Author: K Hanna Korossy PM
Sam and Dean walk into a bar, but Sam ends up carrying Dean out.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Hurt/Comfort - Sam W. & Dean W. - Words: 7,027 - Reviews: 55 - Favs: 127 - Follows: 6 - Published: 06-24-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6080014
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This story first appeared in Blood Brothers 3 (2009), from Gold'n Lily Press
K Hanna Korossy
Sometimes, Sam had to concede, the problem wasn't lack of information. Sometimes there was just too much of it.
He flipped through their dad's journal, biting back a sigh. Even John Winchester, master of minimalism, had several pages on Boogeymen. It didn't help that almost every culture in the world had its own version, with its own M.O., description, and weaknesses. And shooting one form with silver bullets wasn't going to do a lot of good if it was a type that was only vulnerable to the blood of one of its victims.
That was assuming they were even hunting a Boogeyman in the first place.
Sam turned back to the laptop, chewing a knuckle as he typed another search in. Peripherally, he heard the barmaid arrive and Dean's voice fall an octave, in full flirtation mode. Sam smiled a little at the screen and kept typing.
"She wants me."
The town was mostly populated by descendants of Germanic immigrants. Maybe they were looking at a Schwarze Mann. Sam was pretty sure there was an old kids game that summoned them… "She's gotta be at least fifty, man," he said as he typed.
"So? She still wants me," Dean replied smugly.
Sam snorted but didn't look up. He just couldn't find anything that specifically mentioned what would kill a Dark Man.
In the periphery of Sam's vision, a beer bottle was plunked down. He reached for it as he wrote…
…and found Dean's hand already wrapped around it. Frowning, Sam looked up.
Dean was drinking from his own beer, a smile curling lazily around the bottle's neck as he held the other one hostage. "Just wondering if you were totally lost in Geekland."
"You could be doing research, too," Sam pointed out, swiping the bottle out of Dean's loose grasp and taking a sip.
"No, see, when I said we should go out for a while, I was thinking of actually going out," Dean said. "Leaving the research in the room and having a little fun. Let all that hair of yours down."
Sam gave him an exasperated look. "I'm not stopping you—go have some fun."
Dean muttered something that almost sounded like "It's no fun by myself," but by the time Sam looked up again, startled, his brother was swigging more beer, eyes meandering the half-full room.
Sam looked back down at his notes. Three kids had died in that town already, each on a Thursday after a week of claiming to be terrorized by something in their rooms at night. It was Tuesday now, and they still didn't know who the next victim would be or exactly what they were up against. They were running out of time.
"They've got a pool table," Dean broke into his thoughts again, head canted hopefully.
Sam's mouth tweaked. Dean was never one to stay defeated. Maybe pediatrician records would help narrow the potential victims…
"I'll even give you first break."
Sam couldn't hold back the laugh any longer, looking up at his brother through his bangs. What the heck, they did still have two days left. Downtime with his brother won over research that could wait. It wasn't like Dean asked Sam to relax with him very often, and how many times at school had Sam longed to just hang out with his big brother again? Of course, that had been before Jess had died… His smile faltered, but he held on to it determinedly. "Loser does laundry for the next month?"
Dean straightened, whole face lighting up. "You sure you're up for that, Sammy? I mean, I know how much you hate laundry duty."
Sam smirked at him. "Who says I'm gonna be doing it, jerk? I played pool at school, too, you know—I'm not rusty."
Dean's eyes flickered, which could have been everything from the reminder of Sam having been away, to worry that his little brother was going to beat him. But before Sam could fret about it, Dean was grinning wide and pure again and sliding off his seat. "Bring it on, Fats."
Sam chuckled, shaking his head as he gathered together materials and shut down the laptop. His shoulders were tight with the tension of the case and of sitting hunched over the computer all day; a game would probably do him good. He watched Dean pause in his path through the crowd to appreciatively eye a curvaceous blonde, who checked him out approvingly in return. Dean tossed Sam back a grin, mouthed an impressed hot, but continued toward the pool tables.
Sam softened even more; it wasn't hard to see how badly Dean wanted his company and for Sam to relax a little. Sometimes that chafed, and sometimes it hurt too much, but tonight the local beer was a good one, the songs on the jukebox were actually decent, and they still had forty-eight hours to figure their case out. A night off might be good. Sam shuffled his papers into a neat pile.
