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Unnamed Feeling

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Unnamed Feeling
By JJJunky

 

Sam opened the stairwell door and glanced down the hallway to the nurse's station. It was late, long past visiting hours, so slipping into Dean's hospital room undetected was easy. Sneaking out with his barely mobile brother would be infinitely harder. But as much as Sam hated to deprive Dean of medical attention, it had to be done.

Earlier that afternoon, Sam had eavesdropped while the nurses discussed Dean's case. Among the pertinent facts he had learned was the police would be by in the morning to question Dean about the attack that had nearly killed him. While the injuries could be attributed to a simple assault, the details could get tricky, especially to a drugged and clearly depressed patient. Which meant Dean would have to get inventive, something Sam wasn't sure his brother was capable of under present circumstances. One word about angels or demons could end up with Dean assigned to the pysch ward.

Which left only one option – running.

It wasn't like they hadn't done this many times before.

It would have been helpful if Dean had gotten a few more days to recover from Alastair's beating, but the usual Winchester luck still held. Dean wouldn't get days; he wouldn't even get hours. Sam had to move, now, quickly and quietly. No matter how cruel it seemed.

As he crossed to the bed and helped Dean onto his feet, Sam was more disturbed by his brother's silence than he would have been by the moans and groans that should have accompanied the moving of aching and bruised muscles. Dean had spoken little since the trach tube had been extracted. Sam wasn't sure if he should attribute it to a raw throat, bruising from Alastair's choking grip, or something else.

Right now, however, he didn't have time to find out.

He helped Dean put on his clothes and supported him to the door. Peeking around the door frame, Sam saw the nurses were focused on a monitor, their backs to the hallway. One arm around Dean's shoulders and a hand hooked on a belt hoop of his brother's jeans, Sam helped Dean limp to the fifth floor stairwell, all the while wishing this hospital had fewer floors. It seemed fate – as usual - had to make things as difficult for them as possible.

By the time they reached the bottom floor, Dean's legs were barely able to support him. Certain his brother couldn't make it across the large parking lot, Sam gently pushed him behind a bush. "Stay."

"Hey," Dean croaked, "I'm not a dog."

"You won't make it to the car," Sam honestly revealed.

"Then leave me behind."

Even though the defeated tone of his brother's voice bothered him, Sam forced himself to ignore it. They didn't have time for this right now. "Just wait here out of sight. I'll bring the car around."

Sam had gone only two steps when he realized he hadn't received a confirmation. Normally, he would have taken assent for granted. But these days the relationship between them was so far from normal, he couldn't take a chance. "Dean, did you hear me?"

"Yeah."

"So you'll wait?" Sam needed to hear the words.

There was a long pause before Dean's softly spoken agreement was heard. "I'll be here."

Despite the promise, Sam wondered if he would find Dean behind the bush when he returned. If he did, he had a feeling it was because Sam had the keys to the Impala. These days, Dean might consider leaving Sam behind, but he would never leave his baby.

Sam's footsteps echoed loudly as he raced across the blacktop, dodging pools of light from the streetlamps as much as possible.

Finally reaching the dark corner where he had left the Impala, Sam unlocked the door and climbed behind the wheel. The roar of the powerful engine seemed louder this late at night, making him cringe. He drove swiftly to where he had left his brother. Exiting the car, frustration filled him when he didn't see Dean. It quickly dissipated into concern when he realized Dean had been unable to stay on his feet and had slid down so he was sitting against the wall.

Certain the cold ground couldn't be good for his recovering brother, Sam swiftly strode to Dean's side and helped him stand. Dean's legs were wobbling so severely they threatened to give out. Sam started to reconsider his decision to break his brother out of the hospital.

If only he'd had another choice.

This wasn't the first time Sam had sat at Dean's bedside, wondering if his brother would live or die. But it was the first time he hadn't found comfort in prayer as he waited. Castiel had made it clear there was nothing he could do to help Dean. The angel apparently had no qualms placing Dean in a situation that had almost cost him his life – and maybe more. But he wouldn't do anything to save him. All his life, Sam had thought of angels as saviors. He had been excited when he got to meet one. But in the last few months all his beliefs had been shot to hell – literally. He wanted to hate them for what they were doing to Dean. Yet, if it wasn't for Castiel, Sam wouldn't have his brother back.

