“Aren’t You The Lucky One” by Ridley C. James

Those who mistake their good luck for their merit are inevitably bound for disaster.” ~J. Herold.

Sam’s head was killing him-an intense headache blossoming somewhere behind his eyes-hell bent on torturing him. Even on the buffering fringes of sleep, he could feel it poking and prodding, beckoning him back to consciousness much sooner than he was ready to awake and face the day.

There was no use in ignoring it, not now, not when it already had a white-knuckled grip on his skull. It was obvious that he’d just be prolonging the misery, so with much effort, the young man forced his eyes open and blinked at the early afternoon sunshine flooding into the room.

He hissed, sending a silent curse out to his obnoxious older brother, who had obviously pulled the curtains in whatever crap motel they were currently in just to piss him off.

If Dean was awake, then everyone was supposed to be awake-especially his little brother. It had been that way their entire childhood. Why let a little thing like maturity screw it up?

The twenty-two year old rolled over, wincing as every muscle in his body screamed in protest at the movement. He winced as he pushed himself to a sitting position, his hand going to his throbbing ribs. For the life of him, he couldn’t quite remember why he was in such pain.

He knew that he and Dean had been helping a family-the Wilsons. After leaving Saganaw, a few days earlier they had received a message from Pastor Jim, asking for a rare and much-deserved favor.

The Wilson’s had just moved into a new house just outside of Detroit, and of course said house seemed to have come with, unbeknownst to the family, a poltergeist of its very own. Weren't they surprised.

Mr. Wilson’s oldest son had already taken a bad tumble down a staircase and his wife had been fairly upset to find all her designer clothes torn to shreds after placing them in an upstairs closet. He and Dean had listened to them recount details of flickering lights, ominous scratching, and had taken on the task of obliterating the run of the mill pissed off poltergeist before anyone else could get seriously hurt.

Sam remembered going to the Wilson‘s late one night. Was that last night? They had been preparing to do battle, but for the life of him, the rest was a complete blank.

But, the unavoidable aches in his body told him that as usual the thing had apparently taken an instant disliking to him and decided to use him as a rag doll. The impressive splattering of mottled blues, purples and some yellowing across his abdomen was a good indication that Sam was right.

So where was big brother? He was usually casually hovering when Sam was injured. And even though it could be annoying, it was expected, and if he were honest, it always made the younger man feel better.

Sam looked around the room, frowning when his eyes didn‘t land on another bed adjacent to his. It didn‘t make sense. Had Dean only been able to rent a single?

The hunter studied the room more carefully, an irrational knot of fear starting to unfurl in the pit of his stomach as faint, painful memories surged close to the surface. The place looked more like a room at a Bed and Breakfast than a crappy motel. That couldn’t be. Dean hated B&B‘s.

Another desperate look around and it finally hit him, like the proverbial ton of bricks. “No,” Sam whispered, rubbing at his tired eyes. “This can’t be.”

The room was suddenly very familiar. Too familiar. He’d seen it not only in a nightmarish vision where his brother’s brains had decorated the lovely wallpaper, but had also visited this place in the flesh and blood, saving Dean but watching Max redecorate using his own gray matter. He was at Jim Miller’s house. What the hell?

But that didn’t make sense. Sam shoved himself off the bed, and swayed as his body reacted to the sudden shift in perspective. He and Dean had left this place days ago.

Sam started around the corner of the bed when the door suddenly opened. He let out a sigh of relief completely expecting a rescue in the form of his older brother, but was only disappointed when Alice Miller entered the room.

“Oh good, you're awake, sweetheart,” she said with a weary smile. “Your uncle sent me up to get you. People will be arriving soon.”

“Excuse me?” Sam stepped back, suddenly very conscious of the fact he was dressed in nothing but boxers.

“Sam, honey,” the woman didn’t seem to notice his confusion or his discomfort as she stepped right into his personal space, reaching up a hand to touch his face. “Are you okay? You look terribly pale.”

