K Hanna Korossy
A guy was ripped apart in the middle of a city block, and no one saw anything. Unbelievable. One of the many reasons Sam had been happy to leave hunting behind.
He finished talking to the customers at the outdoor café just a couple hundred feet from where Roland Finch had met his gruesome demise, and tapped his empty notepad against his palm as he considered his next move. It wasn't impossible that someone in one of the office buildings around him had witnessed the attack. Or there was the McDonald's on the corner, or the dry cleaner right next to it. He'd try the dry cleaner first, Sam nodded to himself. Just had to tell Dean…
It took a moment until he spotted his brother. Dean was down the street, crouched in front of a homeless guy who looked like a permanent fixture on the sidewalk, with a stockpile of bags beside him and a dirty blanket tent above. Even as Sam watched, Dean pressed something into the ragged hand, then stood, glancing around for Sam before jogging over.
"You got something?" Sam asked, already knowing the answer from Dean's expression.
His brother smirked. "It was a dog attack like the cops thought, but, get this: dude says the mutt had three heads." He held up three fingers for good measure.
Sam blinked. "You sure that wasn't the liquor talking?"
Dean's brows lowered. "Phil's not drunk. He saw the whole thing go down."
Phil. Right. But he was learning to trust Dean's instincts, so Sam just sighed. "So…we're dealing with Cerberus, or Fluffy."
Dean was grinning again. "I'm thinking flamethrower."
Sam looked over at "Phil," who was just making his way painfully past the liquor store, into the McDonald's next door. "Huh," he muttered. "Yeah, flamethrower should work."
Free clinics were pretty much the same across the country: shabby but clean, almost as hot or freezing as outside, staffed by professional if weary staff, and with an eclectic mix of clientele in the waiting room.
This Arizona clinic was no different. Okay, so maybe there were a few more Hispanic features, three crying kids instead of just one, and a few elders with dried-apple faces that made them look like they'd been there since the arrival of the Puritans. And two hunters without insurance, trying to stay under the radar.
Ironically, they weren't there because of a hunt. It was a rat bite, of all things, from an unfortunate middle-of-the-night encounter between Dean and critter in a fleabag motel. Dean usually checked for rodent droppings as fastidiously as Sam looked for signs of bedbugs, but they hadn't found any. The vermin that attacked Dean's bare foot that night had begged to differ.
Two days later, the bite was swollen and clearly infected, and the antibiotics Sam had pushed on his brother hadn't made a difference. It was time for professional help. But considering Sam and Dean Winchester were wanted men since that bank job in Milwaukee, mainstream hospitals were a last resort. Hence the clinic.
Sam cast a glance around the room again, checking people as usual to make sure no one had recognized them—Dean's face had been plastered all over the TV—or was hiding a gun, like in that clinic in Cheyenne, or acting suspicious in any other way. A few years before, he would've looked at the faces and seen people in need, people he could empathize with, people with stories. Now, he saw threats. Sam sighed, turning to his left to check his brother again.
Dean was no longer dozing in his seat as when Sam last looked. Instead, he seemed to be in the middle of an intense conversation with the guy on his other side, a guy whose eyes made Sam sit up a little straighter. He saw eyes like that in the mirror these days.
"…tired of it all, man," Sam tuned into his brother just saying. "Too many body bags, you know?"
Dean's companion snorted. "Hey, I got frequent flier miles for all the trips to Arlington. You know how many funerals I been to? Nine."
"Yeah, I hear ya." Dean paused. "So how do you keep getting up in the morning?"
Sam listened silently, intently. He knew this was a question Dean had been asking himself since Dad had died.
The guy shrugged. He looked about Dean's age but his body was stiff with pain, his eyes dark with too much knowledge. "On my feet," he just replied. Then he tugged his jeans leg up a few inches.
A prosthetic metal limb glinted dully underneath.
Dean, in a move only a fellow vet could get away with, huffed a laugh at the dark humor, shaking his head.
Sam focused his attention on the TV blaring a talk show in the corner, giving Dean and his new friend some privacy. For all he'd seen these last two years since hitting the road with Dean again, he wasn't quite in those two men's world.
"Hey. Hey, it's okay now," Sam coaxed. "You can come out now, you're safe."
