Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah, I know… the boys, the car, the whole thing is Kripke's. But I have the dvds and I reserve the right to play with my boys like puppets and put them through all sorts of dilemma's that make me feel better about the fact that I have nothing to do with the show itself! I like to call myself the PUPPETMASTER! Mwahahahahaha! Point? Not mine. Sad.
Dedication: To TraSan, whose writing has once again inspired me to put fingers to the keyboard!
A/N - To my BB&BP readers, I promise I haven't forgotten about Final Rest, I just had this clattering through my head and I couldn't get it out no matter what I did so I had to write about it! Meanwhile, pregnancy stuff seems to be settling down a little, so hopefully I'll be writing more and I'll be able to get the rest of that story out in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I hope you'll read this one and I hope you like it.
Sam Winchester sat at the bar of yet another greasy pub, nursing yet another bad pint of beer, while he waited for his brother to do whatever it was he was going to do on this humid evening. Something about the night, the vibe, the bar itself, something was all-too familiar, and he wished he could put his finger on what it was. There was something wrong, something out of place… that could mean only one thing, Sam thought as he recognised the familiar trepidation in his chest.
It was that feeling that something was coming, something bad was about to happen that would change everything. And that feeling was what was so familiar to him – it wasn't the bar that was bothering him, it was the feeling that was creeping up his spine, warning him that something was terribly wrong. He remembered the last time he had that feeling, and he really didn't care to repeat that experience. The warning feeling had come too late to protect him then, and it had nearly gotten himself and his brother killer… no way was he going to risk a repeat performance.
He turned his eyes to the room around him and caught sight of Dean nearby, doing his usual hustle over at the pool table. Sam couldn't say he approved of Dean's choice in opponents at the best of times, but this time he was especially worried. There was a heavy-set man in a biker's jacket with a beard and tattoos all up his arms. Sam recognised one of the tatts, even if Dean didn't – and if Dean was playing pool against this guy then there was a good chance he didn't know what he was getting himself in for… either that, or Dean just thought he could handle it on his own.
No one could handle a guy like this. This was the type of guy who little old ladies threw their handbags at, kids hid their lollipops from, and big burly boxers crossed the streets to avoid. His most prominent tattoo was one of an angry looking Boar frothing at the mouth, and that told Sam everything he needed to know.
He was a member of the Road Boars, one of the most feared biker gangs he'd ever heard of when he was in California. He had to get Dean's attention somehow, but how could he do that without bothering the man who right now was setting up a shot that Sam could tell he wasn't going to land and Dean was preparing himself to land one of his awe-inspiring Winchester shots. He was going to sink the last three balls in one hit, before he white ball ricocheted to put the black ball in his chosen pocket.
Sam had to move – fast!
"Ah, Dean?" Sam nudged his brother gently to get his attention. "We gotta go."
Dean chuckled, clearly trying to save face in front of the biker's who were looking at each other in confusion and… preparation? Sam knew that if he wasn't careful, the fight would start right here, in the bar and there would be no way he could stop it from happening. He wouldn't be able to control who was going to get hurt, and that meant any number of innocent people could be pummelled in the process.
"What are you talking about?" Dean muttered at his brother. "I'm about to score a great shot here and the bounty's already up to three hundred!"
Sam positioned himself between his brother and the biker who was currently being distracted by his peroxide blonde girlfriend who was busily trying to lick the guys tonsils. Sam tried to convey the seriousness of the situation through a simple look to his brother. His eyes were pleading with him to understand, but he wasn't sure Dean would.
"You don't know what you're getting into, Dean," Sam warned him, keeping his voice low, determined not to let on to anyone else that he recognised who these men were. The truth of the matter was, he was worried… it had been a long time since a mere mortal had gotten the drop on a Winchester, but he wasn't looking forward to that ever happening again, and if anyone could do it, it would be these guys. They were big, strong and mean, and Sam wasn't sure what to expect from them.