Sam dodged her hand, jumping back so quickly that he found himself sitting on the bed once more. He pulled some of the covers over his legs and looked up at the woman now frowning down at him. “Ms. Miller…I don’t know what’s going on here…”

“Sam.” Alice looked hurt, her hand going to her throat, her already swollen eyes filling with fresh tears. “You’re not going to start that today are you? We just buried your father, I can’t handle this, Sammy. I know Jim is gone, but I’m still your mother-not Ms. Miller.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sam shook his head, a rare panic starting to take hold. Where the hell was Dean? “My mother’s dead.”

Alice crossed her arms over her chest, the tears drying up. “So that’s how its going to be?”

“I’m not your son,” Sam said plainly. “I’m Sam Winchester.”

The woman laughed bitterly. “Winchester? That’s a new tactic, Sammy. So now instead of just running off to college to escape your family, you’re just going to invent a brand new identity completely.”

“My name is Sam,” Sam suddenly stood up, not liking the turn in the conversation and no longer caring about his modesty. “And I’m sorry but your son is dead.”

Anger flared in the woman’s eyes. “You are sorry. And I won’t listen to any more of this nonsense, Sam Miller.” She pointed to a suit lying on a chair by the bed. “I suggest you get back into those clothes before your uncle comes to get you.” She made a point of glancing at Sam’s torso, and a sad smile adorned her face. “We wouldn’t want you to feel any worse than you already do-now would we.”

Sam didn’t get a chance to reply as she suddenly spun on her heel and stormed out of the room-leaving him with a sudden sense of déjà-vu as he watched her go and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror of the bureau.

He was still the same six foot four that he’d been since hitting that growth spurt several years back, and his brown hair still hung slightly in his eyes that were still the same odd brownish gold color as John Winchester’s. But it didn’t take long to see the startling difference in how he remembered himself, and the way the glass was casting his image in that moment.

Gone was the usual spark in his gaze that Jessica had often commented about, swearing that she’d been drawn by it from clear across Stanford’s library on that first day they had met. Only a dullness that could be described as beaten, downtrodden, or maybe defeated, showed from beneath his long lashes now.

Also missing was the healthy-tanned sheen of his skin, replaced by a pasty white shadow of someone who rarely saw the light of day-someone who stayed locked away. The worse change of all was something that couldn’t be described in physical dimensions-something that radiated from within a person. The very thing that made Sam Sam was gone, bruises and nasty scars reflected back to him instead.

“Oh God,” Sam choked, nausea threatening to send him into the bathroom, where he’d only be forced to take an even more up close look at what or who he’d become.

One name resounded clearly through his addled brain. Dean! Like a beacon shining from a port in the storm, his brother’s face stood out clearly in his mind, offering him sanctuary from whatever crazy nightmare he was trapped in at the moment.

Fumbling to grab the dark suit, he quickly patted the pants pockets hoping to find what he was looking for. Sure enough his hands wrapped around a cell phone and he quickly scrolled through the names, searching for the one that should have been on the top of the list.

But Dean’s name wasn’t there. In fact, none of the few names listed were even familiar to Sam.

Fighting back another wave of panic, Sam manually punched in his brother’s number and held his breath as it rang.

Finally a voice answered, and Sam nearly choked on the name as it rushed out. “Dean? Is that you?”

“No, sorry Dean just stepped out. Can I take a message?”

“Who is this?” Sam demanded, his own fear forgotten for a moment, as a more primal concern for his brother took over. Dean didn’t leave his phone with anyone, except for Sam.

“This is his brother. Max Winchester. Who’s this?”

“Max! What the hell?” Sam practically growled into the phone. “What kind of game are you playing? Where’s my brother?”

“Look, I don’t know who this is but…”

“This is Sam! Sam Winchester!”

There was a pause on the other line, and Sam was sure he heard the boy laugh. “Really? Are you sure that‘s not Sam Miller?”

Fuck! “Yes, I‘m sure. What the hell are you up to, Max?”

“I’m not up to anything, Sam. I’m just hanging out, getting ready to go on a job with my big brother. Actually, I think we’re coming to your house.”

Dude? Who’s on the phone?”

Dean’s voice could suddenly be heard in the background and Sam felt his heart rate triple. “Max-let me talk to Dean. Now!”

“It’s Pastor Jim," the lie easliy slid from Max's toungue. "He wants to know if you and I can do him a favor after we wrap this Miller gig up?”

