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Off-Duty

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Off-Duty
by JJJunky

 

Dean Winchester rolled down his window, allowing the cool spring breeze to blow on his face. He was tired after almost two days without sleep and he knew he should start looking for a motel. The only other option was turning the driving duties over to his brother. However, Sam had gotten even less sleep than Dean in the last few days and, for once, it wasn't due to guilt or bad dreams. When he couldn't contact Dean, Sam realized his brother was in trouble. His timely appearance had saved Dean's and Emily's lives - and kept Dean from spending the first year of his afterlife as a scarecrow on a cross.

The setting sun glowed on the horizon. As far as Dean was concerned, they were still too close to Burkittsville to ensure an uninterrupted night's sleep. Though, he had to admit, ten thousand miles probably wouldn't be far enough to guarantee nightmare-free slumber. Dean tried to tell himself it came with the territory. Close calls were inevitable in their line of work. Hunting spirits and demons was dangerous.

With a surreptitious glance, Dean checked on his brother. Sam's long, lean frame was scrunched in the passenger seat. It looked uncomfortable, and Dean was certain Sam would suffer from a stiff neck when he woke up, but right now, he was sleeping soundly. Strangely, the aborted mission to find their father seemed to have put many of Sam's personal demons to rest.

A large structure loomed in the misty sky ahead. It took Dean a few seconds to realize it was the Mackinaw Bridge. He pressed down on the gas pedal. If by some fluke the scarecrow was still after him and had been able to follow them this far, it would never make it across this particular obstacle. The winds blowing across the high overpass were so strong they had been known to propel small cars into the cold waters below. A single-minded scarecrow would find itself swimming before it got halfway across. Dean hoped his irrational fears would disappear once they reached the other side.

His hope died a quick death. His eyes felt as though they were full of sand, however, he couldn't stop in St. Ignace; it still felt as though they were too close to Indiana, too vulnerable. Driving out of the city, he picked up speed on the long desolate stretch of asphalt heading west. He rolled his window down a little farther so the cold wind would blast across his face.

"Do you want me to drive?"

Dean glanced at his brother before returning his gaze to the deserted road. Sam's eyes were mere slits opening them even that far appeared to be an effort. "I'm good," he said, declining the offer.

"That's why you have your window open in subzero weather." Sam stretched as best he could in the limited space.

"Nah, you were in California too long. I bet it isn't even below freezing."

"Dean..."

Conceding defeat, Dean tapped his hand against the steering wheel. His jacket sleeve slipped down, revealing the deep bruising and welts circling his wrist. The reminder of the night spent tied to a tree sent a chill down his spine that had nothing to do with the cold air blowing in through his window. Dean quickly pulled the cuff back up. He knew he wasn't fast enough when he saw the look of distress on Sam's face, which only made the healing cuts on Dean's chest start to itch. He knew he dared not scratch them. Sam had more than redeemed himself in Burkittsville; however, he still flinched uneasily at anything that reminded him of the asylum in Rockford, Illinois. Dean had no desire to cause his brother any more pain.

"Dean?" Sam repeated at the continued silence.

"All right," Dean caved, "we'll stop at the next motel."

When he made his declaration, Dean hadn't realized it would be another forty-five minutes before they encountered signs of civilization. A lone sign appeared in the glow of the headlights announcing that Henry's Hunting and Fishing Lodge was five miles ahead. An arrow pointed down an unpaved road. Dean eased up on the accelerator.

Sam unknowingly spoke Dean's thoughts aloud. "It'll probably be expensive."

"But who knows how much farther we'll have to go before we find something else."

He didn't need Sam's approval, still, Dean was glad they had the same doubts and worries. Without a word, he spun the wheel, turning the Impala onto the dirt road. Wincing when a stone crashed against the car's undercarriage, he took his foot off the gas pedal until they were traveling at what he decided was a safer speed - safer for his car.
Grateful for the light of the rising moon, he navigated the twists and turns until a lodge came into view. Made of rough-hewn logs, it looked rustic and primitive. Bright lights glowing from the windows were proof it wasn't as old-fashioned as it appeared. With a weary sigh, Dean pulled up in front of guest registration. Turning off the engine, he allowed himself to relax for a few seconds.

"I'll see if they have a room." Sam opened his door. Rubbing his neck, he groaned as he stretched to his full height.

Knowing how much his brother hated using the illegal credit cards, Dean exited the car, ignoring the dark frown his action invoked, and led the way up the decorative stone steps to the office.

A tall man, only an inch or so shorter than Sam, with graying hair and a muscular body, greeted them. "Evening, boys. Welcome to Henry's."

"Are you Henry?" asked Sam.

"I am." Henry smiled broadly. "I built this place with my own hands."

Too tired to be courteous, Dean said, "We were wondering if you had a room for the night."

"The entire place has been booked by a corporation. I don't have a single room empty."