There was a snap of sound, and he glanced up again as he stuck his materials into his bag.
The next moment, he was surging off the barstool.
It had happened so fast, and his mind put together the pieces in the two seconds it took to plow his way to the center of the crowd: Dean on his hands and knees on the ground, several large men grouped around him, a beefy blond with a pool cue held like a baseball bat. The blow had to have been hard and sudden for it to have dropped Dean with one strike, and Sam heard his brother's snarl from ten feet away. Even as Sam lunged forward, he saw Dean explode.
His brother's kick probably destroyed the knee it hit, the guy going down with a wail. Another flailed and fell as Dean grabbed his ankle and yanked. Dean was pushing up at the same time, trying to jump back to his feet and into a less vulnerable position.
But the bad guys weren't doing him the favor of attacking one at a time and giving him a fighting chance. Even as Sam watched, horrified, Dean completely disappeared from view as the rest of the men descended on him in a single knot of pummeling arms and legs.
Sam uttered a war cry of his own, hands reaching to yank the nearest body away from his downed brother.
Nearly slicing his own throat against the blade that suddenly appeared against his Adam's apple. A voice gritted hard in his ear, "Don't."
Sam froze, fists clenching, eyes darting to the side to assess this new obstacle.
The guy had to be about as big as his compatriots, muscled in a blue-collar-life kind of way. The blade he held rivaled Dean's Bowie knife in size, and he handled it with ease, pressed Sam up against it without an inch of give.
The bar had fallen eerily silent, only the noise of the beating audible, at least to Sam. He could hear the sound of blows falling, the unmistakeable smack of a hard object meeting flesh. But even as he flushed with anger, he realized he couldn't hear Dean, not a single cry or yell for him, not even a grunt of pain. Unconscious, or just typically stoic?
It didn't matter. Three months of grief, of rage and guilt and helplessness crested in Sam, clearing away all the doubts and self-restraints, honing his senses to crystal clarity.
He could clearly hear ribs snap as he thrust his elbow back as hard as it would go.
His captor howled in pain, grip loosening. Sam didn't even wait for it, turning in the man's grasp to seize his arm and twist it around and back. He was pretty sure the shoulder joint popped, really sure he didn't care. The knife clattered to the floor. Sam kicked it away, then shoved the moaning guy aside like so much trash and dove toward Dean.
Afterward, he wouldn't be quite sure what happened next. He did know that somehow he took down at least two of the jerks who were laying into Dean. He caught sight of his brother's curled body at some point, and his fury spiraled higher. Sam was reaching for the third guy, who'd just buried a boot in Dean's lower back, when the unmistakable blast of a shotgun froze them all.
Sam tore his eyes away to see the middle-aged, bald bartender standing in front of the bar holding the upraised gun, glaring at them all.
"He was making a move on Cheryl, right in front of me," the blond guy, who'd just kicked Dean, protested.
Sam's head shot over to him, eyes narrowing. Memorizing the weak features under the thatch of straw hair.
"Didn't ask you, Randy," the bartender said flatly, then, "Hey, Stretch."
Sam looked back at him, breathing heavily, hands curling and uncurling.
The bartender shook his head, the grim lines of his face softening a little as he looked at Sam. "I saw who started it, so you go first. Get your buddy to some help."
Sam's jaw clutched tight. There were at least two of those who'd attacked Dean still standing, who'd blindsided him and taken him down like a cat its prey, including the apparent instigator. But the bartender didn't look like he was giving an inch, and in the shuffling silence of the moment, Sam could hear Dean's gasps for air.
That won. He loosened his fists and dropped to his knees beside Dean, sure and fierce hands suddenly hesitant over trembling flesh and bone. "Dean? C'mon, man, let's get out of here."
As soon as he'd realized he wasn't going to make it back to his feet, Dean had apparently fallen back on training and gone into defense mode: head curled in and protected by his arms, legs pulled up to his chest. His arms, legs, and back would have absorbed the brunt of the attack. Normally, Sam would've taken the time to check each one carefully before he made Dean move, but he had a feeling the bartender wouldn't be patient. Besides, there was a vulnerability there he didn't want to expose Dean to in front of these redneck idiots.
