For Love or Money
K Hanna Korossy
"Okay, I got the patches and the badges. What name do you want to use for the name tags?"
Dean, packing behind him, didn't turn around. "We need tags, too? What if we just keep our coats zipped up?"
His brother sighed, clicked on something. "Dean, if we're gonna do this right—"
Dean came up behind him. "See, that's what I don't get. Why do we have to do this at all? We used to just get by with IDs and attitude. Now we need—" he waved a hand at the screen, "—uniforms and badges and hats? Next you're going to be painting logos on the car." As Sam looked up at him, eyebrows rising, Dean put up a finger. "Don't even think about it, Sam."
"Yeah, 'cause police always drive antique muscle cars. It's a different world than when we were doing this as kids, Dean. People don't trust as easily—"
"—maybe because we're lying to them—"
"—and it takes more to convince them."
"More money, you mean," Dean muttered, looking over his brother's shoulder and wincing at the prices.
Sam swiveled around to look at him. "Is that what this is about? The money?"
Dean shrugged, went back to packing. "Stuff doesn't grow on trees, you know. I have to work hard to keep us in clover."
"So you keep reminding me."
Dean frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means," Sam closed the laptop with a decisive thunk, "every time I buy something, all I hear about is how hard you had to play poker or pool or how complicated a credit card scam you had to pull to earn that money." He waved a hand. "I feel like I'm twelve years old, asking for an allowance."
Annoyance clouded Dean's face. "Dude, maybe if you didn't spend it like it was Monopoly money, it wouldn't be such an issue. We racked up two hundred in debt this week just at this fine establishment," he glanced at the pink walls, "I still have to replace that handgun I lost at Max's, and I don't know about you, but occasionally I like to eat, too, so, yeah, we have to watch where the money goes."
He didn't miss the twitch at the mention of Max, the droop of Sam's head. The other Boy Wonder's death had hit Sam hard, and Dean usually avoided the subject altogether. His mouth flattened in irritation with himself now.
"Look, Sam…forget it. I'll get a few more credit card applications out—we'll cover it."
His brother's jaw worked a minute, then Sam turned back to the desk and opened the laptop again, slowly. Dean made a face at the back of his head. Great, the silent treatment. It beat arguing, but not by much.
Dean did try to indulge his little brother whenever possible. He never begrudged him food, sometimes even splurging on some of the weird stuff Sam had developed a taste for in California. The couple months after Jess died and Sam was hardly eating was still too recent a memory. Clothes were also high up on the list, especially as often as they went through them on their job. Phone bills, car and weapon maintenance, and gas took their chunks, and, whenever possible, Dean tried to keep a roof over their heads. But playing dress-up, paying off informants you could threaten information out of—that wasn't his gig and he didn't like it. The sooner Sam learned that, the better for all of them.
Still, Dean put away the last of his shirts and glanced up at Sam's stiff neck and back, this was Sam's life, too, at least for now. If this was the way he was most comfortable doing what they did, maybe it was only fair Dean at least listen. The last thing he wanted was to push Sam away even sooner than his little brother intended to leave.
Dean pursed his lips, finally walked back to Sam. He could see Sam hunch a little at his approach, and for a second his hand lingered an inch off the proud back, wanting to apologize with a touch. Instead, he grabbed the chair next to the table and swung it around to sit by Sam, shoulders brushing. "So, what've we got?"
It took a moment, but Sam relaxed again, furtive sideways glances replaced by concentration on the screen in front of him. He started clicking on links, showing Dean what he'd come up with.
And, Dean had to grudgingly admit, as always, it was a pretty good plan.
Their next room had mint ice cream-green walls, Dean was relieved to see. Not his favorite color—that probably was still the little place in Illinois owned by a tie-dyed Deadhead where all the rooms was painted black. It had freaked Sam so much, he dragged every ward out of the trunk for the nights—but at least it wasn't pink. Dean had gotten nightmares from those Pepto-Bismol walls.
Sam didn't seem to notice the walls, dumping his gear on the far bed and setting the laptop with far more care on the table. Sam's bad been destroyed in the fire so they just had the one between them, but it had become Sam's undisputed domain. Of course, Dean's band stickers were what gave it personality.
"Do you think we'll be here for a week?"
Dean glanced over at him as he dug a few things out of his bag: shaving kit, a clean shirt, and his knife. "I dunno, depends how fast we find this thing."