Dean tried to hide his disappointment. Now that they had stopped, he was feeling every sore muscle and every hurt he had suffered in the last week.

"We know there aren't any motels east until you reach St. Ignace," observed Sam. "Do you know what we'll find going west?"

"Nothing for another hour; even then, they're having a big festival. There's no guarantee you'll find a room."

Squaring his shoulders, Dean turned away as Sam politely expressed their gratitude.

"Thank you."

Dean's hand was on the door handle when Henry called them back.

"You boys look exhausted."

"We're good actors," quipped Dean.

Smiling, Henry shook his head. "I doubt Paul Newman is that good. Listen, I have an empty cabin. I haven't booked it in two years, but I keep it clean and aired out for emergencies. If you boys want it, you're welcome to stay."

"Why haven't you used it for so long?" Sam asked suspiciously.

"The last few people who booked it didn't stay long. They said it was haunted."

Dean's head jerked up. "Sam, we're off-duty."

"What?"

"We'll take it," Sam said quickly, directing an angry frown at his brother.

Retrieving a key from a slot numbered ten, Henry handed it to Sam. "Will you boys be wanting something to eat?"

Dean's stomach growled, answering for them. He hadn't even realized he was hungry.

"I'll take that as a yes," Henry said and laughed. "Kitchen closes at nine o'clock. If you want to get settled first, you better make it quick."

"We'll wash up and be right back," Sam promised.

Tearing a piece of paper from a pad, Henry put an X over the last symbol on the page. Other boxes and a miniature depiction of the lodge showed the locations of the other cabins and rooms. Their cabin was a distance from the other lodgings. "Just follow the road until it ends," he instructed.

Although it was obviously unnecessary, Sam took the map. "We'll be back in a bit."

"The restaurant is right through those doors." Henry pointed at the double ornate doors to his right.

Dean waited until they were back in the car and driving slowly down the gravel road before he addressed his brother. "A haunted cabin! Man, what were you thinking?"

"Come on, Dean," Sam soothed. "You know as well as I do ninety-nine percent of reputed hauntings come from overactive imaginations. We're both tired and in no condition to drive ten more minutes, much less an hour or more."

Dean couldn't argue with his brother's logic, so he drove the quarter mile indicated on the map. Set a distance from its nearest neighbor, their cabin offered a privacy he was unaccustomed to. He wondered if he would be able to sleep without loud snoring filtering through thin walls and doors slamming at all hours of the night.

Extracting their bags from the trunk, they climbed the low hill up to the cabin. Dean saw it had a miniature staircase like the one at the main lodge. Stones set in the cement sparkled in the moonlight, mesmerizing him. He stopped to admire the spectacle, realizing it was a testament to how tired he really was. It would take more energy than he had right now to remember the last time he had been captivated by something that wasn't otherworldly.

"Are you coming?" Sam asked, standing in the open doorway of the cabin. He turned on a lamp washing the area with light. The stones became dull and uninteresting.

Embarrassed, Dean quickly ascended the stairs and joined Sam. A little bigger than the cheap motels they usually frequented, the room had two king-sized beds, a small fireplace and a beautifully carved armoire. When Dean opened its doors, he found it well stocked with miniature bottles of alcohol, cans of soda, chocolate, and bags of chips. "This is my kind of motel."

"Dean, you know as well as I do everything you take will cost twice as much as it's worth."

"So what? We aren't paying the charge card bill anyway." Dean pulled a beer from the small refrigerator. Opening it, he chugged half its contents.

Sam started to protest, but stopped and shook his head. "Mind if I clean up first?"

"Knock yourself out."

Tugging the pillows free on the bed closest to him, Dean piled them against the headboard. Stretching out, he lay against them, sighing in ecstasy as he made himself comfortable. These weren't old pillows with the stuffing flattened to the proverbial pancake, or so lumpy you felt like you were laying your head on a pile of rocks. They were fluffy and soft. Dean had almost forgotten what a real pillow felt like.

He closed his eyes, but re-opened them quickly when the bed felt as though it was spinning. The sensation made him dizzy and nauseous. Traveling as much as they did, even when they had physically stopped, their bodies often felt as though they were still in motion. Dean could understand how someone unaccustomed to the feeling might think something, or someone, was shaking the bed.

The bathroom door opened. Sam exited, wiping his damp face with a plush towel. "Your turn."

Dean was so comfortable he was loath to move. The hollow pit in his stomach finally galvanized him into action as it growled loudly. Washing up in record time, he re-entered the bedroom and finished the beer he had started. Sam was sitting on the corner of one of the beds, his arms resting on his knees, his chin almost touching his chest. It wasn't the first time Dean had discovered his brother in a contemplative mood. Even without seeing it, he knew Sam's face would be twisted in grief from painful memories. This time, however, anger was clearly visible in the tense shoulders and fisted hands. When Sam raised his head, Dean saw a sneer curving Sam's lips that was reminiscent of the way he had looked in the Rockford Asylum just before he pulled the trigger to kill his brother.