For sure. Tell him we’ll call him back. We need to get on the roadif we don’t want to miss the good food at the wake.”

Sam heard Max laugh and it sent chills up his spine. “You are so warped, bro.”

“God damn it, Max. I swear I will kill you myself if you don’t put my brother on the phone.”

“Jim, big brother says you can count on the Winchesters. We’ll be seeing you soon. Bye.”

Sam tossed the phone against the wall as soon as the dead silence filled his ears. Max was playing with him. And apparently Dean was under the same spell as everyone else. Could the kid have the psychic ability to project some sort of mass hallucination? Sam knew of only one psychic strong enough to do that, and Mackland Ames had honed his abilities over countless years. Max had been a psychic all of six fucking months. And then there was the obvious complication of him being dead.

But Sam didn’t understand. What else could it have been?

And he didn’t have any more time to ponder on it, as the bedroom door once more swung open and Roger Miller entered. “What the hell are you doing, kid?” Anger colored the man’s face. “Your mother told you to get ready and come down stairs. It’s about fucking time you learned to do as you were told.”

Sam had every intention of blocking the first blow, was confident he could counter anything that Max’s pudgy uncle could dish out. But to his surprise, he felt his body flinch even as his mind commanded it to dodge.

The body shot had him staggering, bruised muscles rebelling against the new assault.

Sam heard himself whimper as if from a far distance as Roger struck him once, twice, three times more across the abdomen and lower back.

John Winchester’s voice commanded him to react-to take the bastard down, but this new body, this body without the color, and the spark, and that certain Sam-ness, was defenseless against the angry onslaught.

Sam felt but a prisoner, forced to watch and endure as his physical self was dealt the punishment that had been promised to Max in another lifetime.

Each blow drove home the anguish and the unbearable cruelty that had been enforced on the boy that he was strangely bonded to. And if that same boy hadn’t been fucking with his brother, messing with Sam’s life, he might have been more ingrained for sympathy.

But as it was, each blow only intensified his anger and his fury. And despite the fact that he could feel the tears escaping down his cheeks, and hear his own voice begging for mercy that obviously wasn’t coming anytime soon, Sam found a cold hatred blooming in his heart for everything the Miller family stood for.

For on the outside they seemed to have it all. The fairytale life. The normal existence that Sam had always envied-coveted. Just like the Wilsons.

And the beating ended.

Sam felt his knees hit the floor, and Roger roughly grabbed his wrists, and dragged him over to where the suit was still laying on the chair. “Now get your sorry ass up, Sammy, and get down there and try to represent your daddy in a way that wouldn’t leave him rolling in his grave, and I swear if you do so much as one thing to embarrass this family, you‘ll wish to God that it was you that we put in that ground this morning instead of Jim.”

Sam felt himself wince as the man tightened his hold on his wrists once more before turning and storming out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He pressed his hands into the floor trying to hold back the need to be viscously sick. All the pains had mingled together now, his whole body thrumming with the burning sensation. This was bad. Really bad. Not only was Sam apparently living someone else’s life, Max was living his life-with Dean. And that just wasn’t acceptable. The only thing he could think about was if Dean had have been there-then Roger would be the one wishing that he was dead and buried.

Pushing himself up, Sam ran a hand over his face, stumbling only once as he made it to the bathroom. He avoided the mirror, instead rested against the tub as his mind grasped at anything that would wake him up from this horrible dream.

When no reprieve came, Sam swallowed back a fear that wasn’t his own and willed his physical self to stop trembling like some beaten puppy. The sense of terror was almost too much to bear, and it made thinking almost impossible. Sam suddenly understood Max’s desire for all threats to be taken care of, but he forced past that particular memory-grasping onto another.

He and Dean had been at the wake, they’d talked with Roger and Alice and Max, which meant his brother would be coming, and he’d see Sam, and then all of this would be over. Dean would fix everything.

But Dean wasn’t the one to find him. No, Max, dressed as a priest had caught his eye, cornered him in the dining room, away from everyone else, even as Sam struggled to catch a glimpse of his brother as he sat in the living room with Alice.

Again, like with the beating Roger had given him, Sam was unable to make his body listen to his commands, as he was held against his will in the chair facing Max-the fake priest.

