The first time it happens, Dean is holding him and begging him not to die.
And he doesn't, but Dean almost does.
The slashes appear as though they were stigmata; they open on their own like splitting seams and start dripping blood, while Sam's wounds stop bleeding altogether and quickly close. They mirror each other perfectly for one moment, then it's one injured brother for another, and Dean wouldn't have stopped if he could.
Sam is dazed for a moment after, left gasping for breath on the wet grass. Then he hears Dean groaning and forces himself to his knees. Dean is bleeding from a gaping wound on his side, right where the demon's knife had stabbed Sam, but his clothes aren't torn, and the blood is sinking straight through his shirt.
"What did you do?" Sam asks, his voice breaking a little, and Dean just closes his eyes.
Sam gets him in the backseat of the Impala, lays him down, and drives to the nearest hospital without going below sixty once. He stops in the parking lot and leans into the backseat, ready to start pulling Dean out.
Dean just pushes him away. He's broken out in a sweat, but he's stopped bleeding, and his skin is unmarked; there isn't even a scar. "Let's get back to the motel," he says, sinking back into the seat with an exhausted sigh. "I don't think the doctors would believe us if we tried to explain this."
Dean sleeps for seventeen hours straight, and Sam sits on the floor, his back leaning against the opposite bed, only closing his eyes to blink. He wakes up slowly, lethargic, and confused. "Did I get hung over last night?" he asks with a wince.
Sam's eyes don't stray from him. "You don't remember?"
Sam watches as it comes back to him, the recognition is in the startled intake of breath, the way he forces the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Right," Dean says, then glances at Sam. "I don't want to talk about it."
"You don't want to talk about it?" Sam echoes with disbelief. "You want to pretend that you didn't heal me with a touch? I was going to die, Dean, I could feel it, and you--"
"The pretending it never happened thing would be great," Dean says, and tries to get to his feet. His legs give out the moment he stands and Sam surges up, catching him and pushing him back towards the bed just in time.
"Easy," Sam says. Dean blinks at him and Sam gets the worst kind of déjà vu, pulled right back into a nightmare, because Dean looks a little the way he did when he was lying in that hospital, with only a few weeks left to live. "Were you trying out some kind of spell?" Sam asks gently. "I need to know what you've done, Dean."
"I didn't do anything," Dean says defensively. "I don't know what happened, but it wasn't me."
"I've never heard of anything like this," Sam says.
"Maybe we had a joint hallucination," Dean says. "Stranger things have happened."
"That doesn't explain why you can barely stand," Sam says, "or why my clothes are torn and covered in my blood and there's no trace left of a wound." He reaches out and pulls on Dean's blood stained shirt. "And then there's this, too."
Dean looks down at it and frowns. "Damn. I love this shirt. You think I'll be able to get this stain out?"
"Dean," Sam snaps.
Dean rolls his eyes. "What? What do you want me to say? I don't know what happened, Sam, and honestly, I'm not sure I care. All that matters is you're alive, okay, so let's just leave it at that."
"I thought you didn't believe in faith healing," Sam says quietly.
"Whatever this was, it's not that," Dean tells him. "You gotta have faith to heal from it."
Sam frowns, but Dean gets to his feet again and pushes past him before he can make a remark. He makes it to the bathroom this time before he has to reach out and grab the wall for balance.
It takes two days before he can cross the room without getting out of breath, and for awhile, Sam had started to worry that maybe Dean had given him something he couldn't get back.
Sam scours the internet for any instance of this kind of spontaneous healing, but most articles are written by the skeptics, and provide no real help. All he finds are reports of healings more like those preformed out of Reverend LeGrange's tent. On a whim, he even checks to make sure no one died of an inexplicable stab wound the same time he was healed, but it had been a long shot, and there's thankfully no suspicious deaths in the entire town, not since Dean had put an end to that demon right after it had almost put an end to him.
"Are you still on about that?" Dean asks, leaning over his shoulder. "Shouldn't we be looking for our next hunt instead of this? We've been here too long, man."
"Yeah, well, if you hadn't noticed, this is the first time you haven't slept more than twenty hours in three days," Sam says tiredly.
Dean punches him on the arm. "Hey, I need my beauty sleep. I don't look this gorgeous for nothing."
"Dean, we need to think about this--"
Dean rolls eyes. "All the stuff we see, why does this upset you so much? It's something good, right? Let's just move on."
Sam frowns. "I'm not sure it is good."
Dean snorts. "Yeah, you have a point there. It would be so much better if you were dead."
Sam sighs. "That's not what I mean at all, but you...you didn't look so good after, Dean, it was like you'd taken my place, and I'm not sure if I like that."
"What? You wanted a nasty scar to show off to the girls?" Dean asks. "Sorry, bro, but I thought maybe saving your ass was more important."