Knowing he couldn't let Sam see his fear, Dean forced his face into an expressionless mask. They had to get going, or dinner would consist of the contents of the wet bar. Patting Sam on the back, Dean suggested, "Let's go."

Turning on the outside light, Dean opened the door. He was poised to step outside when he felt a hand on his back. It pushed him so hard he stumbled. Unable to regain his balance, he slid down the steps, arms flaying for balance. Powerless to save himself, he hit the ground hard enough to drive the air from his lungs.

"Dean!"

Sam's cry seemed to come from a distance.

"Dean!"

Hearing the panic creeping into his brother's voice, Dean tried to inhale enough air so he could speak. "Whaddya push me for?"

"What do you mean?" The bewildered tone matched the expression on Sam's face. "I didn't push you."

The distress his accusation caused was clearly visible. Dean knew what he had felt on his back, but he was unwilling to put his brother through additional heartache. It was possible Sam had acted impatiently in his eagerness to get to the dining room before it closed, and didn't remember making physical contact.
"That'll teach me to drink on an empty stomach," Dean said, offering an alternative explanation for the accident.

"Are you hurt?" Sam asked.

"Nah. Help me up."

As soon as he put weight on his left foot, Dean discovered his reassurance had been a lie. A cry escaping his lips, he quickly shifted to his right leg and leaned a little heavier on his brother's arm.

"What's wrong?" Sam demanded, his other arm circling Dean's waist to offer more support.

"I must've twisted my ankle." Dean gritted his teeth against the pain.

"Let me help you back into the cabin, then I'll see if Henry has some ice."

"We'll miss dinner."

"We could live for a week on what's in that armoire."

"You said it yourself, it'll cost more than two steak dinners."

Exasperated, Sam muttered, "You want me to carry you to the lodge?"

"Dude, I can walk." Dean pushed away. "In fact, it's probably one of those sprains you need to walk off."

"At least let me drive you up," Sam pleaded.

Dean took a step, sucking in his breath to hide the discomfort. "I'm good."

They hadn't traveled more than a few feet when Dean realized he had made a big mistake. The agony in his ankle didn't ease, it intensified with every step. Too stubborn to admit defeat, he struggled on, his entire concentration focused on putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn't until he heard Henry's voice that he realized they had reached their destination.

"What happened?" the older man demanded.

"My brother fell down the stairs in front of the cabin," Sam explained.

With both men lending support, Dean's legs scissored in mid-air, not quite making contact with the ground. Thoroughly embarrassed, he was glad to see the dining room was nearly empty. The room's only occupants were two men sitting in front of a blazing fire, courtesy of a large fireplace that filled a corner of the room. As he was eased down onto a chair, Dean couldn't suppress a sigh of relief.

"Sam," Henry instructed, "go to the kitchen, and ask Luke for an ice pack and a towel."

With a last worried glance at his brother, Sam swiftly complied with the request.

Closing his eyes, Dean didn't protest when he felt Henry remove his shoe and sock, and roll up his pant leg. Interested, he opened his eyes and looked down to see the flesh on his foot and ankle turning a variety of bright colors.

"You want to tell me what really happened?" Henry asked him.

Unwilling to put Sam in a bad light, Dean countered, "Why do you think the cabin's haunted?"

"Did you see something?"

"I'm just curious."

Henry retrieved a pillow from the couch in front of the fire. Putting it on the chair next to Dean, he gently lifted the injured limb onto it. "For seven years in a row, two brothers rented that cabin for a week every November, during the height of the hunting season. Two years ago, they got into a fight. According to the couple in the next cabin, it was a real knockdown, drag out, but it wasn't unusual for Richard and Michael to have disagreements. No one was concerned until they heard a shot, followed a few minutes later by a second one."

"They shot each other?" Dean had trouble understanding how such a thing could happen. He was glad he and Sam let words fight their battles.

"The sheriff decided Richard shot his younger brother in the cabin. Then, in a fit of remorse, he went outside and shot himself."

"Murder-suicide."

"Ever since then, people staying in that cabin have seen things, gotten angry for no reason, or one of the party ends up hurt. Like you. I'm sorry, I never should have let you stay."

"Why did you?"

Henry scratched his head. "There was something about you boys that made me think Richard and Mikey would leave you alone."

"Mikey?" Dean incredulously repeated.

"The man was thirty-five years old, and Richard still called him 'Mikey.'"

"In my book, that would be reason enough to kill my brother," Dean decided.

"Except it was Richard who killed Michael."

Noting the distress on Henry's face, Dean assured, "What happened to me was an accident. I had a beer on an empty stomach and lost my balance. No ghosts involved."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive."

"What are you positive about?" Sam demanded, arriving with an ice pack in one hand and a towel in the other.