As much as Sam’s physical appearance had changed, Max’s was startling. Gone were the dark circles and deeply-etched lines of worry. The boy’s skin had a healthy glow, his eyes held a sparkle that could draw someone in from across a crowded room. He held himself in a way that spoke of confidence and self-assurance- like a Winchester. “So, Sammy, how goes the new life?”

“You son of a bitch,” Sam growled, unable to bring his pathetically weak voice above a hoarse whisper.

Max leaned his elbows on his knees, peering sympathetically at Sam. “Hey, I know its rough, man. But you’ve got to admit, you did this to yourself.”

“What the hell are you talking about? All I did was try to help you.”

“Right,” Max smiled. “You did help me. You gave me everything I ever wanted, but never had.” The boy looked towards the living room. “A real family.”

“Dean’s not your family,” Sam hissed, wishing he could get his arms to cooperate. He’d squeeze the life out of the smiling priest. “He’s mine.”

Max shook his head, sadly. “Now, you want him in your life? Give me a break, Sam. You’re pathetic.”

"I never didn't want him in my life. I just wanted a life of my own. Not the life my father demanded that I have." Was that so wrong, to want a life with books, and friends, and learning, and new and exciting challenges that didn't involve life-threatening hunts? Was it wrong not to want to see your family hurt over and over again because of one man's crusade?

Again the other man looked at Sam, sadly. "That's why you didn't talk to Dean for all that time? Why you didn't answer his phone calls, the letters, the post cards? Not even when he sent you money, hiding it from your father? I mean our father."

Sam swallowed hard, tasting bitter regret. It had killed him not to talk to his brother, but the anger at his father had been more powerful, causing him to do something he feared he'd always wish he could take back. A part of him had known that if he'd talked to Dean, he wouldn't have been able to stop himself from caving. "I love my brother, " he choked on the words. He hadn't said it aloud in a long time, but Sam had never doubted that.

"Sure you do," Max smiled. "When its convenient for you. But really, Sammy, what would you have done when all this was over? Left again? I'm not leaving, I can tell you that." When Sam tilted his head, growling at his inability to change position or even move, Max continued. “I mean you had it all. A family who loved you, would die for you in a heartbeat. A father who thought you somehow caused the sun to rise and set in the sky. And a brother, “ Max’s eyes flicked to Dean, who actually lifted his head and glanced in their direction with a faint smile that Sam had seen so many times cast on him, “a brother who lives to keep you safe, and protected. Admit it, he's better off with me. And you have what you wanted. Kind of.”

"This isn't your life, Max!"

The other boy ignored him. “Do you know what I would have done for even an ounce of that kind of love or security when I was growing up,” for an instant, Max’s face clouded over resembling the boy Sam knew him to be, but it vanished quickly and his quirky smile came back. “Oh wait, I do have that kind of love, and I got to tell you Sam, ain’t nothing bad ever going to happen to me as long as big brother Dean is around. Aren‘t I the lucky one?”

“You won’t get away with this.”

“What am I getting away with Sammy? I’m just giving you what you always wanted. A normal life. I mean I had it, right? A pretty, perky PTA mom, a dad and uncle who constantly liked having me around-albeit as a punching bag-but hey, body shots can be covered up, right? And what is it that they say, negative attention is better than no attention at all. People just saw how they were always there for me, you know. We were a real family-just like those Wilsons.”

Sam frowned, a resounding chord struck by Max’s reference. “The Wilsons?”

“You know, that perfect family-smiling hubby and wife with the 2.5 kids and the little Lassie, too. You envied them. The way the brother’s played basketball in the back yard. The family room, with the air hockey table and that big screen T.V., complete with a huge stack of home movies with tentilating titles like Mom and Dad’s wedding. Summer Vacation in Disney. Then there were the pictures of trips to the beach, first dates, tournament games, and dances. Come on, you were practically drooling when you walked around their house, saw all those framed memories of things you never had, but so desperately wanted.”

Max pointed to the Miller’s own mantle. “Check it out, Sammy. Now you have some of your very own. See that one of Jim with his arm around you, right before you took Jenny to the prom. He sure does look happy, huh? That’s because he was always happy after he beat the shit out of you. You didn’t feel like dancing much that night, but don’t worry that didn’t stop Jenny.” Max’s sickening smile didn’t reach his eyes this time.