"Well, I need to know." Sam was doing the halfway-glancing up thing again, which was usually Dean's cue to pay closer attention to the conversation. "Can we just commit to staying here a week even if we get done early?"
"Feeling like a little vacation, Sam?"
"Actually, I was thinking about getting a job."
Dean stopped unpacking. "What kind of job?"
Sam threw him an exasperated look. "The kind where you work and they pay you, Dean—maybe you've heard of them."
"If this is about the money for the uniforms—"
"It's not," Sam answered too quickly. He'd also stopped moving, his eyes on the shirt in his hands. "I just…I don't want to hustle, and I don't want to be Sam Unger or Hamill or Warren for a few days. I just want to earn my keep honestly for once, okay?" He looked up at Dean.
Dean's mouth twisted and bent around an answer that wouldn't quite come. He didn't often feel guilty, but apparently he'd laid on the complaining a little too heavily last time. He'd never meant to make Sam feel like he wasn't contributing his share. But all he said was, "Okay."
Sam nodded uncertainly, as if he weren't quite sure of his victory, and continued unpacking.
Dean eyed him a moment longer, then also went back to work. His tone was casual when he asked, "You wanna go job-hunting while I finish up the uniforms?" Sam had expressed the badges and patches—twenty dollars extra—and the package had been waiting for them at the post office when the two of them had hit town, but the uniforms still needed assembly. Good thing life on the road had taught them all how to use a needle and thread, sometimes even on clothing.
Sam thawed at the question, shoulders coming down, the invisible "keep away" barricades fading as he met Dean's eyes more squarely. There was even a hint of a smile as he nodded. Dean grinned lazily back. He'd missed that smile since Chicago. It didn't fix everything, but in their world it was as close to a group hug as they got.
It almost even made up for him getting stuck sewing while Sam went out to bring home the bacon.
As soon as Dean closed the door behind him, he was already turning back to Sam. "Let me see it."
"I told you, it's not bad." But Sam was already easing off his jacket.
"It's not like I'm making funeral arrangements, but dripping blood is not good, Sam." He tossed the weapons bag and his jacket on his bed and came around to sit on the far edge of the mattress, just opposite Sam.
His brother gingerly rolled up his sleeve and offered Dean his arm.
Blood trickled down on both sides of the limb, still welling from the deep gash just above the wrist. Probably hadn't sliced the vein but must have at least nicked it, and Dean winced, taking Sam's palm gently. "We need to wash this out."
Sam followed him without protest to the bathroom. He was quite capable of cleaning up his own injuries, but Dean didn't feel like giving him the option just then. Not after worrying the whole trip back to the motel about Sam's monosyllabic answers and tight grip on his arm. Sam probably knew exactly what was going through Dean's head, too, which was why he wasn't complaining, but for once, Dean didn't give a rat's behind what Sam saw or didn't see in him.
He washed the wound out under running water, examining it carefully for debris, then shoved Sam silently down on the closed toilet seat. Before the bleeding stopped, Dean turned half the white motel towel red, and Sam's red-flushed cheeks had bleached to white. But by the time Dean bandaged it and retrieved some painkillers and water for Sam, they'd both regained their equilibrium. Sam didn't look like he was going to fall over anymore, and Dean mostly believed he wasn't in danger of losing him. Again. For them, that was pretty good.
Sam stood, riding out a little dizziness while Dean's hand hovered by his elbow, then went back out into the room. He pulled off his blood-stained shirt as Dean gathered first aid supplies and pretended he wasn't watching him. It was only when Sam pulled on a fresh button-down that Dean's eyebrow rose. "Don't tell me you're goin'."
"Of course I'm going." Sam paused, looking at him hard. "Why, are you okay?"
Some part of him was touched that that was what had stopped Sam cold, but it wasn't the part that was doing the talking. "I'm fine, Sam. You're the one who got 'scratched.'"
Sam kept buttoning. "You saw yourself, it's not that bad."
"Yeah, not bad enough for a hospital or laying you up for a week, but bad enough to earn you a little time off work."
"Since when did we ever take time off because one of us was hurt?"
The question genuinely surprised Dean. He thought Sam had known, the extra days they lingered after some jobs to "tie up loose ends" or because he said he was too tired to drive. Not during the hunt, but after? He really did try to indulge Sam whenever he could.
He saw the realization soften Sam's eyes, and his voice was cajoling instead of argumentative when he finally continued. "I'm only working for a week, Dean. I'm not gonna call in sick."