With an efficiency that spoke of experience, Henry laid the pouch on the swollen ankle. He used the towel to hold it in place. "Dean's certain his injury was due to exhaustion and alcohol."

"What other reason could there be?"

"None," Dean said without hesitation.

Clearly taking the hint, Henry offered, "I'll wrap your ankle after you've eaten dinner."

"I'm starved." Sam pulled out the chair opposite to Dean. "Something sure smelled great in the kitchen."

Henry smiled. "It was probably Luke's specialty - fried chicken."

"Well, I know what I'm having," Sam said, rubbing his hands together. "My mouth is still watering."

"Sounds good to me, too." Dean was unwilling to admit his appetite had fled when he had hit the ground outside their cabin. He knew he would have to try to eat, or Sam would start to worry and remember Dean's accusation. Sam had enough guilt weighing him down, Dean wasn't about to add to the load. He would worry about Richard and Mikey tomorrow.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The walk back to the cabin was made easier by the crutches Henry had provided. It turned out the lodge had its own little clinic, and Henry was a trained paramedic. This far from the nearest hospital it made sense. Fish hooks and guns made the two main pastimes of the lodge dangerous.

Thanks to the ace bandage, the crutches, and some Advil, the pain in Dean's ankle had subsided to a dull throb. With the help of the soft mattress and plush pillows waiting for him, he was certain the injury would not keep him awake. He only hoped Richard and Mikey would be equally cooperative.

Through more discreet questioning, Dean had discovered the two brothers had been buried in Kalamazoo. It wouldn't be possible to salt and burn their bones. At least, not in time to get a restful night's sleep. Dean just hoped pushing him down the stairs had gotten the rage out of Mikey's system. It might have been Sam's hand on his back, but Dean knew without a doubt it had been Mikey's temper that caused the accident. He didn't want Sam to discover how his body had been possessed for a second time in as many weeks and used to attack his brother - again.

"You need a hand with the stairs?" Sam asked him.

"Nah, I'm good." Dean shook his head, surprised to find they had arrived at the cabin. "Go ahead and unlock the door."

Dean waited until Sam had the door open before he carefully positioned the crutches on the bottom step. It wasn't the first time he had used the supports. While it would never be factored in any poll on the subject, their job had to be among the top ten in regards to danger, right up there with loggers and miners.

On the top step, Dean paused. He was in no condition to take on an angry ghost. Maybe they should just get in the car and drive?

"Dean, get in here and stop letting all the heat out."

Sam sounded normal. "We're off-duty, Mikey," Dean whispered, stepping inside and closing the door behind him.

"You want to take a shower tonight or wait until morning?"

The bed beckoned. With a soft sigh of exhaustion, Dean decided, "I'll have one in the morning."

"I think I'll take one tonight. Let me help you get ready for bed, first."

Although Dean wanted to refuse, he was grateful for the assistance. Sitting on the bed, he took off his coat and shirt and handed them to Sam. Unzipping his jeans, he pushed them down as far as he could, then waited for Sam to pull them carefully over the bandaged ankle. In their line of work, injuries occurred often. It wasn't unusual for one or the other of them to need a helping hand dressing or undressing.

Sam removed Dean's other shoe and sock before tugging the blue jeans off. Down to his boxers, Dean crawled under the blankets. Lying back on the pillows, he wallowed in their softness and closed his eyes.

He had expected to fall right to sleep, but was still awake when Sam finished his shower. Dean listened to his brother move quietly about the room. Appreciating the consideration, he smiled and opened his eyes. He was shocked to find Sam standing over him with a knife in his hand.

Immediately registering the madness contorting his brother's handsome features, Dean threw off his blankets. The knife came toward him as he twisted to the side. He kicked his legs, connecting with Sam's stomach. As Sam fell back, the edge of the blade sliced along the outside of Dean's left arm. His cry of pain mingled with the rush of air exiting Sam's lungs. Putting everything he had into it, Dean punched his brother in the jaw and toed the knife under the bed.

Years of experience telling him he needed more room to continue the fight if he wanted any chance of keeping them both alive, Dean unlocked the cabin door and quickly limped down the stairs. Ignoring the blood dripping down his arm, he turned, poised for battle. Sam had regained his feet, but instead of heading outside to confront his brother, he was pacing back and forth in front of the open door.

"He can't leave the cabin."

Wondering who had snuck up on him, Dean spun around, ready to fight this new challenge. Protesting the action, his sore ankle threatened to collapse beneath him. Attributing what he saw to pain, Dean groaned, "Dude, how many times do I have to say it? We're off-duty."

"You're the first person who hasn't run away screaming at the sight of me."

Regarding the man-shaped mist he assumed was Richard, Dean sneered, "In case you haven't noticed, I'm in no condition to run anywhere."

"What are you going to do now?"

A crash from the cabin drew Dean's attention back to the pacing form. A broken lamp was partially visible in the open doorway. "I'm going to get my brother out of there."