Practically carrying Dean, Sam went around the front of the Impala to the passenger side. He eased Dean onto the seat, swung the quivering legs in, and closed the door. As he returned to the driver's side, Sam thought he heard shouts coming from inside the hospital.

Shifting into gear, Sam drove away. He wanted to floor the gas pedal, but he knew better than to draw attention. In case someone was watching, he headed north. As soon as he came upon a road with a state sign designating it as Route 20, he turned west. Even with a car as distinctive as the Impala, it was possible to hide in plain sight. Still, to be on the safe side, he would put as much distance as possible between them and Casper, Wyoming.

***

The top edge of the sun had dipped below the horizon, glowing brightly in his rearview mirror when the lines on the road seemed to weave, making Sam nauseous. He was hungry and beyond tired, not a safe combination while driving a car. Opening his window a fraction to let the cool breeze strike his face, he started looking for a motel. They would be staying for longer than their usual couple nights, so he tried to find one off the beaten path.

Ten miles on, he saw a sign for The Pine Trees Motel. It advertised scenic cabins by the lake. While the scenic aspects didn't interest Sam, the location did. At this time of year, the motel wouldn't have many customers; it was too cold for water activities.

Turning down a well-maintained gravel road, Sam slowly drove through the foliage that had given the motel its name. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with the wonderful scent. He was tempted to wake Dean so he could enjoy the sweet smelling air, too, but he looked so peaceful, Sam decided to leave him alone. For most of the drive, Dean had been restless, seemingly unable to get comfortable. He had only been truly asleep for a little over an hour.

Sam pulled up in front of the cabin with a registration sign hanging down from the eaves of the building and got out of the car. Instead of slamming the door, he gently pushed it closed. Bending, he glanced inside to see if his exit had disturbed Dean. He was relieved – and worried - when his brother didn't move or open his eyes. Their dad had drilled the need for constant vigilance into them even before Sam knew what he was supposed to be looking for. Sam hesitated, reluctant to leave his brother when he was in such a vulnerable state. But once again, he had no choice. Dean needed bed rest.

The cool air making him shiver, Sam pulled his hoodie across his chest and briskly walked to the imitation log cabin. Heat greeted him when he swung the door open. Basking in the warmth, he took one last look at his sleeping brother before going inside and crossing to the desk. One hand was reaching out to ring the bell when an older man appeared from a back room. He looked to be in his late fifties or early sixties. His dark hair was streaked with gray, and there were prominent squint lines at the corners of his eyes. A few inches shorter than Dean, his shoulders were hunched as if he had spent a lot of time leaning over a desk. But it was the eyes that caught Sam's attention. There was a sadness in them he recognized. He had seen a similar expression when he looked in a mirror after Jessica's death.

"Welcome to The Pine Trees Motel," the man said. "Are you needing a room or just some directions?"

"A room," said Sam.

"It's off-season, so I'm offering a special rate." The man put a card on the desk for Sam to fill out.

"We'll be staying at least four nights, maybe more," said Sam.

"The longer you stay, the lower the nightly charge."

"Just the kind of place we like."

The cotton wool of fatigue suffocating his brain made it difficult for Sam to remember what name was on the credit card he was carrying in his wallet. He pulled it out, giving it a nonchalant glance as he handed it over. As he wrote Sam Winters on the registration card, he tried to picture in his head the details associated with the name.

While the clerk filled out the office section of the card, Sam studied the map on the wall behind the desk. It showed the layout of the motel in detail. Twenty cabins scattered through the woods, some close to the lake, others near hiking trails. Seeing one cabin was far from the highway but near a road that went into the mountains, Sam asked, "Is cabin number seven empty?"

The clerk hesitated before nodding. "Yes."

"Could we have that one?" Sam hastily explained, "My brother's been ill and needs rest and quiet."

"You can have any cabin but three. It's the only one that's occupied."

Sam nodded his head. "Seven it is then."