Dean, however, must have just realized the blows had stopped and he had an opening. A switchblade suddenly flashed out, blurring with the speed of its arc. Stopping dead as Sam instinctively reacted, grabbing his brother's wrist.
"Dean, it's me," he said quietly. "It's me. Hey. Y'all right?"
Dean's other arm edged down, revealing a tight, pale face, hazel eyes swimming with confusion and pain.
Sam rubbed the inside of the clenched palm with his thumb. "Let me have this," he insisted warmly.
The knife dropped into his hand without hesitation. Dean's jaw was so tight, the muscles in his neck stood out, but his hand sagged in Sam's.
His tucked-in body hadn't loosened, either. Sam put the knife in his pocket, squeezed his brother's hand covertly, then skimmed a palm down the curved and shaking back, tugged at his knees. "Dean, I need your help here." The legs unlocked, letting Sam fold them down. No protruding bones, at least, or anything grossly misshapen. He laid a hand against Dean's stomach. "You with me yet, man?"
Dean looked around, eyes still hazy and not quite comprehending. They stuttered as they reached the men looming over them, and Sam shifted to block his view.
His gaze drifted back to Sam, and he swallowed and nodded, looking a little cross-eyed from the motion. "Yeah. Yeah, 'm here."
"Good. That's good. So, you ready to go yet, or you still wanna play a game first?" Not even remotely what he wanted to say, but the whole bar seemed to be listening, enemies at his back, and he needed Dean to play along, to not break now, here.
Dean blinked, focusing again on Sam. Comprehending, thank God, although the difficulty he had concentrating still worried Sam. His brother blinked again. "Don't think we're…welcome here…Sammy," he finally murmured. His right arm had slid down against his stomach, held in close to his body, but his left hand tightened on Sam's wrist. "Get me up," Dean said even more quietly.
Again, it wasn't the most prudent thing to do, but… Sam understood. He had Winchester pride, too. He bit the inside of his mouth and nodded, then very carefully slid an arm under Dean's shoulders.
Dean immediately broke out in a sweat, face growing even paler under his freckles, but he was completely silent. Still not making a sound as Sam curled him up and forward, as his little brother eased him to his feet. More or less; Dean was bent forward, as shaky as a leaf in the wind, and the half-circle of Sam's arm was keeping him upright more than the legs that wobbled under him. But Sam let him do as much as possible, offering Dean what dignity he could.
As if succumbing to six-to-one odds, and a cowardly rear takedown, was any cause for shame. Dean wouldn't see it that way, though, and Sam didn't miss that his brother's eyes stayed averted from his attackers as he found his feet.
They finally shuffled forward, toward the front door, Sam moving at whatever pace his brother set. He didn't even pause as he passed their table, just shot out a hand to grab his bag without breaking stride. Dean gripped chairs and tabletops as they passed, seeking support, his breath tearing out of him in sharp bursts at each step.
The only longer walks Sam could remember taking were the ones to Jess's grave and to the bus to Stanford.
"Just a few more feet," he coaxed in a whisper as Dean hesitated near the door, swaying dazedly. There was no blood visible, and his walk was unsteady but he didn't seem to be favoring a leg or broken bones. His pain was vivid, however, and he was clearly near the end of his strength. "Dean?" Sam prompted.
"'M okay," Dean muttered, and pressed forward.
The crowd parted as they went, and Sam didn't look at them, aware of every shift of movement but not bothering to take his eyes away from Dean. He let go of his brother long enough to get the door for him. Then, finally, they were out…in the middle of a rain shower. Still, the sudden release of the weight of all those eyes made Sam sag with relief.
Dean sucked in a breath, moaned, and started to fold.
"Hey!" Sam yelped, tightening his grip around his brother's waist and grabbing at the front of his jacket with the other one. "We're almost—"
Dean curled forward and threw up on the front doorstep of the bar. Which probably wasn't a new experience for him, but he wasn't usually clinging desperately to Sam's arm at the same time.