“I don’t have a lot of snapshots of me and Dean, or of me and Dad, but I know a good thing when I see it.” Max leaned forward, placing his hand on Sam’s arm in a comforting manner. “Dean would die before he’d hurt me. I’m his little brother. We might fight and disagree every now and then, and his fucking taste in music drives me insane, but hey-he loves me unconditionally. But being an only child, I guess that’s hard for you to understand.”

“I fucking understand,” Sam bit out, between his clenched jaw. “I had a brother…“ He stumbled. “Have…a brother,” he stuttered in correction.

Max leaned back, shaking his head sadly. “No. You don’t, Sammy.”

“I will kill you,” Sam whispered hoarsely, his eyes filling with moisture. “I swear to God I will.”

Max sighed, and shrugged, “Not before you kill yourself, Sam.” He glanced up again as Dean suddenly left the couch where he’d been sitting with Alice and started upstairs. “I’ll really try and talk you out of it, but in the end, you just can’t live with what you’ve become.” Max looked at him. “Because you’ve become me.” He stood and smiled down at Sam. “But don’t worry about your old pal, Max, even though I take your death hard, Dean takes care of me. Makes sure I understand that none of it is my fault. In his eyes-nothing’s ever my fault. He‘s kind of naïve that way-but hey, he‘s my brother, what can I say.” Max made a quick sign of the cross over his chest. “Bless you, my child.”

Sam watched the smug bastard go, unable to move from his spot until the boy had disappeared up the same stairwell where Dean had gone. When he could move, he was on his feet in a flash, racing up the steps as fast as his weak legs would carry him, and his protesting ribs would allow.

He made it to the top of the stairs just in time to see Dean shove the Infrared meter under his coat and flash him his most innocent of smiles. Max stiffened slightly, but didn’t seem all that concerned by his appearance. “Nice place you have here, kid,” Dean said, looking right at Sam, but apparently not seeing him-not seeing his little brother. It hurt more than any physical blow that Sam had felt.

“This is Sam,” Max gestured a hand towards him. “The deceased’s son.”

“No,” Sam managed to make out and Dean glanced at Max with a look that Sam recognized. “My father’s alive,” the words were torture to force out, a throbbing pain lancing through his head, even as he said them.

Max’s gaze was locked on him now, and he wondered how much of his inability to speak and move had to do with the other boy’s abilities. “Of course, he’s still with you. The people we love are truly never dead to us.”

Sam didn’t miss the surprised and slightly impressed look that Dean shot Max, and an overwhelming sense of jealously surged through him as his brother placed a hand on the other boy’s back. “We should go, Father, and let Sam get some rest. It’s been a hard day for everyone.”

Sam could do nothing, no other words would come, as Max smiled at his brother and moved past Sam’s statue-like form to start down the stairs. What Sam wouldn’t have given at that moment to just give the smirking blond one hard shove.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Dean spoke softly, sincere genuineness making Sam’s eyes sting again as the words struck home. He had lost everything.

“Wait!” He forced out, his hand reaching for Dean’s arm, just as his brother was turning to go. “Don’t…leave…”

Dean stopped, glancing from Sam’s scared eyes to the hand that was now clutching his sleeve. He could see his brother frown, the doubt cross through his green eyes like a fast moving cloud when he caught sight of the nasty bruising encircling Sam’s wrist. His fingers brushed against the hot, damaged skin, and Sam wondered if Dean felt the same charge of electricity course through his body that he did upon the contact.

He must have because he winced slightly, glancing up again to hold Sam’s dark gaze, questioningly. “Sam…”

“Sam! Let the man go.” Roger Miller’s voice echoed through the hall as he stepped from one of the upstairs room, effectively breaking whatever moment that the brothers shared. “We don’t need any damn holy man snooping in our family business, ” he stepped close to Sam, invading his personal space, glaring at Dean. “We can take care of our own.”

All hope fled the youngest Winchester as Dean quickly retracted his hand and Max called for him from the landing below. “We should go, Father.”

“I’m sorry,” Dean said again, and Sam felt a sudden, horrific sense of loss as he watched his brother leave-like the last vestiges of who he was were being ripped from him.