There was a long pause before the clerk finally scratched out the number he had written on the card and reached for the key to cabin seven. "It hasn't been used for a few months so it's a little stuffy. If you find it too uncomfortable come back and I'll give you another room."

"I'm sure it'll be fine," said Sam, pocketing the key and wondering why the cabin had apparently remained empty during the peak season. "Is there somewhere I can buy medicine and food?"

"Springfield is about two miles further on down the road." The man pointed.

"Thank you."

"If you need anything, let me know." The clerk held out his hand. "The name's Robert Fields. I own this place."

Sam shook the offered hand. "Thank you again, Mr. Fields."

"Call me, Robert." A sad smile curved Fields' lips. "At this time of year it gets a little lonely out here."

Sam got the impression that being alone was relatively new to Robert. Feeling an affinity with the older man, Sam asked, "Do you play cribbage, Robert?"

"It's been a while, but I played a lot when we first opened this place, before business picked up."

"I need to take care of my brother, but maybe tomorrow afternoon we could play while he's sleeping?"

Some of the sadness in Robert's blue eyes fled. "I'll have the board ready."

"See you tomorrow then." Sam walked out. Closing the door behind him, he hoped his compassionate nature hadn't gotten him into a situation that could end badly. Robert seemed okay, but he would do nothing that might endanger Dean. Perhaps the games would keep him from going stir crazy with worry over Dean? Plus, it couldn't hurt to build some good will with their host.

Climbing back behind the wheel of the Impala, Sam noticed Dean hadn't stirred. Rather than feeling relief, Sam's concern ratcheted up several notches. He leaned over and felt Dean's forehead. It felt slightly warm, nothing to be overly concerned about. Yet, he was. Their job necessitated they become light sleepers. Normally, Dean woke at the slightest shift in the air current. Sam getting in and out of the car would have made the vehicle shake. To Dean, this should have felt like a 7.5 earthquake. He knew his brother needed sleep to heal, but at the same time seeing those hazel eyes would go a long way to relieving some of Sam's concern.

Sam pressed down on the gas pedal, ignoring Dean's voice in his head scolding him for driving too fast on a gravel road. The tires kicked up stones, making them ping against the metal frame of the car. Wincing, Sam was almost glad Dean slept through the short drive to their destination.

When the small cabin appeared in a clearing, Sam braked, parking next to the faux log cabin. Lightheaded from exhaustion, he walked up the two low steps and unlocked the door. He pushed it open and glanced inside to see two queen-sized beds, a small kitchenette, and a round table with two chairs. The fern leaves on the bedspread were bright green, not faded with age and use. The carpet was soft and plush with no visible stains. The motif matched the surrounding forest with a refinement he and his brother were unaccustomed to seeing.

Returning to the car and opening the passenger side door, Sam's worry spiked when he saw Dean hadn't moved. He gently shook a hunched shoulder. When he got no response, he fought to stay calm and shook harder. Dean moaned and tried to bat Sam's hand away.

Relieved by the reaction, Sam smiled and said, "Come on, Dean. A bed would be a lot more comfortable than this."

"Don't disparage my baby," rasped Dean in a barely audible voice.

"I'm not," defended Sam. He pulled Dean's legs out of the car and put the booted feet on the ground. "Your baby goes above and beyond the call of duty. But she is a car; she wasn't designed for sleeping. I know from experience."

"I'm comfortable." Dean weakly tried to pull away.

"There's a bed twenty feet away where you'll be more comfortable."

Mentally mapping the worst of the bruising mottling his brother's flesh, Sam carefully put his hands where he would cause the least amount of pain and eased Dean out of the car. Taking most of his brother's weight, he helped Dean into the cabin and onto the nearest bed.

A soft sigh let Sam know his efforts were appreciated. His own body longing to collapse on the other bed, he ignored it as he removed his brother's boots and outer clothes. When he got down to t-shirt and boxers, he decided they would make good pajamas and gently eased Dean flat on the bed before pulling the bedspread across his body.