Sam cringed, first with empathy, then disgust. He was in an awkward position to hold his brother's limp weight, not to mention, oh, yay, puke on his shoes, so Sam finally eased them both down to kneeling, shuffling around to behind his brother to hold the jackknifing body as Dean retched. Sam made himself check the color of the vomit before it washed away, stomach lurching automatically at the sight, but also deeply relieved to see no blood. Sam tilted his head forward against the nape of his brother's neck and whispered over the rain some combination of you're doing fine and almost there and gonna be better soon. Platitudes Dean would have made fun of if he hadn't been busy miserably turning himself inside out.
Sam was ready with a mangled tissue from his pocket by the time Dean was done, and it was a sign of how out of it his brother was that he let Sam mop his mouth clean without a single sound of protest. His voice was so breathy, Sam had to lean closer to hear it. "Well…'at sucks."
Sam huffed a laugh. "Yeah, it kinda does." He tilted Dean back against him, an arm banded across him to keep him from falling forward.
The cold rain on his face seemed to revive him a little. "Not 'xactly…night out I…had in mind…dude." Dean was panting around the words, and Sam wasn't sure if it was in nausea or pain. Probably both.
"Good, 'cause if you had, I'd be worried."
Dean's turn to laugh, then a tremor racked his body and he groaned a curse. "Sam…" His head began to loll forward.
"It's okay," Sam said quickly, easing Dean around so he was leaning sideways against Sam. He thought briefly of tilting his brother over his shoulder, but he really didn't want to be cleaning vomit off the back of his jacket and jeans, too, so he slid his arms under Dean's legs and back. "I've got you."
Dean grunted and twisted in his grip, Sam doubtless pressing on deep bruises. He tried to shift his hold until he wasn't causing his brother so much pain. When Dean fell still again, breath sawing in and out of him, Sam decided that was as good as it was gonna get. He carefully lifted up.
"Wha'?" Dean tried to lift his head, dropped it heavily back against Sam's shoulder just as fast.
"Gonna carry you over the threshold, man," Sam said with a wan grin.
Dean's eyelashes fluttered, rainwater dripping off them, his pupils so shrunken that his eyes were a sea of dark green. Shock, Sam knew, and worried he'd missed something. "…knife…" His brother's voice was rough and weak. "…Sam…need…" Sopping hair slid against Sam's jaw with every step.
"You don't need the knife, you're safe. I've got you," Sam repeated softly, hefting Dean a little higher so his heavy head settled against Sam's shoulder, water dripping onto his neck from Sam's bangs. The Impala was only a few feet away, but Dean was no lightweight, and Sam nearly slipped twice in the mud. By the time he reached the car, his arms felt like blocks of cement. He leaned his brother into him, wrestled the keys out of Dean's pocket, and opened the front door. Careful not to smack Dean's head on the jamb, Sam laid him inside with shaking arms. Fatigue, but also an adrenaline dump. Dean was usually the one who looked after him, not the other way around. And Dean was right: it sucked. Sam would take the injuries and pain to the worry and responsibility any day.
That wasn't an option, though, nor was bailing out. Dean needed him. That won.
Sam stuffed his duffel under Dean's bent legs to raise them, then leaned into the back to fish out a blanket he then tucked around the soaked and trembling body. He cursed under his breath as he felt Dean's galloping pulse. If it wasn't better by the time they got to the motel room, he was taking Dean to the hospital. For now, though, Sam craved nothing more than privacy for them both. Quiet, safety, dryness, and warmth.
He lurched around the front of the car, hand sliding over the slick hood, and wrenched his own door open. His thigh brushed the bristle-top of Dean's head as Sam dropped into the driver's seat. Six-one didn't fold easily into the front, only minimally better than six-four did, yet he couldn't make himself lay his brother out in the back. "We'll be home soon," Sam promised, brushing back his dripping hair and starting the car. He tucked Dean's arms in against his body before dropping one of his own across his brother's chest.
The motel wasn't far, but Dean was stirring groggily by the time Sam eased up to their door. His brow drew together in puzzlement as he stared at the dash.
"You with me?" Sam asked. "Dean?"
"Car on 's side?"
Sam snorted. "Naw, man, you are."
"Oh." Dean shifted, flinched, and swore.
"Yeah, pretty much," Sam agreed. "Gimme a second, all right?"