"Of course I do!" Dean told him. "I'm getting us into a warm motel for the night instead of two nights in a row sleeping in the Impala! And I'm getting us dinner and breakfast for the next few nights! Or do you want to starve to death?"
"Dean, these guys aren't exactly your usual breed of prey," Sam tried again. He grabbed his brother by the arm and pulled him away from the table, hoping that they could talk more clearly or… he secretly wondered if there was some kind of House Rule that meant you forfeit the game if you're further than three feet away. "These guys have all done time. They're particularly nasty biker's with a taste for maiming and murdering whoever gets in the way. They are not good losers and…"
"And what? Do they breathe fire from their assholes or something, coz you're not telling me anything that I can't handle here, Sammy," Dean interrupted. "Besides, how happy do you think they're going to be if I throw the game now? They'll be just as pissed, and we'll be just as broke."
Sam hesitated and glanced back at the leader of the pack, the guy Dean had challenged to the game. He wanted to trust that his brother knew what he was getting himself in for, but he just wasn't sure. Dean was cocky, but he was never known as particularly stupid, and Sam couldn't shake the thought that getting involved with these men was stupid!
And he couldn't shake that feeling that there was something really bad coming.
"Dean, I don't know. I just have a feeling, here, okay?" Sam told him. "I cant shake the thought that there's something wrong…"
"Hey, Princess!" The Boar called out to Dean, grinning through gapped teeth. "You coming or what? It's your shot, honey!"
Dean grimaced and anger flashed through his eyes –barely contained anger, Sam noticed, and he had to wonder who he should have been more worried for at that point. Maybe Dean wasn't that stupid, after all? Maybe The Boar was the one who was going to regret his choice of opponent.
But then, how could you explain that nagging feeling that this night was going to end really, really badly?
Dean grinned when he glanced at the table. Sam understood the grin, but he didn't react, knowing that Dean wasn't going to make a big deal out of the two missing balls from the green felt. He wasn't going to call them on their obvious attempts at cheating, because his shot – the one that most professionals wouldn't even attempt – was perfectly lined up for him. Well, impossibly lined up since that shot should have been impossible if it weren't for the fact that the Winchester's spent their lives hustling pool so they could afford to eat when the credit cards ran dry. It was amazing how good you could get at something when the next meal relied on it.
Dean bent over the table, lined up the cue and hesitated for a second while he caught the attention of the Boar. When he took the shot, he turned his back and rubbed more chalk onto his cue as he listened to the balls sinking one by one in the pockets… all four of them.
Dean had won, just as Sam had known he would and now he was really worried.
"How the hell did you do that?" The Boar asked incredulously. He was leaning with both hands on the pool table, staring at the hole the black ball had sunk into as if the ball would climb out on it's own and save him the humiliating defeat. "Ain't nobody could take that shot!"
"There's a first time for everything," Dean reminded him, grabbing up his money and pocketing it with confidence. "Now, normally I'd stick around and let you buy me a beer, but little brother here says it's time to move out so we'll catch you ladies next time."
Sam watched as Dean turned and headed toward the nearest exit and he hurried to keep up with him. No way he wanted to get himself caught off guard and no way he was going to get himself left behind with those butchers. Dean didn't stop until they were almost at the Impala and then he turned his attention to his brother.
"So, you were saying?" Dean asked, grinning.
"I was saying that if we get out of here alive we're going to be damn lucky, now get your ass in the car and lets get the hell out of here!" Sam snapped, frustrated that his brother would ignore his instincts like that and risk antagonising the biker's further than he had to.
"What's the matter, Sammy? You running scared?" Dean teased, his tone indicating that he meant it in a good-natured way but all it did was further annoy Sam. "Okay, okay, we're going!"
Sam reached for the handle of the passenger side of the door, relieved to nearly be out of there… but the beer bottle smashing on the door mere inches from his hands made him reassess how free and clear they really were.
"What were you saying?" Sam muttered at Dean as they turned to face the person… or gang of people… that had thrown the beer bottle.