Forcibly keeping his gaze from resting on the enticingly empty bed, Sam made two quick trips to the car, grabbing the weapons bag, their personal duffels, and the first aid kit. Ignoring his brother's feeble protests, he found the thermometer and shoved it under Dean's tongue. The numbers on his watch blurred as Sam kept an eye on the face. When he pulled the thermometer out, it showed Dean had a slight temperature. It wasn't high enough to be unduly concerned, just a warning to remain vigilant.

"Can I go to sleep now, Doctor Phil?" grumbled Dean.

Sincerely hoping Dean would sleep, Sam kept his tone light. "I'll have to check your chart, but it should be all right." He paused adding, "I'll be here if you need anything."

"Know that."

The roughness in the low voice made Sam frown. He knew better than to show his concern, so he opted for the least offensive reply he could think of. "Don't let the bedbugs bite."

Dean groaned. The bedcovers moved as his hand scratched a leg. "You just had to say that."

"It's what you used to say to me every night when I was little."

"That was before I saw a report on TV about the damn things."

Knowing what his brother needed, Sam ordered, "Go to sleep."

"Yes, sir, Doctor Phil."

Even half asleep, Dean's tone was full of sarcasm. One day, Sam would learn how to do that, and Dean would be the one to discover how annoying it was.

Dean's soft snores echoing around him, Sam quickly poured a line of salt at the bottom of the door and along the window sills. His body threatening to go on strike, he set out the wards they used to protect them from demons and other monsters. Finally shedding his clothes, Sam crawled under the covers of his bed. Of all the things he needed to do, sleep was the number one priority. His body was making that crystal clear.

***

When Sam woke, the sun was shining, penetrating the curtained windows. Listlessly lifting his arm, he checked his watch. What he saw made him sit up with a speed that his aching body protested. It had been just over twelve hours since he had checked them into The Pine Tree Motel, long past time for Dean's medications. Sam scrambled for the duffel carrying their first aid supplies. It had the medications he had filched from the hospital, along with the directions for what should be taken and when. The antibiotics' schedule in particular had to been strictly adhered to or infection could set in. The soft moaning from the other bed made it clear it was time for a pain pill. If he had been physically able, Sam would have kicked himself.

As he rushed into the bathroom for a glass of water, Sam realized it was his full bladder that had brought him back to awareness. Unwilling to make Dean suffer even a few more minutes, Sam got the water and hurried back to his brother. This time it wasn't difficult to wake Dean. Guiltily, Sam realized it was because of the pain he saw shining in Dean's eyes and twisting the tired face.

Once Dean was settled back in the comfortable bed, Sam took care of his own needs. A shower made him feel almost human again.

Toweling his hair dry, he returned to the bedroom and finally realized what Robert had been talking about. The room was stuffy and smelled stale. Sam stepped outside and found it was much warmer than when they had arrived. Going back inside, he opened both windows allowing a warm breeze to enter, replacing the stale air with fresh, tinged with the scent of pine. It was a beautiful day. The lake looked enticing, but Sam wasn't fooled. He knew from experience the air and water temperatures could vary drastically.

His stomach growled, reminding him they had no food, a necessity as important to Dean's recovery as medication. After checking his wallet and counting the money, Sam gently shook Dean's shoulder. The drugs had already acted, making Dean sleepy. If his brother didn't respond, Sam decided he would leave a note. "Dean?"

"What?" grumbled Dean.

"I have to go into town and get some food."

"Nothing for me." Dean paused. "I'm not hungry."

Those words alone told Sam how awful his brother felt. Sam could count on one hand the number of times Dean had refused food. "You have to eat if you want to get better."

"No green Jell-O," relented Dean.

"Deal." Sam smiled. "I put your cell phone on the end table. Call if you need me."

"I'm good."

Sam wished with all his heart the words were true. He didn't need physic abilities to know they weren't – yet.

This time as he drove the gravel road, Sam went slowly in deference to Dean's baby. Should Dean find any nicks marring the paint job, Sam would endure a long lecture. It would take days and an abundance of kowtowing to make up for his transgression.

He released a sigh of relief when he reached the paved road with nary a ding. Following Robert's directions, Sam drove at a moderate speed to the town. He had barely entered when he saw the sign for a K-Mart. He knew he would find everything he needed in the store. Shopping was one of his least favorite chores, so the fewer stops he had to make the happier it made him.