Sam points at him. "So you did do something, didn't you?"
"Find us a new place to hunt, Sam," Dean says.
"Not until I know what happened here," he says. "When I started having visions--"
"This is different," Dean says. "This was something else. I don't know. Maybe something's looking out for us."
"Dean," Sam says.
Dean doesn't look at him, just grabs his coat and starts for the door. "Just look for something new to hunt, Sammy, I'm going for a walk."
Dean's still gone half an hour later, and Sam is pacing the room, contemplating going after him, when he finally stumbles back in. He's gone completely pale, so much so that Sam can almost see through the skin. He shuts the door carefully before leaning back against it, and sliding to the floor.
Sam rushes over and kneels in front of him. "Dean? What happened?"
Dean presses his eyes shut. "It wasn't a fluke," he says.
Sam frowns. "What?"
"I tried again," Dean says. "A little girl fell at the park, she had a broken arm."
Sam swallows nervously. "You healed her?" he asks.
"Nothing to it," Dean says, smiling faintly, before motioning to his left arm, which Sam was only now noticing hung oddly. "So, weird, huh?"
"You shouldn't have done this," Sam says, carefully examining Dean's arm. "We don't know what's going on, what could happen--"
"She was crying," Dean says. "You know I can't stand it when girls cry."
"And she's fine now?" Sam asks, a little disbelievingly, even though he's seen this in action himself.
Dean nods, and leans back again, looking like he hasn't slept for days. "My arm is already getting better," he says, flexing his wrist. "Hey, you think I'm like Wolverine now? All that's missing are the claws, which frankly, would probably come in handy."
Sam frowns, and ignores him. "We have to be careful with this," he says. "Maybe we should--"
"No," Dean interrupts. "I know what we have to do."
"What?" Sam asks, looking up at him.
Dean doesn't meet his eyes. "We go back to Nebraska," he says.
Dean sleeps the entire way there, sitting in the passenger seat, and there isn't even any music playing because Dean hasn't picked out a tape. Sam keeps checking on him, feeling for his pulse, because he's eerily still and he can't even hear him breathing.
If Dean's arm had really been broken, it isn't now, all that's left is the same exhaustion he suffered after healing Sam; only this time, it doesn't last as long. Sam was thinking a broken arm was probably easier to fix than it was to pull someone back from the edge of death.
Dean is back to his restless self by the time they pull to a stop in front of the hospital, sitting beside him anxiously and tapping his fingers on his knees. Her mother said she's been here two weeks, not doing well, if they want to say goodbye, she'd told them sobbing, they had better visit now.
"I'm not sure about this," Sam says.
"It's the least of what we owe her," Dean tells him.
"None of what happened was your fault," Sam says. "We had to stop what was happening."
"I know," Dean says, but he doesn't sound certain at all. "I still have to try."
"If we learned anything from what happened, Dean, it's that miraculous healing always has a cost, and we have no idea what all of this is taking from you." Sam's fingers are still wrapped around the steering wheel, and they feel a little stuck to it, like they've been baked on by the sun they left eighty miles behind.
"I'm fine, Sam," Dean says. "I feel fine, now. I get a little tired for a bit, but so what? I'm willing to spend a couple days sleeping in if it's going to save someone's life, wouldn't you?"
"And what if one time you don't get better?" Sam demands, turning to glance at him, and finally letting go of the steering wheel. There's a sickening crackling pull as his skin peels away from the leather cover, and he tries not to wince.
"Same thing that might happen any time we go on a hunt," Dean says. "I'd be screwed, but the chance of that has never stopped us before, so why should this be any different? I mean, for all we know, your habit of moving furniture with your mind is gonna kill brain cells."
Sam purses his lips, but can't argue the logic. They knew too little about all of this to be sure about anything at all. "Alright," he says, "let's go."
She doesn't look like they remember when they finally reach her room. She's impossibly thinner and pale in all the places that haven't been bruised with stress. She looks right at them as they stand beside her bed, but it takes five whole minutes before any kind of recognition sinks in.
"Dean?" she says, and tries to smile. "You came to see me?"
"Yeah," he says thickly, and Sam feels suddenly like he's intruding, but there's no way he's leaving his brother to do this alone. Dean sits on the edge of her bed, and Sam doesn't want to know what it costs her to keep smiling.
"I didn't think you would," she says.
Dean gives a lop-sided grin, self-depreciating and achingly sad. "Had to see you again," he says. "You wouldn't get out of my head."
She laughs, but it turns into a hacking cough, and Dean steadies her with his hands, one on each side of her neck, eyes intent. The coughing stops almost instantly, and Layla's eyes slip shut. Sam watches as all of the color bleeds straight out of him and into her, and Dean looks like he's dying again, sitting there with his eyes pressed closed, and Sam doesn't know how long he can watch this; relive the worst time of his life over again before he cracks.