"That might not be easy."

"You think I care?"

"How are you going to do it?"

This question was a little harder to answer. Dean wished he had thought to grab his coat on the way out. Not only was he freezing, he didn't have the keys to the Impala - and the weapons it contained. "I don't know."

"I can help you."

"Like your brother is helping my brother?" Dean angrily demanded.

"Mikey thinks I killed him."

"Didn't you?"

"Yes, but it was an accident. He thinks I did it on purpose."

"What difference does it make?"

"Before it all went to hell, Mikey and I had a big fight."

"So the neighbors heard."

"But I didn't mean to shoot Mikey. I loved him. I gotta tell him it was an accident."

"I repeat, what difference does it make?"

"If you accidentally killed your brother, wouldn't you want him to know you didn't mean it?"

Remembering the torment on Sam's face at any reminder of the Rockford Asylum, Dean nodded. "Why does Mikey think you wanted to kill him?"

"To take my mind off the fight, I sat down to clean my guns. It was a stupid thing to do in such an emotional state. I forgot to check to make sure it was unloaded."

"It wasn't," Dean whispered. Again, he realized how lucky they had been in Rockford.

"When I realized what I had done, I couldn't live with myself. I came out here, so I could see the stars one last time before I put the gun in my mouth."

That was a little more information than Dean needed. Silently agreeing it would be impossible to go on after killing your brother, Dean said, "So, why don't you tell Mikey you didn't mean to kill him?"

"Because I can't go into the cabin and he can't come out."

"Have you tried yelling?"

"Apparently, my voice is trapped with my spirit."

"Then what do you propose to do?"

"Use your body to get in the cabin."

Dean nervously backed away, wincing when he put weight on his bad leg. "Do I look like Whoopi Goldberg?"

"What other option do you have, besides standing out here with blood dripping down your arm, freezing your ass off?"

Indignant, Dean snapped, "I could go up to the lodge and get Henry."

"First, at the speed you can travel, you'd freeze to death before you got halfway there."

"I would not!"

"Second, do you really want Henry to see you walking around in your shorts?"

The blush on his face evidence of his true feelings, Dean muttered, "It's no big deal."

"And, third, could you leave your brother under my brother's influence?"

Dean didn't even have to think about this one. Mikey's rage appeared to be directed entirely at Dean. But with no one else to focus on, would he take his anger out on the body he was inhabiting? Dean knew how strong Sam could be, and was fairly certain his brother could stop the entity from committing suicide.

"Well?"

The idea of letting someone, or something else, occupy his body made Dean feel nauseous. "You don't need me, you need Jennifer Love Hewitt."

"Why would I need an actress?"

Dean was about to explain when he heard a thunk which was immediately followed by a cry of pain from inside the cabin. Frightened for his brother, Dean looked up to see "Sam" standing in the doorway shaking his left hand. Quickly burying his misgivings, Dean agreed, "All right, I'll help you."

"Good."

When the ghost moved toward him, Dean put up his hand. "Wait a minute. Why didn't you just take over my body like Mikey did Sam's?"

"I might have, if you hadn't agreed, but it would be easier to control with your cooperation."

The memory of how easily he had taken Sam down made Dean realize Richard was right. Mikey wasn't fully in control of the body he had stolen. Sam was fighting him. It was something that would hopefully work to their advantage.

"One thing, dude, drop the Mikey. If I was trying to get my brother to listen to me, I wouldn't call him 'Sammy.'"

"If I don't call him Mikey, he won't believe it's me."

Swallowing nervously, Dean said, "Just remember: if he starts throwing things, my body damages easily."

The mist washed over him. The first thing Dean realized was that he wasn't cold any more. The second was that the pain in his ankle was a distant throb. It was almost as if it belonged to someone else. In a sense, he supposed it did. Feeling like a spectator, he watched his feet walk up the steps and into the cabin.

Sam came towards them, one hand curled into a fist.

"Mikey, wait!"

Dean had seen Sam perturbed, even angry, but he had never seen him incensed. Sam's mouth moved, but the words that came out were clearly not his.

"Don't call me that! It's what he called me."

"Mikey, please, it's me, Richie."

"It doesn't look like you."

"I'm dead, like you. I killed myself outside the cabin after I killed you. Taking over this body was the only way I could come in here and talk to you."

The fury this information invoked made Dean think he'd made a mistake. It was becoming a strong possibility that his body would be returned in even worse condition than when it had been acquired.

"You didn't have to kill me. If you wanted me out of your life, all you had to do was tell me to leave!" Mikey screamed.

Dean's hand reached out to the distraught brother. He wasn't sure if he had instigated the placating gesture, or if it was Richard. Dean only knew the torment on his brother's face made his heart ache, even though he knew the pain belonged to another man.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," Richard said. "I didn't know the gun was still loaded."

"That's easy for you to say now."

