouring a little water onto his little brother's forehead to cool him down a little.
"Water." Sam sighed, "More?"
"Yeah … I got plenty. Here we go.” Dean tipped the water bottle back up to Sam's lips and his brother sucked down huge mouthfuls until the need to breathe won out and his head fell back into Dean's hand.
"Isssa … itsa tra - … trap." Sam mumbled.
"Yeah … I kinda figured. Don't worry – I'll handle it and get you outta here. Can you walk?"
Sam shook his head, "Ben—Benton."
"Shhh … I know, I know … I recognized his voice … don't worry. I got this…"
It was just as Dean said this that he heard a whizzing sound behind his head and his vision exploded into a painful white. He fell to the ground, stunned, but was able to fight the encroaching darkness and scramble blindly for the bag and for the weapons he had stashed inside.
He rolled just before the large branch that had hit him before could make contact once again, but the action caused him to lose his hold on the bag and it fell next to his brother.
Dean rolled just as two gnarly hands grabbed him by the collar and hauled him up. For a crazy, old coot, Dean had to admit that whatever juice had kept the man alive all of these years made the demented doctor far stronger than should have been possible.
"Good to see you again, Dean." Benton hissed as he pulled the younger man close to his motley face, "I knew you would come for your brother … now we can have as much fun together as I've had with Sam."
Dean struggled within the doctor's hold, shirking back as much as possible from his deathly smelling breath. Benton gave Dean a sinister grin then tossed him easily through the air until his back made a painful impact with a nearby mesquite tree. He crumpled to the ground, his vision darkening as footsteps crunched across the rocky ground towards him.
He sought to find his feet while various aches in his muscles slowed him down and then he felt Benton's hands grab him once again. He was only halfway being pulled up when a gunshot rang out across the barren countryside and he fell to the ground once again.
Dean looked up to see Benton stagger back in surprise, a hole neatly carved into his features between his wide eyes. His view shifted to Sam, who remained on his back, his head hovering just over the ground and the .45 Dean had stashed in the bag still smoking in his hand. A second later, Sam's hand dropped as if the weight of the weapon had suddenly become too much for him and his head fell to the ground.
Taking advantage of the moment before Benton could get over his shock at being shot by the injured man on the ground, Dean dived for the bag and for the other weapon he had taken along with him for just such an occurrence.
In one smooth movement, he reached into the bag and had a machete in his hand.
With a growl of rage; he came to his feet, swinging.
Benton made to block the attack by raising his hand to his head, and Dean felt the blade make contact with the doctor's wrist, felt it crush through skin and bone until the appendage was sailing through the air completely severed.
The doctor howled with pain and anger, but Dean's rage was far stronger than Benton's and he saw only red as he swung the machete again with every ounce of force he could muster through his arms. Benton's eyes made brief contact with Dean's the moment the blade impacted with the side of his neck and his mouth opened to cry out, but no noise could issue forth as the machete cut clean through his vocal cords and windpipe.
Dean followed through with a complete arc, feeling little resistance and he watched in detached satisfaction as Benton's head detached from his body and fell to the dirt.
But he wasn't done yet, his anger still wasn't satisfied and Dean continued to wield the machete --chopping, hacking, slicing, and destroying every bit of flesh and bone in his path until a voice called out to him from behind.
"Dean … stop …"
Dean stopped mid-way through hacking another piece of Benton away from his torso. He panted heavily and felt the blade slip from his hand and clatter to the ground.
"Overkill much?" Sam weakly joked before letting his head drop back to the ground.
Dean abandoned the doctor's body, certain that he was no longer a threat and went back to his brother, who had given up the fight to stay conscious. With what strength he had left, Dean pulled his brother up by his arms into a sitting position while Sam's head flopped forward.
The hard part was somehow getting his gigantic brother into a fireman's carry, but Dean was still running high on adrenaline and his need to get Sam to safety overrode any pain or exhaustion he felt creeping in.
"'Kay … We're puttin' you on diet after this, Sammy." Dean groaned as he staggered to his feet under the weight of Sam's limp body and carried him all of the way back to the car.
Sam woke to a dim-lit room. A single light hung from the ceiling and cast grim shadows on the walls. He turned his head and saw a clear plastic bag hung crudely from the bed post beside him connected to a tube that traced its way back to the inside of his elbow.
He groaned and felt his heart quicken and his breath catch in his throat as he squeezed his eyes shut.
He was back … Benton …
His breath came in short pants, he couldn't get enough air in his lungs… he had to move … had to get out.
But he couldn't move …
Couldn't breathe ….
No air ….
No … no… no…
"Sam!" Sam felt a hand on his chest. "Stop … calm down, you're gonna pull that IV out if you keep moving. You need to keep it in – it's keeping you hydrated."
The hand left his chest and he felt two palms cup his cheeks, "Breathe … okay? Just breathe … in and out …"
"Dean?" he gasped. Not Benton?
"Hey … it's okay … you're gonna be fine."
Sam dared to open his eyes and he realized that he was writhing around on the bed and his paralysis had apparently worn off. He stilled his muscles then tried moving his arms, legs and head independently just to confirm to himself that he was back in control of his own movements.
Sam searched his brother's face and the blood rushing in his ears in time to his pounding pulse began to quiet down.
"You with me, Sam?" Dean asked and Sam swallowed hard as he nodded shakily.
Dean looked relieved then patted his cheek, "Good."
Now that he was calmer, Sam took note that he was back in their motel room, covered in cold, wet towels and half-melted chucks of ice that made him shiver.