"Dean. Dean, let go," Sam whispers. "You have to let go....stop..."
Sam reaches out to pull him back, but when he wraps his fingers around Dean's shirt it's like touching a live wire, and he lets go with a startled cry; he shakes off his tingling fingers and looks back at his brother in surprise. Thankfully, just as Sam starts to worry he's held on too long already, Dean finally lets go. He goes limp the second he does, and starts to fall backwards. Sam catches him under his arms to keep him from hitting the ground, and he's burning up, but Sam can touch him now without getting a shock.
Layla opens her eyes, and frowns as she sees Dean's condition. "What happened?" she whispers, then seems startled at her own voice, because all the strength that belongs in it is back. She sits up without wincing, and stares at her own hands in disbelief. "What?" She locks eyes with Dean. "Did you--"
"No," Dean says, but his voice is hushed, like it's taking all of his effort just to breathe.
Layla wouldn't have believed him even if he'd managed to say it with a smile. She looks up then, and locks eyes with Sam. "What's he done? Is he...is he going to be okay?"
"He saved you," Sam tells her. "He never quite got over not being able to do it before."
Layla has tears in her eyes and she reaches out, but Dean pulls away, struggling to get out of Sam's grip and on his own feet. "We can't stay here," he says, but manages to throw a weak grin in Layla's direction. "You're going to be fine," he says.
Layla bites her lip. "I never doubted it," she says. "I had faith, and I knew you were praying for me."
"We've got to get out of here," Sam says, pulling one of Dean's arms over his shoulders and ignoring Dean's protests. "Take care," he says, and then they're leaving, leaving the same way they always show up, in a hurry.
Dean's strength gives out the moment they hit the hallway, and Sam props him up against the wall before stealing an abandoned wheelchair and rolling it over. Dean glares at it. "Oh, hell no," he says.
"You'd rather I carry you?" Sam deadpans, and Dean glares at him, but let's himself be lowered down. Layla calls after them, but they don't stop, or look back, and she hasn't realized yet that she can chase after them if she wants, because it's been a week since she's been able to even walk.
Dean spends the night dry heaving in the bathroom, alternating between burning up and going freezing cold, and Sam regrets every time he's ever complained about the headaches he gets when he has visions, because it's nothing next to this. "This is the last time, Dean," he says.
Dean doesn't bother to respond as he tries to level out his breathing, but Sam hadn't been expecting him to agree. Dean's always had a problem with giving too much to help others, and he has a terrible feeling that this could all get out of hand very easily, and very quickly.
Dean sleeps through the next day, but his recovery time is still a little quicker than when he had healed him. Sam still isn't sure whether that depends on how much Dean has to fix, or if he's simply getting better at it. Dean doesn't know, either, he just knows that he can't stop.
The next few months are hell, and Sam knows something's going to have to give. Dean continues to try and pretend like it's no big deal, makes jokes instead like he does about everything. Dean never used to believe in faith healers, and the irony of this newfound ability is not lost on him, but he just tells Sam he's not getting himself a fucking tent or a ticket booth, so he'd better damn well not ask.
They're still hunting, never stop except for when they have to, and Dean is still as good at it as ever; it's the people they meet along the way that cause the trouble.
The waitress from Texas with the limp. Dean had her charmed within two minutes and she gave them free desert. It was a mistake, honest, Dean had told him, as Sam drug him limping back to the car, and Sam knew he should have been the one to give her back the bill, because Dean's hand hadn't lingered on hers so long by accident.
The little boy that had been thrown into a wall like a rag doll in Illinois. Dean had reached for him as Sam finished the demon off, and by the time Sam turned back around, Dean was leaning against the wall with his eyes closed and the now healthy little boy was trying to shake him back awake.
Then there was the blind man they met in Montana; Dean hadn't been able to see for four days. Sam had been terrified he was going to stay that way, and though he never admitted to it, Dean had been too. He'd thought maybe something had finally happened that would give Dean pause, but once his vision was 20/20 again, it was like it had never happened at all.
Dean's still sleeping that last little incident off when the phone rings, and Sam grabs for it quickly, so the noise won't wake him. "Hello?"
Sam's back goes straight, and he hates himself for the ingrained response, and is grateful at least that his father isn't there to see it. "Dad? What's wrong?"
"What's this I hear about Dean being some kind of miracle worker?" he asks, and he sounds tense, almost annoyed. "And why the hell didn't you call me about it?"
Sam reacts to the tone the way he always does, and goes instantly on the defensive. "Why? You got a bullet or stab wound you'd like Dean to carry around for you? Because he's getting good at it, and I know for a fact he wouldn't mind."
He can hear his father's sigh as he tries to bite back a response. "Put your brother on," he says.