"If I had wanted you dead, why would I kill myself?"

Good point, Dean mentally congratulated Richard.

Mikey apparently agreed as he visibly calmed. However, his reply showed there was still doubt. "The last thing you said to me before you pulled the trigger was that you wished I was dead."

"How many times over the years did I say that, Mikey? Not once did I mean it."

This was something Dean had no experience with. Never in twenty-two years had he ever told Sam he wanted him dead. In their line of work, it was an all too real possibility the wish would come true.

"I thought you hated me." Mikey's voice was a wisp of sound.

"I know. If we could go back to that day, I would do everything different."

"I've missed you, Richie."

Dean winced, glad he had a name that couldn't be modified. It was almost as though these two had never grown up. No wonder their tempers had been allowed free rein and ruined their lives.

"I love you, Mikey. I never would have deliberately hurt you."

Dean heard the break in Richard's voice. If he could see them, he was sure there would be unshed tears in his eyes as well.

"I love you, too, Richie."

As the brothers threw their arms around each other and hugged, Dean cringed. He could feel Sam's arms circling his shoulders. It was the first time he had been hugged by a member of his family since his father disappeared. He had ceased being a child the day his mother died; the same day John Winchester had become a different person. But, once in a while, Dean could still remember what it had been like to be in his father's arms.

Even after he knew Richard had left his body, Dean allowed himself a few seconds to enjoy something he had not experienced in too many years. Once more in control of his body, he felt the pain of his wounds and shivered as the cold brushed his bare flesh. Finally letting Sam go, he grumbled, "Dude, get off me. You're not Demi Moore."

Sam's brow wrinkled in puzzlement. "What?"

"Ghost. The movie." When there was no sign of recognition, Dean dropped his attempt to explain. "Where are you hurt?"

"It doesn't matter, I'm not bleeding." Sam pointed to Dean's bloody arm. "But you are."

"It's just a scratch." Dean shrugged it off. The gesture awakened a pain he couldn't conceal.

Sam cupped his right hand under Dean's uninjured elbow. "Sit down, let me look at it."

"I'd rather you closed the door first." Dean limped over to his bed. "I'm freezing."

Sam had barely taken a step to comply, when Henry appeared in the doorway.

"Is everything all right?" the manager anxiously inquired. "I saw light spilling from your door and thought something might be wrong."

Smiling, Dean said, "Everything's fine. It's all over. Richard didn't mean to kill Mikey - it was an accident."

Clearly puzzled by the revelation, Henry nodded. "I always thought so, but the evidence didn't point that way."

"It's the truth. You can start booking this cabin again. I don't think you'll have any more trouble."

"They're at peace," Sam confirmed, looking a little surprised that Dean was talking so openly.

Feeling the cold seeping down to his bones, Dean shivered uncontrollably. The action intensified the throbbing of his wounds. The pain fueling his emotions, he became suspicious of Henry's easy acceptance. It made him wonder if they had been tricked into staying. "Did you know this would happen? Is that why you gave us this cabin?"

"No!"

The look of horror on Henry's face put Dean's suspicions instantly to rest. The night's activities had been as much of a surprise to Henry as they had been to the Winchesters. Unless the older man was a better actor than Paul Newman, and Dean didn't think so.

"I'd hoped that, after two years, Richard and Michael had moved on to wherever spirits go. You boys looked so tired, I couldn't turn you away. If I had know either of you would be hurt, I wouldn't have let you stay."

Dean exchanged a glance with his brother. He knew Sam was better at reading people than he was; if Sam believed the account, so would he.

A slight nod of his head showing his acceptance, Sam rushed into the bathroom and returned with a towel. Handing it to Dean, he said, "Let's get that arm cleaned up so I can take a look at it."

Extracting a ring of keys from his pocket, Henry tossed them to Sam. "My clinic is to the left of the reception desk. There's a backpack I keep locked in the closet. It's full of first aid supplies. Bring that and some ice packs, from the refrigerator."

Obviously torn, Sam hesitated.

"Go, Sam," Dean encouraged; they had their own supplies, but that wasn't something Henry needed to know.

As soon as Sam was out of sight, Dean remembered his brother had been injured as well. Since it was too late to do anything, he cursed himself and stopped trying to be stoic, allowing Henry to ease him back on the pillows piled against the headboard. The towel was placed under his arm to protect the sheets. Dean closed his eyes, so tired he was unusually complacent. He hadn't realized that being possessed took so much energy. It was amazing that Sam had the strength to run to the lodge and back. He had been possessed for a much longer period of time, and by a more malevolent ghost.

A wet cloth wiped Dean's arm reawakening the goosebumps and increasing his shivering.

"Sorry," Henry apologized.

Dean reopened his eyes as the older man came around the bed and tucked the covers up over Dean's right shoulder and under his chin. Crossing to the closet, Henry retrieved an extra blanket and spread it over his patient. "If you're still cold after we're done, I'll go get some more blankets."

