This story first appeared in Hunting Trips 1 (2006), from Neon Rainbow Press
K Hanna Korossy
They straggled out of the swamp, soaked and filthy and exhausted, but there was an extra drag to Sam's step Dean recognized well.
"Like a wise man once said, 'we can't save everybody,' Sam." The Impala wasn't that far off, but he sank down on solid ground as soon as he reached it.
Sam smiled faintly at his own words. He seemed in more of a hurry to get out of there, standing next to Dean, wavering with fatigue. Dean patted the grass next to him, and his brother finally sat. "I know."
"At least we killed it. No more deaths, rest in peace, yadda, yadda."
"I almost had her," Sam said softly. "I had her sleeve, Dean. She was so close."
"Sam." He waited until his brother turned to look at him. "Six people died before we even got here. She shouldn't have been out here in the first place, but she's the last. No one else is gonna disappear in these swamps."
"Yeah, for now. But you know what? The next person who would've died here? That's a lot for them and their family."
Sam chewed on that. "I suppose."
"So, why don't yousuppose yourself into the car – on some newspapers – so we can go clean up." Dean dragged himself to his feet and offered a hand.
Sam looked at it for a moment before smiling and taking it, letting himself be pulled to his feet. "Have you smelled yourself lately? We're gonna need to roll the windows down for the trip back."
Dean gave him a sour look. "All in a day's work."
Sam glanced back at the swamp. "Yeah."
Dean didn't say anything, just clapped him on the shoulder once and then walked back to the car by Sam's side, neither of them complaining again about the smell.
"This is not my fault."
"This is so your fault." Dean shook his head, moving to toss the loaded gun into the trunk, then rethinking that and setting it carefully in. "Who picked this case, huh?"
"You agreed with me it was suspicious," Sam pointed out, throwing in his own axe and gun.
"That's because you kept reading me the suspicious parts. 'Mutilated animals,' 'no witnesses,' 'strange noises' – remember?" Dean tried to wipe his boots off on the grass and grimaced. "Aw, man, you don't wanna know what I stepped in."
Sam grinned. "I can guess."
Dean glowered at him. "The point is, you didn't mention how the cows were mutilated – and for the record, Sam, I don't consider tipping a form of mutilation – or the teenagers."
Sam's look was all wide-eyed innocence. "That's because the article didn't mention cow-tipping or teenagers. Dean, I swear, it totally sounded like one of our kind of jobs."
"Yeah, well…" He glared at the pastures around them. "I hate farms."
Sam stopped by his door and buried his hands in his pockets. "Right," he said sagely, "you like city life so much more."
"I'm not saying that, it's just… farms. Farm animals. Not really pets, not really wild animals… it's just…creepy, Sam. Give me a good forest or a vicious beast any day."
Sam gave him an intrigued look. "You know there's something seriously wrong with the way you think, right?"
Dean met his eyes over the hood of the car. "Maybe I'm right and everybody else is wrong." He threw Sam a smirk and climbed into the car.
"Maybe the wrong Winchester wanted to become a lawyer," Sam muttered as he followed suit.
They stood leaning against the side of the Impala and watched the flashing lights down the street.
"Another urban legend bites the dust," Dean mused aloud.
"I get Bloody Mary, but who would've thought the babysitter and the murderer in the attic on the phone? I mean, what's next, the guy with a knife in the back seat of the car?"
Dean shrugged. "The legends have to start somewhere, right?"
They lapsed into silence again, turning away slightly as a police car swept past them to join the others. Sam's gaze followed it. "You think she's gonna be okay?"
"She's shaken up but she'll be fine. She's safe, the kids are safe, the Boogieman's back where it belongs… That's what matters, right?"
"Right," Sam echoed softly. He glanced at Dean. "You really think it was the Boogieman?"
Dean shifted in place. "Well, not the Boogieman, but, shows up in the house, goes after kids, can't be killed -- what do you think?"
"And the banishment spell worked."
"And the banishment spell worked," Dean agreed, nodding. Neither of them mentioned what serious trouble they would have been in if it hadn't. Some thoughts were better left unspoken.
Sam suddenly huffed a laugh.
Dean looked over at him. "What?"
"Remember when I was nine and I thought there was something in my closet?"
"If it'd been the Boogieman, the gun Dad gave me wouldn't have done a thing."
"It would've brought me and Dad running."
Sam gave him a fond look, the kind that always made Dean uncomfortable. "Yeah, I guess it would've."
Dean rolled his eyes, nudged him with a shoulder. "Let's go. I'm starving."
"You're always starving."
"What can I say, killing things makes me hungry."
Sam laughed, glanced once more up the street at the lights and, nodding to himself, joined his brother.
"You have got to be kidding me."
Sam shook his head slowly. "No, I'm pretty sure that's it. They did say it was ugly as sin."
"That's 'cause it's a squonk. It's supposed to be ugly as sin. It's also more scared of people than they are of it." Dean kept his voice pitched low, but the branches of the bushes they hid in rustled with his indignation.
Sam caught his breath, watched as the squonk paused in its tears and looked around. "Shut up, Dean," he hissed. "If it sees us…"
Too late. The creature's sweeping eyes stopped on their bush and widened. And its constant crying suddenly became frantic.