Sam glances at Dean, who still hasn't stirred. "Not a chance. He's sleeping," he says, "and he needs it, so you'll have to get by with me."
"Fine, then I'll keep it simple; you're drawing attention to yourselves, and need to stop. If I've heard about it, chances are someone else has too."
Sam sighs, and runs a hand down his face. "For once, I actually agree with you."
"You do?" His father sounds almost incredulous.
"I think he's killing himself," Sam confides, because all of his issues aside, there's no one else in the world he can talk to about this, and the only reason he hasn't up until now is that Dean hadn't wanted their father to know.
The line goes silent for a moment. "Then you make him stop, Sam."
"I'm not sure even you could make him stop," Sam says, "and god knows he doesn't listen to me."
"You have to find a way," he says. "This kind of thing isn't to be treated lightly."
"I don't suppose you feel like dropping by for a few days," Sam says.
"I would if I could, but I--"
"You can't," Sam interrupts. "Yeah. I don't know why I bothered asking."
"Sam," John snaps. "Just get this under control."
John hangs up without goodbye, but there's really not much new about that.
Things finally come to a head when they make it to one town a little too late. It's a run of the mill poltergeist, and they get rid of in record time; but they find a blood trail when they start for the door that leads them up the stairs. The guy has already stopped breathing by the time Dean kneels beside him, but despite Sam's desperate cry, Dean reaches out and touches him anyway.
By the time Sam had managed to get a grip on him, ignoring the electric burn doing it's best to get him to let go, and pulling him clear, Dean's heart had stopped.
The forty seconds of silence before Dean surges up gasping for breath are the longest in Sam's life. If it had taken him just a couple seconds longer to pull him away, he suspects there would have been two funerals instead of the one, and Dean should really really have known better. Sam keeps his hands behind Dean's head, and lowers him gently back down to the floor.
"Dean?" he says.
Dean shuts his eyes, and waves him off half-heartedly. "'m fine," he says.
Sam would have been furious, if he wasn't so relieved. "Let's get you back to the motel," is all he says, and grabs Dean's wrists to pull him to his feet.
"What about him?" Dean asks quietly.
"We'll call the police later and give them the location," Sam says, as he starts pulling Dean down the stairs. "We can't help him now."
Dean sleeps through the night and into most of the afternoon, and Sam spends most of it pacing back and forth across the room, trying to talk himself down from a rage. He knows he's a little prone to tantrums, or so Dean and his father both like to claim, and he's trying to get into a more lawyer-like state of mind, so he can find a defense for an immediate cessation of all miraculous healing abilities that even Dean couldn't argue against.
What he actually says when Dean finally opens his eyes is this:
"Don't you ever fucking do that to me again!"
Dean doesn't quite flinch, but only just barely; he doesn't think Sam has ever been this angry with him, if you didn't count supernatural intervention, that was, which Dean certainly didn't. "Sam?" he says.
Sam looks caught between screaming and breaking down and Dean can't even bring himself to make a comment about chick flick moments, because he knows this time he's the cause, and he's used that line before already anyway. "I need you to promise me, Dean," he says, and he'd sound angry if he didn't look so near tears.
Dean barely looks at him. He looks everywhere else instead, because it's still hard not giving his little brother whatever he wants. "If our places were reversed, would you make that promise to me?"
Dean might as well have said 'when hell freezes over' for the way it drives the point home, but Sam's not letting go that easily. "Then we're making some ground rules," Sam tells him; and by we, he actually just means himself, but his brother requires careful handling.
"Rules?" Dean says, raising an eyebrow and looking amused.
"Yes," Sam says, deadly serious, "for one, no more trying to raise the dead."
Dean's expression darkens and he looks away. "Yeah, figured that out, thanks."
"And no doing it while we're in the middle of a hunt, only after," Sam snaps. "You can't be incapacitated when there's something coming after us, Dean. I know I'm good, but I can't be dragging you behind me while I'm fighting something off."
Dean nods, because he's never had any intention of leaving his brother unguarded, anyway. "Yeah, alright," he says. "Anything else, mom? No miraculous healing after ten on school nights or on a full stomach, maybe?"
Sam almost smiles, but the absence of Dean's heartbeat is still a little too loud in his mind, so he only shakes his head. "Yeah," he says. "For starters."
They fall into a routine, after awhile. They already have the killing part down, that's easy, but they're learning the rest as they go. They kill creepy demons and shape shifters and vanquish ghosts, and then they search for the hostages, the prisoners, the victims, and hope they're there in time.
In one house, they find a little girl huddled in a corner, and Dean tells Sam to get the door.
He kneels beside her and reaches out with purpose. "It's okay," Dean whispers. "It's gonna be alright now."
It's just something else unexplainable they leave behind when they head off to the next place, and all things considered, Dean thinks it's one of the better legacies to leave behind.