First appeared in Road Trip 1 (2006), from Neon Rainbow Press
K Hanna Korossy
"I can't believe one razorback could do this much damage," Sam said mournfully.
They stood side-by-side, gazing at the stretch of upended fence posts and mangled barbed wire. Neither of them had gotten hurt, they'd found the razorback quickly, and now it was dead. It was one of their more successful hunts. Besides the property damage.
Dean took a breath, muscles still quivering with the exercise. "It was big, and it was being chased, Sam. It didn't exactly care what got in its way."
"Yeah." Sam turned toward him with a frown. "Which was almost you, by the way. What were you thinking, jumping in front of it like that?"
"Uh, 'don't step on Sam'?"
"I was doing fine, Dean. You were the one it almost trampled."
"Okay, it's dead now—can we have this conversation some other time? Like when I'm sleeping?"
Sam glowered at him. "You're a real jerk, you know that?"
"Yeah, but I'm cute. C'mon, let's go back to town—I'm starving."
"We can't just leave, Dean." Sam was looking at him in surprise now.
Dean stopped, glancing around. No bystanders to make up a story for about wild animals, the body was burned, their weapons were stowed. "What? Why not?"
Sam gestured to the ruined fences. "We can't just leave things this way."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "We'll write them a note, okay? 'Sorry the thing we were chasing broke your fence, but, hey, at least it won't eat any more of your kids.'"
"Sam, you'd better not be saying what I think you're saying."
"We have to fix—"
"Okay, you know what? I've stopped listening to you. We did our job, we killed the razorback, now I'm going back to town to shower and eat and maybe see if that hot blonde waitress is getting off duty anytime soon. You comin'?"
The stubborn set of Sam's jaw, a look even a six-year-old Dean had learned to recognize, gave him his answer before Sam snapped, "No!" and headed for the trunk.
Time to change tactics. "C'mon, Sam," Dean wheedled, following him, "if we had to clean up after every job, we'd never get to the next one. We barely have enough time or money as it is for the important things."
"This is important," Sam said stubbornly, and reached into Dean's pocket for the keys before Dean even realized it. He opened the trunk and shuffled through the contents. "Barbed-wire fences around here usually mean cattle, which means if a fence goes down, people lose their stock. That could wipe out a small ranch, Dean."
"So we leave them a note," he repeated with exasperation, watching carefully as Sam searched. "They can fix the fence."
"We did the damage," Sam said, and pulled out a shovel.
Dean winced. "No, the razorback did the damage. We killed it. If anything, we helped them by making sure this doesn't happen again."
"Yeah, well, somehow I don't think the ranchers would see it that way." Sam snagged a pair of workman's gloves, and slammed the trunk shut again, just missing Dean's fingers. Sam looked up at him. "You don't have to stay. I can walk back when I'm done, or you can come pick me up in a couple of hours, if you feel like it. But I need to do this."
Dean trailed him back to the side of the road and the jumble of wood and wire. "If this is another one of your guilt trips—"
"It's not always about guilt," Sam said stonily as he bent down to pick through the mess. "Sometimes it's just about doing what's right."
That stung a little. Dean stared at him a moment, then retorted, "Fine!" and turned back to the car. "You wanna pick up a side-job mending fences and doing what's right while I draw the line at risking my life for people, you go right ahead."
Dean got huffily into the Impala and stuck the key into the ignition…but didn't turn it. He made a face at the dash, and smacked the wheel. After a minute, he finally leaned forward to dig under the seat.
The rap on the passenger side window startled him, and Dean sat up, magazine in hand, to see Sam standing there. He frowned and leaned over to roll the window down.
"Dean, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I know how much you do. It's just…I need to do this, all right?"
"I'm not stopping you," Dean said stiffly.
Sam's mouth twisted, as if he wondering if he should say more, and Dean finally relented.
"Sam, I get it, okay? Do what you have to do."
Sam's mouth curved a little, and he patted the window frame twice before standing and returning to his work.
Dean watched him a moment, then got out of the car. He could sense Sam watching him out of the corner of an eye as Dean hitched himself onto the hood of the Impala and stretched out comfortably against the warm glass and metal, opening his magazine. Sam's shoulders jumped once in a silent laugh, and Dean shook his head to hide a smile of his own.
It was a warm day.
He hadn't really noticed it chasing the razorback—that was sweaty work no matter the weather—but the sun beat down on the glossy pages and Dean's head, until he gave up and shed his outer shirt, leaving him in short sleeves. A glance up at Sam revealed his brother had gone even further, stripped to the waist now as he worked, patiently untangling a length of wire. One of the posts was already righted and tamped into place, with two more to go.
Dean read another few lines, grimaced, and hopped off the car to lean in the window. He came out with a water bottle, and whistled as he straightened.
Sam looked up, just in time to catch the bottle sailing at him. With a nod of thanks, he stopped to tip half of it down.
"Hot day to work in the sun," Dean observed conversationally.
Sam shrugged. "Feels good."
Dean almost rolled his eyes. Sam always had liked honest work, for some reason. He capped the water bottle and bent over the wire again.
Dean wandered back to the Impala's hood and stood there a moment. "You need any help?" he finally reluctantly asked.
"No, I'm good, thanks." Sam met his eyes, gave him a grin, and went back to work.