Thirty minutes later, the cart was filled with the foods he would use to entice his brother to eat. Sam pushed it out the door, shocked to find the sun had disappeared behind dark clouds and it was pouring rain. Resigned to getting soaked, he hurried to the Impala and put the wet bags on the back seat. Water was dripping from the edge of his hoodie by the time he put the cart in a corral and climbed behind the wheel of the car. The thought of what Dean would say if he were here put a smile on Sam's face. It quickly disappeared when he remembered he had left the windows open in the cabin. One of them near Dean's bed.

Cursing himself, Sam pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway at a greater rate of speed than he had arrived. Lightning lit the sky, almost blinding him. A crack of thunder made him jump. The wipers flashed back and forth, clearing the windshield for a brief second before rain obscured Sam's view again. Wind blew water across the road in waves. The dangerous conditions forced him to slow down.

By the time he reached the cabin, Sam was almost frantic. In Dean's condition, getting wet and cold was certain to trigger a bout of pneumonia. One of the things the doctors had guarded against during Dean's hospital stay.

The car fishtailed on the wet ground when Sam slammed on the brakes, almost colliding with the cabin. His hands trembling from the arduous drive, Sam peeled his fingers from the steering wheel, climbed shakily from the car, and ran up the porch. It took several tries before he was able to slip the key into the lock. When the tumblers released, he threw the door open with enough force it bounced against the back wall.

The knife from under his pillow in his hand, Dean sat up. "W-what's wrong?"

Sam ignored the question as his eyes rested on the closed window near Dean's head. He was relieved and a little pissed to find his concern had been for nothing. "You closed the windows."

"I did?" Dean's unfocused gaze followed his brother's.

"You had to, unless Robert came around."

"Who's Robert?" asked Dean.

"The man who owns this motel."

Dean slumped back onto his pillow. "I didn't see anyone."

"I don't care who did it." Sam sighed. "I'm just glad the windows are closed."

"Whatever."

"Hey, don't go back to sleep. I've got food."

"I told you, I'm not hungry."

Ignoring his brother, Sam returned to the car and retrieved the bags of groceries. There had to be something that would entice Dean to eat.

***

Sam washed the remainder of the soup down the sink and rinsed the cup out. Dean hadn't eaten much, but he had eaten despite his protests. Each small victory was a large step forward in Dean's recovery.

As Dean settled back on his bed, his eyelids drooping, Sam said, "I'm going up to the motel office and play cribbage with Robert."

"Knock yerself out," mumbled Dean. "If you play for money, make sure you win."

His lips curving into a smile, Sam shook his head. "It's a friendly game."

"There's no such thing."

Sadly, Sam realized for his brother that was true. Every game was played with the prospect of filling their wallets to pay for food, gas, and motels. It was a way of life, not entertainment. "Call if you need me."

"You sound like a broken record."

Sam didn't deny the accusation. Neither did he remind his brother of how often seemingly innocent acts had ended in life and death situations. "I'll be back to give you your next dosage of pills."

"Can't wait," Dean sarcastically replied.

Closing the door firmly behind him, Sam walked slowly toward the registration building, carefully avoiding the puddles along the way. Though clouds filled the gray sky, they looked less threatening than the ones that had sent Sam racing home.

When he reached the motel office, Robert was waiting for him. Taking a seat, Sam forced himself to relax and concentrate on the game. He set the alarm on his phone to remind him when it was time for Dean's next dose of medication. Then he lost himself in the game. This was the kind of medicine he needed, just as badly as Dean needed the drugs. Sam savored any activity that allowed him to feel normal.

***

The next few days fell into a pattern. In the morning, Sam would take a walk with Dean, trying to build up his strength. Then, after lunch, while Dean was resting, Sam played cribbage with Robert. It was a schedule all the participants seemed to enjoy. More importantly, Dean's health showed improvement. His mood was lighter, though there was still an air of melancholy surrounding him.

On the third day, Sam found out why.