"No little princess is gonna take me for two hundred!" The Boar yelled, his voice taking on a threatening growl.
"I didn't," Dean snapped. "I took you for three hundred!"
"Why do you do that?" he asked his brother as the gang moved in closer.
"I really don't know," Dean admitted. "Coz it's fun?"
"What is? Waking up in the hospital with your teeth missing?" Sam snapped back. "Don't know what's so fun about that!"
"Are you seriously going to give me a hard time now?" Dean asked, turning to face his little brother. Sam followed suit and soon they were eye to eye, anger flaring between them. "You too blind to see what's happening here, little bother?"
"Not as blind as you are for getting us into this situation – again!" Sam yelled back. "You too stupid to realise when you're in over your head, or have you just gotten so used to be the best at everything that you cant stand it when you're wrong?"
"Ha! Now the truth comes out!" Dean mocked him, as the gang hesitated, each member exchanging looks with another, trying to figure out what was going on and whether they'd get to fight or just watch. "You've always been jealous of me!"
"Me? You just couldn't stand it that I scored my first demon a full year younger than you did!"
The instant the brother's were certain that their would-be attackers were confused enough, they sprang into action. They each threw a hard Winchester hit at the nose of the nearest and biggest of the men, and then turned to disable the ones around them. Sam saw an opportunity for him to do what he did best and took full advantage of it. The minute he landed that awesome spinning back kick that even Dean envied he knew how Dean felt when he set himself impossible goals in whatever pool game he was currently engaging in. There was something about a challenge that left the Winchester's hungry, and Sam knew that that was what kept them coming back for more when there was nothing else. Sometimes a hunt was just a hunt and there was no one really to save or protect, so they went in there and came up with new and interesting ways to take out the bad guy.
And this time, for Sam, it was landing that perfect kick that knocked The Boar on his ass instantly. It was truly a thing of beauty…
…the only problem was, the biker's had a tactic of their own that put a damper on things. The one they held back.
Sam felt something crack on the back of his head so hard he saw stars – and not the ones hanging in the sky above – and his legs gave out on him. He maintained consciousness, but as he struggled to get to his feet, he felt someone come up from behind him and then came the all-too familiar choking.
Why did all the bad guys insist on trying to choke me to death, Sam wondered as he fought for air. The painful, rasping gasps of breath that he managed to get into his lungs wasn't nearly enough this time, and he clawed at the hands behind him. They were big and beefy and he knew that from his position on his knees there would be no way to get himself out of this one.
"Dean!" he called as loud as he could, gripping the cue that was pressed against his throat. The second he got his brother's name out, he heard a crack as loud as thunder as Dean finished up with his last opponent and turned his attention to the little brother fighting for breath. Sam would have gasped out his brother's name once more if he could have managed it, but the cue was pressing tighter into his throat than before and he could barely breathe now… all that was coming out was a sickening, wet gasp.
The minute Dean saw his little brother on his knee's, he stopped everything. He didn't breathe, he didn't move, he didn't dare do anything that might provoke The Boar's right hand man from making that one last movement and snapping Sammy's neck. Dean held his hands up in surrender, assuring them he was unarmed and willing to do whatever they wanted to, when in actual fact he felt naked and useless. He had never felt so powerless in his life… except once, and that feeling had seeped out of him the minute he saw those traffic cams and came up with a game plan to get his little brother back… well, until later when he was bound to a chair with a thirteen year old girl holding a knife on him while Dean was forced to listen to the gunshots that could be the ones ending Sam's life. That feeling had returned quickly and with a vengeance, and now it was back again.
"Whoa," he managed to get out, almost choking on the lump in his throat as he watched his brother turning a disturbing shade of purple. "You don't have to do that, man, come on…"
The Man wrenched the cue tighter against Sam's throat, eliciting a pained gargle from the younger Winchester. Sam didn't have much longer before he was rendered completely unconscious, but he was obviously fighting the darkness at the edges of his vision as best he could.