He got out, sliding his bag out from under Dean's legs and jogging up to the door. The rain had stopped, at least, but Sam splashed through puddles heedlessly. He unlocked their door and dropped his satchel against it like a doorstop, then returned to the car.
Dean, of course, being the stubborn idiot he was, had already shoved himself upright in the seat, still hunched and cradling an arm against him. Sam opened the door and crouched beside him, fingers lightly ghosting over his broken brother. "Hey. We need a hospital? Anything busted, torn up inside?"
Dean gave the question some thought, which was actually a relief. Sam wouldn't have trusted a glib answer just then. His eyes finally shut, mouth twisting up in a facial shrug. "Back ribs…maybe. Nothin' seri'us."
"Right." Sam rolled his eyes. "Just a few broken bones, no big deal."
"See?" Dean said with a weak smirk.
"Dude, the only reason I'm letting you get away with that one is because you look like a garbage truck rolled over you. Twice." He'd been running his hands over shoulders and arms, catching winces but no violent reactions. The right shoulder was swollen but seemed to move okay, probably just wrenched. "You think you can walk to the room?"
"Not…carryin' me…'gain," Dean said determinedly, and slowly started swinging his legs out of the car.
Well, it was a good sign he remembered that, Sam thought hopefully. He helped Dean complete the action and got him to his feet, then quickly grabbed him when Dean faltered. But between his brother's white-knuckled grip on the car door and Sam's arm around him, they got him stabilized and pointed in the right direction.
"So," he said, voice gently teasing and completely focused on distracting his brother from the painful shuffle inside. "You hit on the wrong girl again?"
One of Dean's legs buckled, and he gripped Sam's forearm like a crutch. "Din't," he protested breathlessly. "Dude was…crazy."
"Yeah, well, I'll buy that. You sure you didn't—?"
Dean's eyes slid sideways to him, and there was a moment, just long enough for Sam to catch it, where hurt bled through the cavalier exterior. Then Dean's head dipped and he focused on his feet.
Sam could be slow on occasion, but the light finally broke. Dean flirted as effortlessly as he breathed, but other men's women were hands off…unless Dean didn't know and the lady didn't protest. Or unless a possessive guy got jealous over a harmless admiring look. Dean certainly hadn't done anything to deserve the beating he'd gotten.
Sam winced. Backup didn't just apply to fights.
"Winchester luck, huh?" he offered in wry apology, letting Dean pull himself shakily up the two steps to the door via the railing instead of just sweeping him up like he wanted to.
Dean breathed out slow and long, gave him a look that was surface humor, underneath gratitude. "'F we din't have bad luck…"
"Yeah, I think I'd take that over no luck at all, at this point."
Dean snickered, then paused, mid-step. "Sam?"
Sam paused, full attention on Dean. "Yeah?"
"Catch." Dean went limp.
Sam swore, wrapping both arms around his brother's body and heaving him up the stairs and through the door, manhandling the slumped figure to the nearest bed. "…stubborn, hot-headed, irritating…" He wrestled Dean's saturated jacket free with gentle hands, untied and slipped his boots off. "…stoic, libidinous, idiotic…" Sam peeled the rest of the clinging clothes off and rolled him onto his stomach under the covers. "…tasteless, hedonistic, frustrating…" He grabbed the first-aid kit, water, ice, and a towel.
Bruises were already starting to bloom down Dean's arms and shins, pooled blood warming and swelling the skin. His back looked like he'd slammed down hard against a cement floor, more discolored than pale, with the clear line of the pool cue crossing it diagonally.
But no broken bones shifted under Sam's assessing fingers, the spine thankfully untouched, nor was there any suspicious swelling or pressure from internal injuries. His shoulders rounded in relief, just for a moment, before he started to rub in balm and fix ice packs.
"…brave, self-sacrificial, big-brotherly jerk," he finished with soft aggravation.
It was more sigh than spoken word, and as Sam started and craned down to see Dean's face, his brother's eyes were closed, lips parted in tense but genuine slumber.
Sam huffed, shook his head, and got back to work mending his brother's bruised body, but he was smiling a little this time as he did.
Dean stirred sluggishly. "Smmmf?"