"Oh, great," Sam muttered. He stood, knowing there was no point in hiding now, and looked over at his brother as Dean followed suit. "You know what happens now, don't you?"
Dean made a face at the squonk, then at Sam. "It's not my fault the thing gets upset over how ugly it is."
"It's always upset over how ugly it is," Sam said impatiently, attempting to sound rational even though he could feel them veering into surreal. "That's why it avoids people. But if it knows somebody's seen it…"
The squonk suddenly dissolved into a puddle of tears. Dean recoiled, and Sam flinched.
"…it melts in shame. That's the end of the squonk," he finished with a sigh. "I hope you're satisfied."
"Me?" Dean threw him a startled look. "I didn't want it to–" His hand moved helplessly. "What do I look like, Dorothy? I didn't even get it wet."
"You were too loud. That's how it knew we were here."
"I did not make that thing fall apart like that. What kind of a monster cries, anyway?"
"The harmless kind," Sam said unsympathetically.
"Shut up." Dean turned away, stuffing his now-pointless gun into his pocket. "It shouldn't've been our kind of case in the first place if it kills itself as soon as it sees a human." He stomped off, back toward the car.
Sam lingered, looking at the squonk's remains and feeling oddly like smiling. He did kind of feel sorry for the ugly little guy, but a supernatural that was more danger to itself than to them?
Yeah, he could live with a few more of those.
His arms were tired, his lungs were failing, his head hurt, and none of that mattered at all.
…thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Breath. Breathe, Sam. Breath. Come on, Sam.
One, two, three…
Water dripped from his hair and nose onto Sam's as he did the compressions, some of it probably salty if his blurred vision was any sign. Sam didn't see him crying, anyway, and that was what mattered.
That was all that mattered.
…fourteen, fifteen. Breath. Please, Sam. Breath. Please, God!
"You're not a kid," Dean puffed as he pressed, feeling fragile ribs bend under his weight. "She shouldn't have gone after you." La Llorona was only supposed to drown children, and, yeah, that sometimes included "kids" in their early twenties, but neither of them had thought…
…twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Breath. Breathe, Sam. Breath. BREATHE!
Dean of all people knew the innocence that lurked under the hunter his brother was.
"Please, Sam," he murmured, voice cracking from more than exhaustion. "Please."
And suddenly Sam's chest pushed back against his hands as it heaved for breath and choked instead on water.
Dean gasped, too, but quickly rolled Sam onto his side, one hand on his back as his little brother threw up lake water, the other on his chest, feeling the now-frantic thudding of his heart and the struggle for his lungs to work.
Sam threw up half the lake, then finally subsided with a moan.
Cold. Sore. Half-conscious. Nauseated. Dean didn't know what to tackle first, feeling on the edge of shock, himself. He moved by instinct, hauling Sam up so he was slumped more or less upright against Dean's chest. Warmth and ease of breathing, Dean told himself as he rubbed Sam's arms and back and listened to the wheezing inhalations.
And then Sam's head leaned against him, settling in the hollow of Dean's throat instead of just flopping loosely, and the scratchy, thin voice barely reached his ear. "Dean?"
"Yeah, Sam." He kept rubbing, both for heat and reassurance.
"Di' you get it?"
He laughed. "Yeah, I got it, don't worry."
It was either a nod or a shiver, and as soon as he was sure his legs would hold him, he'd get Sam back to the car and their room, and warm and dry. But right now, Dean was content to take a moment and just sit there, his drowned rat of a brother clenched tight and safe in his arms.
"I got ya, Sammy," he murmured into the wet hair. "I got ya…"
They sat on the hood of the Impala, looking at the stars.
"You ever take a class in astronomy?" Dean asked.
Sam shook his head, glanced over. "I wasn't that interested in the sciences. Took the requisite physics and math, and that was it."
"Huh. I always thought astronomy would be kinda interesting."
Sam studied his brother, wondering as he often did what dreams were hidden beneath Dean's dedication to the hunting life. "You know, you could do correspondence school, or online classes."
Dean snorted. "Yeah, in all my free time." He met Sam's eyes. "You ever think about doing that, finishing your degree?"
"Sometimes," he conceded. "Then…"
He shrugged. "Another job comes along."
Dean alone knew how that was. Unexpected understanding gleamed in his eyes before he turned back toward the sky.
Sam picked at a healing scab, a claw mark on his arm. "Have you thought about what'll happen after we find Dad?"
Dean shrugged. "Not really. Depends what he's doing, if he's found the thing that killed Mom and Jessica."
"And if he has? What happens after we find Dad and destroy the thing?"
Dean was silent for a long time. "I think we should head to Colorado tomorrow, check on that Penelope sighting."
Sam almost chafed at the non-answer, then realized it was the best one Dean could give him. "Yeah, I don't know, either," he said softly.
A ghost of a smile pulled at Dean's mouth. Probably his joy at his brother finally learning the "one day at a time" lesson. But all he said after a minute was, "Spiderman's on in ten minutes."
Sam laughed softly. "You always had a superhero complex."
Dean gave him a mildly affronted look. "Hey. We go around fighting supernatural evils and saving people. What do you call it?"
"Our family," Sam murmured.
But he didn't resist when Dean prodded him off the car and back to their motel room, one arm warm along Sam's back.