"Thanks." Normally, Dean would never acknowledge any weakness, especially one as inane as being cold. Between the hug and Henry's ministrations, he found himself homesick for his father, or at least the father he had known when he was little. In some ways, he envied Sam. His younger brother never knew what he had been missing all these years. Yet, at the same time, Dean pitied Sam because he didn't have memories of a happier time.

"Dean," Henry hesitated before continuing, "if you need protection, all you have to do is ask."

Abruptly pulled back into the here and now, Dean asked, "Protection from what? I told you, Richard and Michael are gone."

"Protection from your brother, I saw the bruising on your chest and the welts on your wrists. Your brother's taller and heavier than you are-"

It was funny, in a sick kind of way. Henry thought Sam was abusing him. What made it ironic was that Sam was responsible for the chest wounds, just not in a way Henry would understand. Afraid Sam would return and overhear the conversation, increasing his already hefty dose of contrition, Dean hastily denied, "Sam would never hurt me. He might be bigger, but I can kick his ass with both hands and one leg tied behind my back."

"You're sure?"

Henry appeared skeptical and relieved at the same time. Hoping exhaustion didn't infuse his voice with anything Henry would interpret as indecisiveness, Dean nodded. "I'm sure."

"I'm glad to hear it. Sam doesn't seem like the type of person who would hurt anyone, but you never know these days."

Fingers gently probing his arm made Dean focus on his injury. He looked over to see blood was still oozing from the deep gash.

"This is going to need stitches," Henry said, clearly glad to change the subject. "It's pretty deep."

More experienced than most people concerning knife wounds, Dean nodded. "I figured it might. Do me a favor: don't let my brother see how bad it is. He feels guilty enough already."

"I'll do what I can," Henry promised. "But Sam seems like an intelligent boy. Don't you think there's already been enough friction in this cabin?"

Hoping he would never grow as far from Sam as Richard had from Mikey, Dean agreed. "You're right."

Sam stumbled into the cabin and threw the backpack on the bed beside Henry. Leaning one hand on his knee, he panted, "Is... that... what... you... wanted?"

"That was fast," Henry praised. Digging into the pack, he pulled out a case and extracted a syringe.

Stiffening, Dean demanded, "What's that?"

"A local anesthetic, it'll numb the area around the wound so it'll be less painful when I stitch it up."

Dean wasn't happy about having any drugs flowing through his system, but this wasn't the first time he had needed stitches. He knew how much the procedure would hurt. Considering what he had endured in the last week, reducing the agony that was about to be inflicted on him was very tempting. If Sam wasn't there to watch his back, he knew he wouldn't allow that needle anywhere near him. But Sam was there. Dean knew he was safe. "All right," he readily agreed.

"I'm going to clean the wound first," Henry explained, slowly depressing the plunger until all the medication had been injected into Dean's arm.

As Sam settled on the bed next to him, Dean demanded, "Where are you hurt?"

"That's not important, let Henry fix you up."

"Not important? You're hurt."

"And you're bleeding. Can we talk about this when you're not?"

Although unhappy with the response he had gotten, Dean knew his brother well enough to stop arguing. Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he said, "All right."

Even with the anesthetic, there was enough pain to make Dean wish he would pass out. He tried to hide his discomfort, knowing any acknowledgment of it would increase Sam's misery. Although it was the last thing he wanted to do, Dean knew he would have to talk to his brother, or Sam would spend the night brooding over his alleged transgressions.

"There, that should take care of it." Henry gently thumbed a bandage over the cut. "Let me see what's wrong with Sam, re-wrap that ankle, and then I'll leave you boys to get some sleep."

Licking dry lips, Dean said, "Thanks."

"Where are you hurt, Sam?" Henry circled the bed to confront the younger brother.

Sam held up his left hand. "Mikey took his anger out on your wall."

While Henry inspected the injured digits, Dean found his own pain was making him short-tempered. "You stop Mikey from turning me into shish kebab, but you can't keep him from punching a wall?"

"I didn't expect him to be that stupid," Sam sheepishly confessed.

"Well, he was."

Embarrassment turning to anger, Sam snapped, "I'll remember that the next time my body is taken over by a ghost."

"You do that." Dean knew he wasn't upset with Sam, only that his brother had been hurt, so he backed down and changed the subject. "How bad is it, Henry?"

"It doesn't look like anything's broken," the resort manager said. "But the knuckles are badly bruised and swollen. I want you to put an ice pack on it, Sam. Keep it on for twenty minutes, then off for twenty until you go to bed. We should know by morning if you'll need X-rays."

"You sure it can wait until morning?" Dean asked.

Smiling, Henry nodded. "I'm sure."

"Don't forget to check Dean's ankle." Sam smirked at his brother, the reminder clearly in retaliation for Dean's persistence.