"Having some trouble there?" Dean asked from behind him.
Sam didn't bother looking back over his shoulder as he pushed up on hands and knees. "The kid won't come out."
"Uh, yeah. He just saw his parents filleted—I'd be hiding under the bed, too."
Except, Dean hadn't. Sam tossed him a frustrated look—not helping—and bent to peer at the shining eyes beneath the ruffled bed skirt. "The monster's gone, buddy—we killed it, my brother and me. It's safe."
The eyes didn't budge.
Dean kicked at his shoe—my turn—and Sam only hesitated a moment before deciding he really didn't want to be doing this and moving aside. Thinking absently that in sixty-three days, Dean wouldn't be there anymore to take over. He watched as Dean settled into his place, not just on hands and knees, but belly down on the floor.
"Hey, Mattie? I'm just gonna talk to you, okay?"
How'd he know the kid's name? And, geez, how did he manage to fit half his body under the bed?
But what Sam really wondered when Dean slithered out a few minutes later, guiding the kid out with him, into his own body, was what his brother had said that gotten through to a grieving five-year-old.
And then, with a lump in his throat, Oh. Never mind.
Fake bear. Real berserker. And very real spooked horses.
Sam pressed himself back against the stable wall so tightly, he could feel splinters digging through his shirt. Wouldn't be far enough to avoid the hooves of the horse rearing in front of him, though.
"Nice horse. Good horse." The horse didn't look like it believed him. "Easy, easy."
A gunshot around the corner. Great: their hunt was done. Now Sam just had to get past crazy Mr. Ed here in one piece, because the shot hadn't helped it calm down any.
"Easy, easy," he insisted, then yelped when a hoof hit the wall way too close to him, leaving a deep dent. "I-I'm not gonna hurt you." He just wasn't sure the opposite was true.
"Hey." Dean's voice, behind the horse. "Hey, hey, hey, easy now."
"I tried that," Sam gritted out, eyes glued to the wild rolling eyes of the bay. "He's not buyin' it."
"She," Dean corrected softly, distractedly. "Easy, girl. Sam's not the enemy here," he crooned.
It would've helped if Sam hadn't tussled with the berserker, managing to come out both bloody and musky. He probably smelled very much like the enemy.
"Easy. Hey. You're okay. You're okay." Dean came into sight now, hands up but keeping a careful distance from the force of nature with four very strong, very hard feet. "Easy, girl. Just listen to me."
The horse was still skittish, dancing side to side, but wasn't rearing anymore. Sam found himself taking a breath, too.
Clear of her back legs, Dean smoothed a hand along her side. "I know he's gigantic and he smells bad, but he's harmless. You're okay."
"Hey," Sam mumbled a protest.
The horse blew out through her nose and agitated Sam into biting his tongue. But she was focused more on Dean now than on him.
Sam found himself wondering if Dean could've won over the Hellhound that killed him if he'd had the chance.
"Yeah, that's it." Dean was up to her neck, rubbing now along her mane, fond and gentle. "Good girl. You're a good girl." If he'd had food in his palm, she would've been literally eating out of his hand.
Sam finally peeled away from the wall, still eyeing her as carefully as she continued to eye him, both of them wary of the other even as Dean stroked her. "How'd you do that?" Sam sputtered.
"Hey," Dean said still in that quiet, soothing voice. "Haven't met a lady yet I can't charm. Right, girl?"
It only occurred to Sam as he unclenched his fists and sagged against the wall that it wasn't just the horse calming that had calmed him.
Dean used that same tone with him when he was upset.
"Dude," Dean shadowboxed the wall, "he showed me some moves."
Sam looked past him at the old ex-boxer, sunken into his wheelchair. With a pang, it reminded him of Bobby. "Uh…okay. Did he remember Satsuki Hara?"
"Oh, yeah, she's our obake," Dean said as he continued to feint and bob. "Told me all about her."
Sam shook his head, not even surprised.
"This isn't about you."
Sam paused at the corner of the hallway: was Dean on his cell phone? Now in the middle of a hunt? Or was this another crack in the wall, in Sam's reality?
"It's not about your brother, either, or the people you hurt."
Stiffening, Sam brought his shotgun up and swept around the corner.