Sometimes Dean didn't understand his brother at all. Society owed them for the work they did, even if it was blissfully unaware of it. He'd long accepted their job didn't carry conventional rewards, but it also released him from any guilt about taking payment in other ways: the small thefts, the scams, the squatting. He never felt bad about leaving the clean-up for others. Cleaning himself up, or his family, after a hunt gone bad, living with the knowledge the next one could be the last, saying goodbye to Cassie, never indulging in dreaming beyond the little sphere of his family and work—he'd paid enough. Let others shoulder any other burdens, because Dean's shoulders were full.
So why was his conscience tickling him now?
Because it wasn't some anonymous rancher he was leaving behind to clean up, but Sam. And sometimes he understood his little brother all too well.
"You know, you're gonna get blisters from this," he called out as he climbed slowly up onto the edge of the hood, facing Sam.
"I know," Sam called back, a shade breathless as he struggled under the weight of another post. "Won't be the first time."
True. Dean chewed his lip. "Do you even know about fences?" he asked after another minute.
"Some. I spent one summer working on a ranch in Texas. Didn't work on a lot of fences, but I saw a lot."
Huh. There was a blank section in the mental scrapbook he kept of Sam's life, over three years Dean barely knew anything about. He scrupulously collected any scraps he could glean to belatedly fill in the emptiness. "I didn't know that."
He could see Sam smile as he worked. "I was also a lifeguard and a paralegal the other two summers. The scholarship didn't cover food and rent."
Dean set the magazine on the warm metal, then rethought it—those slick pages softened and stuck sometimes—and dropped it into the car through Sam's open window. He took a few steps closer to his brother. "Lifeguard, you mean at a pool?"
"Beach. We didn't live that far."
Dean strained a minute, trying to remember any jobs that had taken them to the west coast shore during Sam's absence. The thought of running across him like that, accidentally meeting on the beach, was an unexpectedly painful one. But, no, supernaturals rarely bothered with waves and sand. The only job Dean could ever remember they had on a beach was a siren, when they were much younger and Sam hadn't decided yet to become his own person.
Dean edged a little further from the car.
"I didn't know you were that good a swimmer." A la llorona had nearly drowned Sam not too far back, but that was hardly a fair test, and they'd both gone into the water to try to find Lucas Barr when the dead boy in the lake tried to drown him. Otherwise, he hadn't seen Sam swim much. He did have the shoulders for it, now that Dean thought about it. Until now, he'd only thought in terms of hunting skills, and those broad shoulders were built for shooting and hand-to-hand, but swimming worked, too.
A tilt of the head. "I'm okay. Ended up about average in trials."
"We could swing by the water sometime when we're near the coast, if you want," Dean offered casually. "You know, if you miss it."
Sam stopped what he was doing to look up at him. "No," he said softly. "I used to go with Jess."
Ah. Dean winced, backed off. Back to the car, standing uncertainly by the hood again.
Sam's eyes stayed on him a minute more before going back to struggling with the fence post.
Dean had no such distraction, and watched Sam's almost comical attempts to get the post to drop into the hole he'd dug without it falling over and taking Sam with it. It looked like hard work, not Dean's favorite kind by any means.
He finally made a face and walked back to the Impala's trunk. What the heck.
Dean found another pair of heavy gloves wedged beside the weapon cache—his dad's, actually—and paused only long enough to yank his shirt over his head before pulling the gloves on. He dropped the shirt in the trunk and shut it. Then he walked over to join Sam at the fence line, silently grabbing and hauling the post upright so Sam could maneuver it into place.
Sam glanced up at him, startled. Dean glared back at him, daring him to say a word.
He didn't. But he did smile as he bent to fit the post in place.
Little brothers, Dean thought long-sufferingly. They were almost more trouble than they were worth.
"I brought you some water and Advil," Sam said quietly, standing next to him.
Dean barely turned his head, even that movement painful. "You find the cream?" he asked with a grunt as he took the offerings.
"It says it's not recommended for sunburns. I'm gonna go to the pharmacy now and get something, okay?"
"You want me to change the towels first?"
They were already lukewarm on his back and shoulder, but Dean shook his head minutely and tried yet again to focus on the TV instead of the pain.
Sam hesitated. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you burned that easily."
"Me, neither," Dean muttered, then turned his chin enough to bring Sam into view. "You plan on going sometime today, or are you waiting for all my skin to peel off?"
Sam's mouth twitched. "Your nose is already starting."
Dean sighed, face sinking back into the bed covers. "Terrific. You get an attack of conscience, and I pay for it. It's not fair."
"If you apologize one more time, Sam, I'm gonna give you a reason to be sorry."
"Yeah, if only you could move."
He started to, and swore as he was reminded once again why he was stretched out prone on the bed with wet towels draped over him.
Sam's hand contritely brushed his hair, one of the few places he didn't hurt. "Easy. I'll be right back."
"You'd better," Dean said gruffly, subsiding with a flinch.
He heard Sam go to the door and open it, then stop again. "Dean—"
"Sam," he growled. He was really tired of his brother's remorse. Nobody made Dean Winchester do what he didn't want to, and if he'd been stupid enough to work bareback in the sun for a few hours and get himself a spectacular burn, that was his fault and nobody else's.
"Don't go anywhere," finished the way-too-amused voice, and the door quickly shut.
Just barely in advance of the wet towel that smacked it.