"Hang on, Sammy," Dean pleaded with his brother. He turned his attention to The Boar, who was getting uneasily to his feet, rubbing his head where Sam's kick had connected. Dean glanced between his brother and The Boar and wondered how he could get them out of this. "You want your money back? Is that it?"
The Boar laughed.
"If that's what you want," Dean pulled the three hundred out of his pocket and held it up. "Take it! It's yours! Just let my brother go…"
"You think, now that I have the upper hand here, that I'm gonna let him go for a measly two hundred?" The Boar asked, laughing.
"Three hundred," Dean muttered, still uncertain as to why he insisted on correcting the man who now held Sam's life in his hands. He glanced at his little brother, knowing they were mere seconds away from running out of time. "Then what do you want?"
"Sweeten the honey pot, baby, and I'll let your little brother go," The Boar told him. "You gotta double the bounty."
"You want six? You can have six," Dean assured him, fishing the keys out of his pocket and hurrying to the trunk of the Impala with The Boar not far behind. Dean had to force the sounds of his brother struggling for breath out of his mind in order to be able to get the trunk open. He barely managed, and pulled out the shotgun swiftly enough that when he rammed the butt of it into the Boar's throat he was able to take him by surprise.
The Boar lay choking on the ground as Dean rushed The Man who still held Sammy hostage as he seemed to be oblivious to his surroundings as he pulled tighter on the cue. Sam appeared to go limp, and Dean hoped that it was because he somehow knew that Dean had gained the upper hand and was in full rescue mode.
It didn't matter because as Dean cocked the shotgun and pressed the barrel against the back of The Man's neck, Sam was released and he fell to the ground with a loud thud.
"You wanna survive this night?" Dean growled in The Man's ear. "Then collect your garbage and get out of here… now!"
The Man nodded to the other's to get the unconscious members of the gang and move them out, while he grinned an evil grin. He spun around quickly, prepared to fight to the end, when he was taken off guard – and off balance – by the younger Winchester who had seen his move coming through hazy vision and stuck his leg out to prevent the coming attack.
Dean laughed and wondered how he had ever doubted that his little brother had been in on the plan, even through the shades of the barely conscious. Sam wasn't about to allow himself to pass out from a mere lack of oxygen if he thought Dean needed his help.
Dropping to his knees besides his little brother, Dean pulled Sam to the best sitting position he could manage and held his face in his hands while he made sure Sam was okay and still with him.
"Sam?" he called to him, serious now that he saw the pain in his brother's eyes and the still purple tinge to his lips. "Sam! You hear me? Come on, Sammy!"
Sam was clearly trying to breathe, though he still struggled through what must now be a sore and swollen throat, and worse still was the exhaustion that crept through his entire body. A lack of oxygen, Dean knew, could cause more than a few problems and as much as he had joked that Sam must have suffered permanent brain damage on one of the occasions some minion of hell had tried to kill him, he worried more now than ever before. Never had Sam come quite so close to losing the battle for air, and Dean knew that there hadn't been much time left for him to come to the rescue…
…they had been damn lucky this time.
"Don't think this is the end of this!" The Boar gargled as he was led away by one of his goons. "We got more tricks up our sleeve than you know!"
Dean ignored The Boar's wild rants and kept all of his attention on his little brother.
"Sam?" he tried again, his voice softer. Sam had closed his eyes, and Dean wasn't sure he liked that. He bent lower, putting his cheek as close to Sam's slightly parted lips as he could and was relieved to feel the warmth of Sam's breath. It was shaky and unsteady, but it was there. Dean nodded. "I'll take what I can get," he decided and got to his feet, pulling his barely conscious brother along with him. "As long as it comes with a pulse, little brother, because I accept no substitutes. Sammy in one piece is the only option, and that's all there is to it."