“You’re the one who’s going to be sorry,” Roger growled, once the other men were completely out of sight. “Acting like a crying pussy in front of a stranger.”

Sam turned to face the other man, finding one more ounce of him old self before completely slipping away. “Fuck you, Roger.”

The man’s hands moved supernaturally quick, coming up to grasp him around the throat, squeezing harder than should have been humanly possible. “Why you little shit…” Roger’s breath was hot on his face, as Sam struggled to get even an ounce of oxygen. “You better wake up before its too late, boy,” the man bit out each word, his fingers digging painfully into Sam’s throat. “No one’s here to protect you anymore. You’re all alone.”

Sam felt as if his head was going to explode as he desperately tried to take in a breath, clawing at the hands around his neck.

Memories, like snapshots, flashed before him. Dean reading him a story, Dean teaching him how to swim, his father patiently explaining how to load and unload a gun, and the importance of being skilled in shooting it. Dean. His Dad. And finally again Dean, catching up to him in the pouring rain as he stormed out of the house on his way to the bus station that fateful night he left for Stanford. Dean giving him the last two hundred and forty-six dollars and twenty-three cents that he had to his name. Don’t spend it all in one place, little brother.

“No,” he managed, fighting to stay conscious, knowing if he succumbed that he’d never see his brother again. Never be able to thank him for all the things he‘d done. “Please…” Lights flashed behind his eyes, an exploding array of dazzling colors mesmerizing him even as he felt himself falling. “Dean?” he gasped one final time, relenting to the fate that awaited him. So, so sorry that he realized everything one moment too late.

“NO!” Sam screamed, his body jerking as he gasped for air.

“Sam!” He flinched when the hands touched him, found his shoulders in the darkness and firmly, but gently pushed him back down on the bed. “Take it easy.”

“Dean?” he blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision enough to make out the person hovering over him, praying it wouldn’t be Roger Miller or some other nightmarish form.

“Yeah, it's me.” He felt a hand press against his forehead. “You scared the shit out of me, Sammy.”

Sammy. No word had ever sounded so sweet. Sam clung to it, pulling himself the rest of the way from the darkness. “Dean?” He reached out to his brother and felt the other hunter catch his hand and clasp it tight.

“I’m right here, Sam. It’s okay.”

“What happened?” He asked hoarsely. “Where…?”

“Hey,” Dean’s other hand moved from his head to rest gently over his mouth. “Easy on the talking. You’re in the hospital.”

Sam frowned, his vision finally accommodating for the dark room. He could make out Dean, and then beyond him the typical machinery that one finds in the curtained off areas of the Emergency Room. “You took a bad trip into the Wilson’s basement where their pet poltergeist decided to strangle you. What is it with you and this asphyxiation fetish you got going on, little brother?”

Little brother. Okay, maybe Sammy wasn’t the sweetest word ever. “What are you smiling about, bitch, I nearly killed myself getting down those stairs in time to save your scrawny ass again.” The harsh words were belied by the fact that Dean was unconsciously running his free hand through Sam’s hair. “I really thought you were a goner this time, man.”

“Sorry,” Sam whispered, wincing slightly. Dean stood up from his perch on the mattress, letting go of Sam’s hand, and starting to step away when Sam panicked.

“No!” his hand shot out, grabbing for Dean’s arm. “Don’t leave me!” The memories of the nightmare still far too fresh in his mind.

“Hey,” Dean stepped back, concern flashing in his green eyes despite the slightly amused grin on his haggard face. “I’m not going anywhere-just getting you something to drink.”

He waited for his words to sink in, for Sam’s fingers to slowly, reluctantly, release him, before grabbing a cup of water from the table behind him and returning to his brother’s side.

Sam took the cup with shaking hands and grimaced as the cool moisture washed over his inflamed throat. “Thanks,” he sighed, as Dean took the cup back, watching him intently.

“You okay?”

“Better,” Sam replied, keeping his eyes trained on Dean’s every move as he returned the cup. “How long?”