The ghost was…younger than he'd expected. A teenager, really, moody and skinny and transparent. And with enough power that the hair stood up on the back of Sam's neck and the air reeked of ozone.
Dean was only a few feet from her, but his gun was halfway down. Sam knew his brother could reaim in a fraction of a second. He just wasn't thinking about shooting right now.
"Then what is it about, if you're so smart?" the spirit-girl snapped back.
"It was about those sick sons of bitches who called themselves your parents but locked you up and tortured you while they ignored your brother. It's about how twisted they were in the head and the wrong things they did. That's on them, not on you, and definitely not on the innocent kids who show up looking to see a ghost."
"It's not fair!" The air crackled, and Sam shifted restlessly, his finger caressing the trigger.
"No, it's not," Dean said, not unkindly. "Sometimes it even sucks. But, I swear to you, the monsters who did this to you? They're rotting in Hell right now. Believe me, I know. So you, staying here, punishing the people who come knocking, that's not justice. That's you turning into your parents."
A wind rose in the hallway. Sam's jacket flapped against his stomach, his hair in his eyes. He didn't blink.
"Quit punishing yourself, sweetheart," Dean's voice was soft now, barely audible over the blowing air. "You've earned some peace, right?"
She looked like she was trying to stay mad, but the façade was crumbling, And just as her expression caved, the wind died down and there was a flash of light. And the Winchesters were alone in the hallway.
Dean dropped the shotgun to his side. "Thank God." He turned back to Sam with a grin. "One less grave to dig up."
"Dude, you call me the ghost whisperer?" Sam asked, also letting his arms drop, shake loose.
"She was a teenage girl. I've been dealing with one my whole life." Dean's elbow darted at Sam's stomach as he passed, and it was only decades of experience that let Sam jerk back in time to miss it.
"Or maybe it's 'cause you're about the same maturity level," Sam muttered, following his brother down the steps.
"If you're saying I'm young at heart…"
"More like childish." They shouldered their duffels, abandoned by the front door.
"Your face is childish."
"Dude, you're totally proving my point." Out to the car.
"Your face is proving my point." Dean gave him a brilliant smile before ducking down into his seat.
It was only while he was getting ready for bed that night that Sam realized how neatly his brother had changed the subject.
"She just lost her husband, Dean. She's not gonna want to talk to us."
"Dude, you lay those puppy dog eyes on her and she's gonna melt like they always do."
He rolled his eyes, but he went for it. And the widow gave them everything.
At the biker bar, though, it was Dean who got the bartender to spill.
They were on their way back to the car when it hit him with all the finesse of a two-by-four. Sam got all the normal people, the functioning members of society, the picket-fencers. They recognized one of their own, the person who played by society's rules.
Dean connected with the outsiders. The marginal people others overlooked, the social outcasts, even the freakin' animals. It was why he'd fit in so well in prison, in the weirdness of Hollywood, even in high school as a teacher. Not acting, just being himself.
Maybe that was why there'd been such a gulf between them in Sam's teen years, and for a while after he returned to the hunt. And why he understood his brother so well now. Now that they had no one else left, just each other to rely on.
"You know where we should go after this?"
Dean's voice jarred him out of his thoughts, and Sam set them aside for further study later. "Where?"
"Disneyland. It's like, what, two hours from here? They've got Star Wars stuff now."
Sam blinked. Okay, they were mostly on the same wavelength. "Uh, yeah, all right. Not like we got a lead on Dick or the Leviathan now."
"Maybe they're at Disneyland, too. Everyone goes to Disneyland." Except them as kids.
Sam huffed, feeling the tension of the case unwind a little. "Uh-huh. But I'm not going on any rollercoasters with you."
"A wuss who doesn't like to throw up, thanks." He threw Dean a grin back. "Maybe we can get a picture of you with Cinderella."
Dean's eyes widened, this clearly a new thought, then sank into a dreamy, heavy lidded look. Great. Sam would be sure to take a long walk after they got back to the motel, let Dean get that little fantasy out of his system.
"Chinese for dinner?" he tried for distraction instead.
"Not into cannibalism," Dean murmured, still half-smiling.
Sam groaned. "That's just sick, man."
"Your face is sick."