Sam awoke the next morning feeling like he'd slept with an elephant on his throat. The minute he tried to move he felt pain in his neck and shoulders, chasing each other down his spine. He wondered how long he had been out since he didn't remember anything after he hit the ground, and now he had soft pillows under his head. Dean had obviously gotten them to safety, relatively in tact and with the money safely in his pockets because they were clearly in a motel room instead of the Impala where they had slept the previous night – well, Sam assumed it had been the previous night, but…
He didn't get to finish his rambling thoughts as the concerned eyes of his big brother hovered into his blurred vision. Dean's lips were moving as if he were speaking, but Sam couldn't hear what he was saying. He closed his eyes again, figuring his must still be asleep anyway, so why fight it, but when Dean reached out to him and shook his shoulder until the pain that blared through Sam forced his eyes open again, he knew he wasn't asleep.
"Wh-what?" Sam stammered, realising that talking was probably the least smart thing he could have done right now. He tried to sit up, but the pain in his neck and throat resisted the movement and it wasn't until Dean gently pulled him up and settled him against the headboard and pillows that Sam was able to sit up properly. "Wh…"
"Don't try and talk," Dean interrupted him. "You have to rest your throat, Sammy…"
Sam tried to swallow, his eyes watching Dean as his older brother rubbed tired and clearly un-rested eyes in effort to stay alert. He wondered how long Dean had been there. Had he fallen asleep in that chair? Had he sat there, watching, all night? Sam knew the answer, there was never really any question. Dean wouldn't have moved even three feet from Sam's bed last night.
"Where are we?" Sam asked, forcing the hoarse words out of his throat, closing his eyes against the pain that they caused.
"A motel a couple of hours from that bar," Dean answered. "I figured it was best to put as much distance between us and the biker's as possible, especially since they were still throwing threats around when they stumbled out of that parking lot last night."
"Great," Sam muttered. He tried to pull himself out of bed, but hesitated when Dean reached for him. "You been there all night, huh."
Dean nodded, though he didn't elaborate enough to tell Sam how he had sat watching his little brother's chest rise and fall for the past fourteen hours to make sure he was still breathing. He didn't say that he had nearly rushing him to hospital when Sam's breathing had become so painful and ragged that it sounded like the closest thing Dean had ever heard to a death rattle. He didn't tell Sam that he had thought that this time, after everything else he had been able to protect him from, he had failed to protect his brother. Sam didn't need to know that, and Dean was determined to protect him from whatever was to come next – even his own anxieties.
"Yeah, been sat here all night. The stupid motel only had one room available and would you believe that it only has one bed?" Dean tried to sound as naturally annoyed as he would normally be, but he wasn't sure that he was successful because even he heard the concern that edged his words. "How you feeling? And answer that in one word or less please."
Sam chuckled and Dean regretted his attempt at humour because the chuckle caused a fresh look of pain on Sam's features and the younger man paled visibly.
"I'm okay," Sam assured him, trying to get out of bed again. Dean reached out to stop him, but thought better of it. Instead he took Sam's arm and helped him to his feet, holding onto him until he was sure Sam was stable. Sam reached a hand to his throat, checking the external damage with shaking fingers as the effort of moving so quickly wore him down. "Geez, pool cues pack more of a punch than I remember."
"You're supposed to stay off your throat, remember?" Dean told him, his words laced with more frustration than he had intended. He caught the look that Sam shot him and it took him a moment to recognise the meaning of that look. He had expected anger, frustration, annoyance but instead he was rewarded with the rare look of compliance.
Instead of arguing, Sam merely nodded and made his way to the bathroom.
Sam closed the door behind him and reached immediately for the basin in front of him to steady himself. He was tired and sore, but slowly he was beginning to feel a bit more normal. He figured a shower and a change of clothes, maybe a decent breakfast and he'd be as good as new… or at least a bit less damaged.