The walk to the lake had been faster than their previous attempts, another indication Dean was recovering. When Dean started to lower himself onto the sandy beach, Sam had to put his hands behind his back to keep from offering assistance. The bruises were fading, and Dean was moving a little better, but it was obvious the aching muscles were slow to heal. Though their relationship since Dean's return from Hell had changed, there were some things that had stayed the same. Dean's fierce independence was one of them.

"This is all my fault."

Dean's sudden confession confused and scared Sam. As he lowered himself down next to his brother, he looked around; trying to discover what Dean was taking responsibility for this time. "What is?"

"The broken seals."

He was so shocked it took Sam a few seconds to respond. "Dean –"

"I broke the first seal." Dean dug a hand into the sand filling his fist. He stared intently as the sand streamed from between his fingers. "Alistair told me."

"Dean, you know you can't believe a demon."

"Castiel confirmed it."

Needing to know everything as much as Dean seemed to want to tell him, Sam asked, "What did you do to break the seal?"

"I tortured souls."

"Dean –"

"Dad held out twice as long as I did and didn't break."

When Dean's voice cracked, Sam felt his own heart splinter. What could he say to make his brother feel better?

"If we can't stop Lilith," Dean whispered, "I'm the one that started the Apocalypse."

"Then we'll stop Lilith," said Sam with conviction.

"Like we stopped her from sending me to Hell?"

Sam winced, his failure slapping him in the face. But he didn't back down. "I'll make sure this time, we won't fail."

Slowly rising to his feet, Dean brushed his dirty hand on his pant leg. "I'm tired. Think I'll take my nap early today."

Dean's words and actions made it clear to Sam that his brother didn't believe him. It didn't matter. The only thing that was truly important was that Sam succeeded in keeping his promise.

***

The next afternoon, Sam realized they would have to think about leaving. Dean was stronger, and while not eating with his usual gusto, he was eating. Their time here had been a nice reprieve, but Sam had to find Lilith. With no TV and no internet service, it was too easy to forget the world was facing the apocalypse.

Sam sat across from Robert, filling up on normal, hoping it would get him through what awaited them when they returned to the world.

Robert counted his crib and pegged forward eight spaces. "I've enjoyed this, Sam. It's been a while since I did anything besides work."

From pictures he had seen about the room, Sam knew Robert had been married and had children. "You said you bought this place with your wife?" he asked, shuffling the cards.

"I retired after our youngest son graduated from college. Though Margaret and I had been raised in the city, we both longed to live in the country." Robert looked at the framed photo of himself hugging a woman with streaks of gray in her brown hair and a smile on her lips. "Since neither of us could stand just sitting on a porch swing and doing nothing, we bought this place."

"I can see why you like it here," said Sam, his gaze drawn to the lake visible outside the window.

Tears in his eyes, Robert nodded. "We loved it. Margaret said we had found our heaven. Then, five months later she went to the real thing."

Knowing the pain of losing someone you loved, Sam whispered, "I'm sorry."

"It could've been worse." Robert cleared his throat. "We had thirty-one years, three children, and five wonderful months here."

Sam looked away to give Robert a bit of privacy in his grief. When his eyes fell on the clock sitting on the mantel, he jumped up and pulled his phone from his pants pocket. "Is that clock right?" He frantically demanded. It was two hours past the time for Dean's medication.

A hand wiping the tears from his eyes, Robert looked at his watch. "Yes."

Confirming with a quick glance at his own watch, Sam knocked his chair over as he hastily rose. "I gotta go."

"Of course." Robert nodded his understanding.

His long legs carried Sam outside and down the drive to the cabin he shared with his brother. He burst through the door, making Dean reach for the knife under his pillow – again.

"Dude," Dean admonished, "you gotta stop doing that."

"Your pills," panted Sam. "I forgot to charge my phone."

Dean held up a hand to slow his brother down. "First, you already woke me to take my pills. Second, what does your phone have to do with anything?"

"I set the alarm to remind me when it's time to give you your pills. But I forgot to charge it."

"Gotcha. I took the pills, all's well." Dean shifted his eyes to the window. "You can go back to your cribbage game."