His brother must have picked up on his confusion and started to explain, "Sorry, I had to cool you down, but I couldn't risk taking you to a hospital–." Dean didn't have to explain that part, neither he nor his brother were really particularly fond of hospitals, especially after they nearly got turned into the main course for the leviathans at the hospital in Sioux Falls.
Dean really did a good job getting him cooled down, maybe too good a job because now Sam was shivering and freezing. He tried to shift out of the uncomfortable coverings and sit up, but a sharp pain from his stomach stopped him cold and left him moaning and wrapping an arm around his injured skin.
"Hey! What did I just say about moving?" Dean nagged. "I just got you all bandaged up."
"Hold on." Dean pressed Sam back down then started to unwrap the cold towels from his little brother and toss them into the sink in the bathroom. Once all of the towels were gone, Dean grabbed the IV bag from the bedpost then wrapped his other hand around Sam's arm, "C'mon … let's move you to the other bed. It's not all wet."
Sam was all at once grateful to be moving and sorry that he had. Everything hurt - from his sun-burned skin, to the wounds over his gut, to even the hair on his head. But, Dean was gentle and carefully helped to lower him into the dry bed before draping a light sheet over him.
"Where're you gonna sleep?" Sam asked.
"Dean, don't be stupid. It's a queen sized bed – there's room."
"I'm not sleeping with you."
"We slept in the same bed all of the time growing up."
"Yeah, well … grown men don't share a bed unless they're … you know …"
"Oh please … You don't have to kill your back sleeping on the floor just because you're afraid sharing a bed might be a risk to your masculinity."
"Okay … fine. But no cuddling … you stay on your side and I'll stay on mine. And absolutely no blanket hogging, got it?"
"I'll try to restrain myself." Sam quipped back sarcastically, taking a bottle of water that Dean offered him while placing a hand on Sam's forehead and checking for fever. He appeared satisfied that he had cooled down sufficiently enough for Dean to relax a little.
"That better be all gone by the time I'm done in the bathroom." Dean ordered before slipping into the bathroom and starting the shower. Sam leaned back on his pillow and tried to relax despite how uncomfortable his burned and injured skin made him, but he was exhausted and it didn't take much for him to drift off into a dream-filled and uneasy sleep.
Dean turned off the water then climbed out of the shower and started to dry off.
Sam was going to be fine, he reminded himself, but he still felt shaky and unsettled after the day's events. At least he had had the satisfaction of chopping Benton up into a pile of bits and pieces for what he had done to his brother and he had to take what little victories he could when they seemed so few and far between lately.
Dean dressed in a pair of loose-fitting sweatpants, then left the steamy bathroom and walked back into the room where Sam lay sleeping on the bed.
At first glance, Sam looked to be peacefully slumbering, but as soon as Dean sat down on his end of the bed, he heard the soft hitch in his brother's breath that signaled that all was not well inside his head. Tears leaked from the corners of Sam's eyes and cascaded down his face as he let out another heartbreaking and pain-filled whine. Dean's big brother instincts kicked in at the sound and he reached out to touch Sam's shoulder, hoping it might bring him a little comfort, or at least let him know that he wasn't alone.
Sam jerked awake immediately, "Don't!” he cried out, panting like he had just run a marathon while fear and confusion warred across his stricken features as he sat up. The sudden movement caused Sam to squeeze his eyes shut and gasp in pain, clutching his injured abdomen.
"Whoa … hey. Sorry." Dean raised his hands to steady his brother and ease him down against the pillow. Sam's eyes darted towards him, torn between relief and uncertainty while at the same time he grabbed the palm of his hand and began squeezing it forcefully.
Dean knew right away that Sam was having a difficult time distinguishing nightmare from reality once again, but whether that nightmare was from his most recent encounter with Benton or from Lucifer, he wouldn't know unless Sam offered to tell him. However, his little brother had been pretty tight-lipped about his experiences in Hell, never giving Dean any details about it other than to say it was 'bad'. While Dean could understand his reluctance to talk about it – he worried that Sam wasn't holding things together nearly as well as he wanted Dean to believe. Sooner or later, he feared that Sam would snap completely and that he'd be left with only a shell of a brother when the fall-out cleared.
"No … no ... I'm sorry, Dean … I'm just … sorry." Sam repeated, releasing his hand then swiping at his teary eyes, embarrassed by his lack of control over his emotions.
"Don't be sorry, Sam." Dean scooted a little closer to his brother until they were sitting, touching shoulders. "You know – you could always… I dunno … talk about it and stuff ... " He shrugged, pretending to be indifferent so Sam wouldn't feel as though Dean was trying to pry anything out of him that he didn't want to talk about.
Sam gulped and swallowed convulsively, a clear sign to Dean that he was fighting to keep tears at bay. "I just … I guess Benton freaked me out a little, ya know? I couldn't move – I couldn't fight back – it was just like –"
Like Hell, Dean finished his sentence in his head.
"Yeah … I get it."
"There just wasn't anything I could do – and I hate feeling like that. I hate not being able to fight back."
"It's over now, Sam. You don't have to worry about Benton." Or Lucifer, he did not have to add aloud, "And anything else that comes along…" Dean let his voice drop to a softer tone, "We'll fight together."
Sam nodded wearily, looking down at the hand in his lap, occasionally rubbing the scar on his palm.
They sat in silence for a while until Sam's eyes began to droop and his heavy head landed on Dean's adjacent shoulder.
Dean smiled a little to himself.
So much for no cuddling, he thought as he drifted off to sleep.