Sam glanced up from the laptop resting on his thighs and reached a hand to the bed to rest on the back of Dean's neck. It was one of the few spots he was pretty sure contact wouldn't hurt. "I'm here, Dean."
They'd done this several times over the past day already: Dean rousing from the pain, looking for him, settling back down when Sam assured him he was there. He couldn't count the times he'd had the same reaction to Dean's presence, but it still left him awed that it went both ways. Dean was invulnerable, a loner at heart, needed nothing.
Dean started to roll over, and Sam's palm pressed lightly to keep him in place. "Lie still, man."
Dean's eyes cracked open then, dull but aware as they squinted at Sam. "Ow."
Sam's mouth curled sympathetically. "Yeah."
"You get th' truck?"
"The one that hit you? Sorry, dude."
"Yeah, yeah." Dean sucked in a breath and closed his eyes, but the small furrow remained in his brow. Self-check, Sam realized, and waited, curled forward over his laptop in the chair he'd set between their beds. "Well, don' think I'll be…peeing blood," Dean finally decided.
"I'd be surprised if you didn't a little—they got your kidneys pretty good."
Dean's face scrunched up, and he gave Sam a half-embarrassed look. "Think I'm about to find out."
Sam blinked. "Oh." He set the laptop aside and quickly scrambled up, pulling covers off Dean, wincing at the bruises that had darkened and spread over the last twenty hours. He'd stopped the icing after lunch, but it was probably time for heat now. There was no good place to touch, and finally he just hovered, waiting to help if needed as Dean very slowly slid his bruised body to the edge of the bed and turned enough to sit up. Then he sat, curled slightly forward, head bent and eyes closed for a long minute, just breathing.
Sam hesitated, finally easing himself down next to his brother, shoulders and arm brushing lightly. "Y'all right?" he asked quietly.
"Peachy," came Dean's rough gravel voice.
"I'm sorry, they had a knife on me or—"
Dean's head tilted sideways, pinched hazel looking over Sam. "You okay?"
It wasn't even effort to swallow the sad smile, because he had an idea Dean would've marched out half-dressed and staggering on his feet to go wreak vengeance if Sam had been hurt. He nodded. "Broke his ribs," he said unapologetically.
Dean breathed out, winced. "Good." His head dropped again.
"I think it was the boyfriend of that girl you smiled at. Well, him and about a half-dozen of his buddies."
Dean started to shrug, then seemed to see that for the bad idea it was and just tilted his head in a silent whatever. What was done was done, and Sam felt a stir of old frustration that Dean cared far less about avenging his own wrongs than he did his little brother's.
Sam took a breath, pushing his own issues away. Not the time. "You ready to get up?"
"Don't suppose you could bring the bathroom closer, huh?"
Dean made a face. "Dude, don't even say it."
Sam laughed, just a little, and stood. "We'll take it easy, okay?"
They did, but it still took about ten minutes in all to get Dean across the room, leave him pale and shaky but determined in front of the toilet, then half-carry him back to bed after. By the time Sam got him tucked in, Dean's hair clung to his forehead and his jaw was locked against the pain.
Sam collected the pills he hadn't been able to administer while Dean slept, a few heat packs, and the carafe of water he'd kept heated on the coffeemaker. The last he added to soup mix while he worked on placing the heat packs and coaxed Dean into taking the meds. Then he just sat next to the bed, hands clasped loosely between his knees, waiting for the soup to be ready and Dean to not look like he was frozen in suffering.
"Quit staring," Dean mumbled from the depths of the pillow. "'M fine."
"You haven't seen your back."
"I don' have to." One eye opened to stare balefully at Sam. "What?"
Sam looked to one side, scratching at the back of his head.
Dean's head rose. "Oh, God, what?"
"I know who the next victim is."
The dark blond head dropped again. "Well, that's good." Dean was almost slurring with fatigue.
Sam looked back at him. "Yeah, but…I'm not sure about the Boogeyman yet."
"Still We'nsday, right?" At Sam's lack of an immediate answer, Dean rolled gingerly on his side to look at Sam. "Right?"
Dean sighed. "Seriously, Sam, do I look like I'm up for Twenty Questions?"
Sam grimaced. "I have a theory…but I need to try it out tonight in case it doesn't work."
There was a pause, Dean staring opaquely at him. "Tonight. As in, tonight."