When Dean looked away, Sam realized what his brother was saying wasn't what he really wanted. Just once, Sam wished Dean would can the macho crap and ask for what he wanted. "Nah, it's a beautiful day. What do you say to a walk down to the lake?"

"I guess I could use the exercise." Dean carefully leaned down and picked up his boots.

Sam had to tighten his muscles to keep himself from rushing to help. Even the little steps were a big leap towards recovery. It was time to back away and let Dean do things for himself. Sam would stay close so he was there if he was needed.

***

It wasn't until Sam had gone to bed and was staring up at the ceiling that he remembered Dean had said: "You already woke me to take my pills." But Sam hadn't been there to wake his brother. Maybe Dean woke on his own and was remembering another day? This explanation was as good as any other, Sam decided. But that would mean Dean hadn't taken his pills. Which didn't seem possible since Dean hadn't shown any sign of pain. Either way, it was too late to do anything now. Turning on his side, Sam closed his eyes, pushing the puzzle to the back of his mind.

A soft moan from Dean made him re-open his eyes, ready to help his brother if need be. A woman was bending over Dean, her hand caressing the side of his face. Sam's first instinct was to grab the shotgun loaded with salt rounds. But as Dean quieted under the soothing touch, Sam changed his mind. When she disappeared, he continued to stare at the place where she had been. He knew the woman, or at least had seen pictures of her. It was Robert's Margaret.

***

"It's time to go, dude," said Dean, coming out of the bathroom.

"I know." Sam watched as Dean gingerly sat on the bed, one arm supporting his sore rib cage. "I was thinking we should leave tomorrow."

"What's wrong with today?"

"I'd like to have one last afternoon of cribbage with Robert," Sam requested.

Frowning, Dean finally nodded. "Tomorrow, then."

"I'll see you in a few hours." Sam crossed to the door.

"Don't worry about being back in time to wake me to take my pills," said Dean. "I'll take care of it."

Sam knew he didn't have to worry. Dean might be lax at taking care of himself, but apparently Margaret wasn't. "I'll be back."

As he walked to the registration cabin Robert called home, Sam tried to decide what to do. He wanted to know if Robert knew his wife was haunting one of the cabins. And if Robert didn't know, should Sam tell him?

"All set?" Robert greeted Sam, leading the way to the table where the board and cards were already set up.

Sam nodded. "As I'll ever be."

They played a few rounds before Sam carefully worked the conversation back to Margaret. Gently, he asked, "Robert, how did your wife die?"

"Heart attack; there was no warning." Robert automatically sought one of the pictures of his wife.

Fingering the cards in his hand, Sam pressed, "Where did she die?"

"You've seen her," said Robert. "Haven't you?"

Tempted to lie, Sam finally admitted, "Yes."

"That's why I didn't want to rent you the cabin."

"I'm glad you did. She's been taking care of my brother."

Pride and love made Robert's face glow. "That sounds like my Margaret."

Sam knew he should salt and burn the woman's bones. Someday she could turn into a malevolent spirit and he or someone else would have to come back. "You were a lucky man," whispered Sam.

"I know." Robert caressed the glass protecting the image of his wife. "I know."

***

It was hard, but Sam managed to keep himself from rushing to Dean's side. He knew the hovering was getting on his brother's nerves. But it was difficult to forget that awful period in the hospital when he didn't know if Dean was going to live or die.

Dean walked out of the cabin to the car, the arm pressed against his ribcage the only indication he was still hurting. He automatically started to cross to the driver's side, but stopped before he opened the door, and circled the car to the passenger's side.

Watching from the shadows of the cabin, Sam sighed with relief. He wouldn't have liked having an argument before they had even left the motel, but he wouldn't have hesitated if Dean hadn't come to his senses. He was better, but twisting would still be very painful.

Sam took one last look around the cabin to be sure they hadn't forgotten anything. Walking to the door, he put his hand on the handle and started to pull it closed behind him. He stopped and took a quick glance at his brother before sticking his head back into the cabin. "Thank you, Margaret. Thank you for taking such good care of my brother."

A gentle breeze ruffled Sam's hair. It almost felt like a hand caressing his head. Sam lifted his hand, softly touched the spot and nodded. "I'll look after him, now."