“A few hours,” Dean understood what his brother was asking. “The doctors said you’d be out of it, but nothing was permanently damaged. Although you might not feel like dancing for a while,” Dean grinned again. “Busted a couple of ribs on your way down, not to mention breaking a wrist,” his finger brushed against Sam’s new plastered accessory and the younger boy could have sworn he felt a tingle of electricity, his mind flashing back to the Miller’s and what had obviously been a dream.

“Dean?” he choked, and his brother’s smile faded instantly.

“Are you hurting?” He made to move away, “Should I get the doctor?”

Sam quickly shook his head, regretting it as he remembered the headache still hiding somewhere within his skull. “No, don’t leave,” he said again, hating how weak he sounded, remembering the awful feeling of being helpless as Roger had worked him over. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Dean still didn’t look too convinced that he shouldn’t retrieve one of the medical staff, but he sat back down on the cot beside of his brother.

Sam hesitated. How could he explain to Dean that he was sorry for ever wanting a different life- a life where his brother and father might not have existed, or at least existed in a different way. “Everything,” he simply said.

The lines on Dean’s forehead deepened. “You sure you didn’t rattle something loose up there, Sammy,” Dean touched his head again. “You’re making less sense than usual.”

Sam swallowed hard. “I…I was dreaming about Max,” he tried, only to watch his brother’s face cloud over.

“Sam…” his brother shook his head, holding up a hand to cut him off. “I told you that Max’s death wasn’t your fault. You need to let it go.”

“I’m…not talking about his death,” Sam sighed. “I’m talking about his life.”

“Okay,” Dean said in a way that let his brother know that he had no clue as to where this conversation was going, but he was willing to play along because moments earlier he’d probably been terrified that he’d never get to hear his kid brother rambling again.

Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Never mind.” After all, actions spoke louder than mere words. Sam would never again envy another family because they seemingly had everything he’d been denied. After all, he’d had everything he’d ever needed all along. And he’d make sure Dean knew how much he was appreciated-how he was the most important part of that.

“Right,” Dean nodded, and then uncharacteristically covered the younger Winchester’s hand with his own and gave it a slight squeeze. “I’m going to tell the doctor you’re awake, just in case.”

Sam surprised him by clutching his fingers before he could move away. “Dean-I’m glad that you’re my family-okay. Really glad that you’re my big brother.” Okay, so maybe words were needed after all.

Dean laughed. “As compared to being whose big brother?” When Sam didn’t respond, his typical half-assed grin appeared. “Because I always did think the Olsen twins would dig me as a sibling.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “You’re sick man.”

“Hey, at least I wouldn’t be dragging them out of the clutches of poltergeists-screaming fans I can handle, and I imagine they don’t eat as much as you do-being food challenged and all. I‘d save a fortune.”

Sam shook his head. His brother was hopeless. “Food challenged? Just forget I said anything.”

Dean snorted. “You wish.”

Sam watched his brother go, a feeling of relief washing over him, overwhelming the aches and pains starting to make themselves known. He shifted slightly, trying to come to a more comfortable position when something in the corner caught his eye.

Standing there in front of the pull-around privacy curtain, looking pale and defeated, and definitely more dead than not stood Max Miller. Sam jerked, struggling to push himself into a sitting position with only one good arm. “Oh God,” he breathed, and the apparition smiled.

His mouth didn’t move, but the words echoed in Sam’s head. “Aren’t you the lucky one.”

“What do you want?” Sam asked, breathing hard, trying to wrap his mind around the idea that Max was in the room with him.

For now.” Max smiled the same knowing, smug, smile from Sam’s dream, and slowly faded away until the curtain was the only thing the hunter was left staring at.

Sam blinked, running his good hand across his face, swallowing back the bile that had risen to his throat. He shivered slightly, and nearly jumped off the bed when Dean’s hand rested on his shoulder.

“Easy, tiger,” Dean stared at him. “The doctor’s on his way. He said if things check out, you can be out of here within the hour.”

“Good,” Sam nodded. “I want…to go home.”

Dean shrugged. “Well, I don’t know about home, little brother, but if you’re lucky, Motel 6 left the light on for us.”

Sam smiled, knowing home wasn't a physical place with four walls and a mantle full of framed memories. The foreboding sense of gloom slowly started fading away, just like Max‘s ghost. “Sounds perfect.” After all, he was the lucky one.

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