Glancing in the mirror, however, made Sam reconsider that possibility as he recognised the dark purple creeping up his neck, the clear mark of the dramas of the night before. He had bore slight bruises before, but nothing quite this dark and dramatic, at least not from this type of injury. Dean really wasn't kidding when he said he had to take it easy, Sam had had no idea of how serious it had been. He could very well have…
Refusing to finish his thought, Sam took full advantage of the facilities and then had a shower – a ridiculously cold shower, since apparently the motel was too cheap to put in a hot water system. Only once before did he remember staying in a motel that had such dodgy hot water, and that was because if you were one of the first five in the entire motel complex to shower, you'd freeze.
Rushing through the shower, Sam washed quickly and turned off the shower, jumping out and wrapping a towel around his waste before leaving the bathroom in search of clean clothes He wondered if Dean was going to be amenable to the idea of going out for breakfast or was this going to be like the time Sam had had his tonsils out and hadn't been allowed to the leave the room for two weeks. He hoped for bacon and eggs, maybe some toast and orange juice, but he was hit by the sudden realisation that it might have to be jelly and custard since he wasn't too certain of his swallowing capabilities.
When he walked into the room, however, he was greeted by an emptiness that made him surprisingly nervous. He was used to coming out and finding Dean had gone for food. Sam, himself, had done that several times while Dean slept or showered, but this time it bothered Sam that he was suddenly alone. That feeling, the threat of imminent danger he had felt the night before, hung once more in the air so strong it held it's own personality. He wondered if that meant the danger he had sensed before hadn't actually been because of the biker gang that had tried to kill him in the parking lot, but was in fact related to something else entirely.
Could there be another threat headed their way?
Sam pulled his jeans and boots on quickly, grabbing a shirt on his way out the door to peer into the parking lot as if the Impala might hold the answers…
…but the Impala was gone.
Sam hurried back inside and grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand, immediately hitting the call button for his brother. The phone rang several times before redirecting itself to Dean's voicemail, and it sent a chill up Sam's spine. He ended the call and immediately dialled again, hoping to hear his brother's voice at the other end calling him an idiot for being worried when he was merely out looking for coffee.
Instead all he got was voicemail… again.
Sam hung up and tossed the phone on the bed in frustration. What the hell was going on? Why wouldn't Dean answer? Maybe he was hurt? Maybe he couldn't get to his phone? Maybe he'd had an accident? Maybe the biker's had caught up with him again? Maybe…
Sam ignored the fears racing through his mind and grabbed up his phone again.
"Sam?" Dean answered, sounding confused. "You okay?"
"Dean?" Sam felt increasingly panicked, and he wasn't sure why. All he knew was that there was something very wrong and they were about to find out what it was. Something in Dean's voice told him that the feeling wasn't lost on him either, and Sam wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. "I think we have a problem…"
Dean heard the fear in his brother's voice the instant Sam spoke, and it sent chills through his entire body. This couldn't be good, Dean knew. He wished he hadn't left Sam alone now, but there was nothing he could do about that now except get back to him as fast as he could. He had been trying to call him for ten minutes, but for some reason he hadn't been able to get through. All he had gotten was either a busy tone or Sam's voicemail, and he had started to really get worried. With steaming custard and cold jelly sloshing in bowls beside him, he put his foot on the gas and aimed the Impala toward the motel where he had left his little brother alone.
What had he been thinking?
"I'm on my way back now," Dean assured his brother. "Sammy? I'll be right there! Sammy!"
There was nothing silence at the end of the phone, followed by a strange cackling sound that was almost human and then the phone cut out. Dean tossed it aside and forced the car to its limit. He knew there was something wrong, Sam was in trouble – serious trouble – he just knew it!
The motel came into view quicker than even Dean was prepared for, and he swerved to get into the parking lot with a squeal of tyres. He parked the Impala outside the room he shared with Sam and launched himself out the door, gun in hand. He pushed the door open and burst inside, but what was waiting for him wasn't what he had been prepared for…
A/N – As always, I hope you like it, and I hope you're thoroughly confused about what was waiting for Dean at the motel room… I don't like to be predictable, so I'll be bummed if you figure it out! Feel free to take a guess, and reviews are always welcome!