Another pause. Then Dean started sliding his legs out again. "Gimme ten."
Sam darted forward to press gently on his knee and chest. "Dean. No. You can't go like this, you know that."
And he did; Sam could see the frustration in his eyes. "Sammy—"
"Sam," Sam said quietly. He needed…that, to be hunter and adult here, not little brother.
Dean barely hesitated. "Sam, last time you went solo, you—"
"I know, Dean," Sam said tightly. He didn't need the memory of the Armouchiquois that would have killed him without Dean's intervention. Neither did he need it pointed out that that had been the first time he'd soloed on a hunt. "But I can do this—I've been researching it all day. And if it doesn't work, I can pull back, try again tomorrow."
Dean growled a "son of a bitch" under his breath, fist thumping the mattress lightly. He bit his lip for a moment, thinking, then finally, grudgingly, said, "Show me what you've got."
It was a good excuse to get Dean to drink the soup, which he did while he listened to Sam outline his findings. It made sense—most of the Boogeyman legends had some commonalities: the visits to children, the dark clothing…and the abhorrence of light. It wasn't a bullet, but it might prove just as lethal.
Then he laid it out for Dean, his plan to block the closet-door escape route, the halogen flashlight and the flares he'd be taking with him, with the flare gun and the 9mil as backup, even the blueprint of the house he had to break into.
Dean examined every detail, exhaustion pushed aside for the job as it so often was. No, not even for the job: for Sam's safety. Dean was their strategist, and Sam knew even laid up and battered, he'd find any weaknesses in the plan.
In the end, though, he only suggested going into the house by a different route, and taking the blessed bullets instead of the regular ones, with a silver magazine on the side just in case it was one of the shapeshifting forms of Boogeyman. It didn't seem to make Dean happy not to find any real flaws, however, and his voice was clipped as he leaned back carefully against the headboard and told Sam as much.
Sam eyed him, as reluctant to leave as Dean was to let him go. "Dean, if I don't try this and I can't stop this thing tomorrow…"
Dean flinched. "Another dead kid—I know, Sam." He breathed in and out slowly. "Just…make sure you've got everything at hand, and keep a wall behind you if you can. Pay attention to that twitch at the back of your neck, you hear me? Better paranoid than dead."
Sam nodded, then hesitated. "How many hunts did you do alone, dude?" he asked quietly.
Dean glared at the sheets a moment, then slowly slid down the bed. "Call me when you're done."
Sam nodded again, thoughtfully. "Yeah, okay." He stood, feeling the ache of too many hours spent in a chair, and moved around the room, assembling what he needed for the hunt. Pausing as he passed the beds. "Dean…"
"You can do this, Sam," Dean said without hesitation from half under the covers.
He swallowed. Yeah. He could. He'd been trained for this all his life. He just still wished he had his brother at his back. "I'm not going alone, Dean," Sam answered softly.
Dean didn't respond except to snake a hand out for his cell phone on the nightstand.
"Two hours or I'll call," Sam promised, and opened the door, swinging the gear bag over one shoulder.
He turned back to see Dean's grimace as he twisted to look at him.
"Bring back some real food with you, dude—the only liquid better be coffee."
Sam laughed and went out the door. And felt surprisingly unalone.
In all, it ended up being one of his smoother hunts.
Yeah, there'd been a moment when he wasn't sure if the kid—Chris—would believe him or start screaming, but it turned out a strange guy in the eight-year-old's room was nothing compared to the creature that had been visiting him the last few days, and so Sam had found himself with backup, after all. In fact, it had been the boy who'd shakily retrieved the flashlight for him after the flailing Boogeyman had knocked it out of Sam's hand.
Sam had pulled Chris close as they'd watched the creature burn and die in the inescapable brightness.
Afterward, he'd stayed a while longer, talking to Chris, making sure the room was warded and there would be no other midnight visitors. When Sam's cell phone started vibrating, he didn't even look at the caller, just texted back a quick "OK" and finished the "evil is out there but you're safe" talk Dean had given him at about this age.
Dean did it a lot better. But the kid finally settled down, reassured, if a little less innocent than he'd been a week before. Sam locked up behind himself, exhausted, and headed home.