Henry threw the blankets aside so he could reach the wounded limb. Efficiently rolling the bandage as he took it off, he sucked in a breath when the discolored flesh was revealed. "It'll be a few days before you'll be able to walk on this."

"Good thing it's my left foot." Dean had already known this injury would take time to heal. "At least I'll be able to drive."

"Like hell you will," Sam sputtered.

"Actually," Henry interrupted, "I was thinking you boys might like to stay on for a week or so. Neither of you are in any condition to drive."

While the offer was tempting, Dean knew their bogus credit card wouldn't allow the luxury. "I'm afraid we can't-"

"It would be on the house, of course. Meals, too. It's the least I can do for you boys."

"We'd like to stay," Sam hastily voiced his approval.

A little perturbed with his brother for accepting the offer without consulting him, Dean didn't announce his annoyance - a simple look was enough to show his displeasure. After Henry's accusation, Dean was uneasy about staying. He wondered if the proposal had been made because Henry still suspected abuse. Hoping to put two minds at rest, Dean said, "We could use a vacation."

"Just give me a call when you wake-up in the morning, and I'll send someone down with a couple of trays."

Dean protested. "That won't be necessary-"

"Yes, it is." Henry pointed a finger at Dean. "You're to stay off that ankle until I tell you differently."

Once again, the man reminded Dean of his father, enough to stop any further objections. "Yes, sir."

"Sleep well." Henry crossed to the door. "Call if you need anything."

The silence that filled the cabin after the manager's departure was not a comfortable one. Wishing he could just close his eyes and go to sleep, Dean forced himself to find the words he needed to put his brother's conscience at rest. "Are you all right, Sam?"

"Am I all right?" Sam incredulously repeated. Agitated, he ran a hand threw his hair. "I'm not the one with a sprained ankle and knife wound in his arm... and it's all my fault."

Inexplicably angry, Dean snapped, "It's not your fault."

"It was my hand holding the knife."

"But it wasn't your rage that unleashed it on me. That was all Mikey."

"I let him take control of me."

"Like hell!" If he thought it would help, Dean would have slapped his brother. "I saw how you fought Mikey's control. If it weren't for you, that knife would've pierced my chest instead of slicing my arm. The only reason I was able to escape was because you fought Mikey. I could never have knocked you down so easily if you hadn't let me."

Sitting heavily on the other bed, Sam stared at his hands. "I didn't know he was there until after he pushed you down the stairs. Even then, I thought I was just feeling guilty over what happened in Rockford."

"Sammy," Dean consciously softened his voice. "that's how Mikey was able to overpower you in the first place. He used that guilt. Ya gotta let it go, Dude."

"Easier said than done."

"Unless you want to become Grand Central Station for every spirit we encounter, you better make it a done deal."

"But why me?" Sam plaintively demanded. "Why did Michael choose me?"

Dean sighed. "Who knows, it could be because you've been influenced before."

"Which means I'm a danger-"

"Or," Dean interrupted, "it could be because you're the younger brother. Or, simply because you were the first one in the cabin. Does it really matter?"

"I don't know."

"If I don't blame you, why should you blame yourself?"

"Mikey resented Richard," Sam whispered, clearly finding the idea disturbing.

He had already suspected it, but Dean was still shocked by the revelation. It reminded him too much of Sam's behavior in the asylum. "Younger brothers always resent older brothers. It's one of the crosses we have to bear."

A rueful smile finally curved Sam's lips. "Being the older brother does have its burdens."

"Damn straight." Dean shifted until he was comfortable in the huge bed.

Throwing back the covers on his own bed, Sam asked, "Why didn't you tell me about Richard and Mikey?"

"I didn't think it was necessary."

"Not necessary? A little warning might have prevented this whole thing."

Putting his arm under his head to give it elevation, Dean said, "What would you have done?"

"Gotten back in the Impala and kept driving."

"That's why I didn't tell you. Neither of us was in any condition to drive. Would getting me killed in a car accident have made you feel better?"

"Of course not."

"I rest my case."

"Dean-"

"Maybe I should have told you," Dean conceded. "But it's too late now, so can we drop it?"

"Just one more thing; if something like this happens in the future, what are you going to do?"

Dean honestly didn't know what he would do, but he knew what Sam wanted to hear. "I'm going to give you all the facts."

"Promise?"

A slight hesitation earned Dean an angry frown. Finally, he said, "Promise."

"I'll hold you to it."

"We cool now?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. We're cool."

Dean suspected Sam wasn't being entirely honest with him, but there was a self-confidence in his brother's eyes he hadn't seen since Rockford. It was hard to believe, but the encounter with Richard and Mikey might have done them both some good - with each other and within themselves. A sprained ankle, a cut, and a bruised hand were small prices to pay for unburdened souls.

Hoping to lighten the mood, Dean asked, "I wonder if Henry's gratitude extends to the contents of the wet bar?"