The very word made him smile. At Stanford, he'd considered Jess and their apartment home, and the loss still ached in Sam. But somewhere since then, he'd made room for a different conception of home, the same quiet contentment settling inside him at the thought of his brother waiting back at the motel room, the Impala parked in front of their door. It pulled up at the motel curb as if it belonged there, and Sam sat for a moment in the seat, hands curled around the steering wheel, looking at the window where, of course, the light was still on, feeling the satisfaction seep into his bones.
This was why Dean hunted, for the Chris's out there. This was why he couldn't just stop hunting. Sam couldn't quite agree…but he understood it a little more now.
He climbed out of the car, duffel in one hand, fast food bag in the other. Thank God for the Jack-In-The-Box on the way home, and for all-night drive-thrus. Maybe Dean would even forgive him then for not calling in on time.
Sam approached the door and dug out his key. Then paused, the back of his neck prickling.
He dropped both bags and ducked just as the baseball bat came sailing through the space where his head had just been.
Sam threw himself at the dark shape, propelling it hard against the rear panel of the van parked next to the Impala. It only took a single twist to wrench the bat free and press it up against a vulnerable throat.
The parking lot lights shone off the straw-colored hair.
"You," Sam growled, and shoved the body again into the unyielding metal behind it. "Randy? Coming back for Round Two, Randy? Finish what you started, maybe? You have a death wish or something, dude?"
The guy, eyes wide and frightened, pawed at the bat against his throat, at Sam's chest. He gurgled.
Sam slammed him a third time, wanting the guy's back to be as black-and-blue as Dean's. "You just don't get it, do you?" he hissed with a shake of the head and disbelieving laugh. "If someone wants to be with you, they'll be with you, otherwise you can't stop them from leaving. And trying is just gonna make them leave faster, no matter how many people you beat up trying to stop it."
Randy's face was turning an unhealthy shade of red. Sam pushed a little harder on the bat for a second, then backed off, letting the guy cough in some air. Sam wanted to kill him, or at least hurt him as badly as he had Dean, he really did. But he forced himself to calm. Dean was waiting inside for him, believed in him to do the right thing, had taught him as much. And that won.
Sam's jaw shifted. "This is over, you hear me? We're leaving your miserable little town in a few days, but if I see you anywhere near me or my brother before then, there won't be any bartender around with a shotgun to stop me, got it?" He gave Randy another bone-rattling shove.
The straw hair bobbed frantically up and down.
Sam stepped back, jamming the end of the bat none-too-gently into Randy's chest, then pointing to the side with it. The guy didn't need another clue, tearing off in a run in that direction.
Sam snorted and shook his head. The biggest jerks always seemed to be the biggest cowards, too. Chris had shown a lot more guts that night than three-times-his-size-and-age Randy.
Sliding the bat back in his grip, Sam grabbed the fallen bag and the only slightly squashed fast food and moved to the door again, dreading Dean's inevitable questions.
But the bed was empty as Sam stepped inside. His heartbeat sped up as his eyes scanned the room, the floor.
And landed on the figure sprawled in the chair by the window.
Knife and cell phone in his lap, Dean was asleep in the upright recliner, head limp to the side and mouth half-open in a snore. He was twisted awkwardly in the seat so as little as possible of his back touched the chair. Facing the window, where the blinds were pulled up a few inches and the corner of the curtain tucked back.
The warm feeling of home rushed back, more powerful than before, filling Sam's chest and crowding up his throat. Dean had never tried to stop him from leaving, not even to go to California, but he'd always waited for Sam to come back. And whatever else Sam wanted in his future, he knew now there wasn't anyone he wanted there with him more.
He crept over to his brother's bed, easing the bags and bat to the ground before he gathered up blankets and pillow. He slid the latter carefully behind Dean, draped the covers over his sleeping brother. Smiled when one eye cracked open, then closed again with a breathed "Sammy," Dean's body settling a little more into the chair.
"Yeah, it's me," Sam whispered. "I'm back." He patted the sleeper's arm lightly.
He stood, glancing over the room, pulling in a long breath. Just nodding once as he grabbed a book and settled into a chair across from Dean. He sat there reading until dawn, taking his turn waiting up for his brother.
Over sleep, over everything, that won.