Except, Dean had never been comfortable with that knowing look directed at him, and wasn't feeling all that reasonable about Sam working at all. "We can stay a day longer," he bargained. "You can put in your five."
"Seven," Sam corrected mildly, "and, no. I'm going."
Dean's face hardened. It was all the defense he had sometimes. "Fine."
"Fine." Sam edged past him, heading for the door. "Don't wait up." At least it didn't slam in his wake, but Dean knew the temptation had been there.
He threw down his jacket in the silent room. Perfect. Yeah, Sam not waiting for him back in their room had made it easier for Dean to go out to do a little earning of his own, have a few beers, unwind. But he kinda missed his brother, truth be told, the nights Sam joined him for a beer, or when they stayed in to watch a movie with popcorn and bad jokes. Dean wasn't liking this whole job thing, either, or what had provoked it. Sam had nothing to prove to him, whatever he thought. Dean's conscience squirmed uncomfortably at the notion he might have made Sam think so. Sam hadn't even relented enough to tell him where he was working, just disappeared every afternoon following the long hours at their day job. Dean's curiosity was eating him alive, tempting him more than once to follow Sam, although he resisted. But even worse, it was wearing on Sam, and no income was worth that.
Well, only two more days. That would finish out Sam's seven and Dean's promise, and since they'd closed their hunt that afternoon, they'd be ready to move on. In the meantime, there were three bars within walking distance, a bookstore and a music store down the street, and their motel had cable. There was no reason he couldn't have some fun while Sam did his honest labor bit.
It just chagrined Dean to no small amount that none of it sounded the least bit appealing.
He was packing when Sam straggled in and tossed his room key on the table. Dean raised an eyebrow as he took in the fatigue in Sam's face and gait. "Long day at the office, honey?"
"No, it was fine." Sam lifted the satchel over his head, and flinched.
Dean's eyebrow came down hard. "What's wrong with you?"
Sam had taken advantage of their last two days of freedom to work all day, but this exhaustion was more than just overwork. Which made his shrug and casual, "Nothing, I'm just tired," even less convincing.
Dean stepped around his bed, watching Sam drag his duffel out from under the bed and open it. "We should grab something to eat before we hit the road."
"Yeah, okay," was the listless reply.
Dean's frown deepened and he moved in to grab Sam's arm and stop his packing. He let go just as fast when Sam hissed and recoiled. "You're not fine—your wrist still bothering you?"
"Not until just now," Sam said defensively, and, rubbing it briefly, he pulled up his sleeve. "It's been a little sore but nothing unusual." He grimaced as he slid the clothing up past the gauze and got a look.
Dean agreed completely when he leaned forward and saw what Sam did. "Sure," he said, almost calm. "Nothing but a little blood poisoning. Take your shirt off."
Sam obeyed, revealing the line of red that was halfway up his arm. "I didn't see it before, Dean—I would've said something."
"Yeah, I know," Dean said quietly. "Get dressed—we'll pick up some food, then find you a doctor."
They ended up in the ER of the local hospital, Sam picking at his meatloaf while Dean ate without tasting his. The fact that Sam was sitting on a gurney hooked up to intravenous antibiotics, or that the doctor had lectured them both about the risks of blood poisoning, had dampened his appetite considerably.
"Guess we're staying here another night," he finally broke the silence, because Sam didn't seem inclined to.
Sam shook his head, bangs half-hiding his eyes. "We don't have to stay—the rest of the treatment's going to be oral antibiotics. I can take pills anywhere."
"You heard the doctor," Dean countered squarely. "You need to get some rest. Might as well do it here instead of Memphis. There's no reason we can't stay another night."
"Another forty bucks," Sam said softly.
Dean glared at him. "You better not be telling me you didn't say anything about your wrist because you thought it would cost too much."
"No, I didn't see it, Dean—I've been changing in the dark. I thought it was just sore. But we have been spending a lot lately, and this isn't gonna help." He waved at the IV.
"If you need something, I'll find the money for it, Sam, end of discussion." Dean huffed, shifted in his chair. "It's the other stuff I'm not so sure about."
Sam took a breath. "Maybe this'll help." He pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Dean.
It was a check, for almost five hundred dollars. Dean blinked, looked at the name on it, eyes catching on "Attorneys at Law." He glanced up at Sam.
Who was smiling. "My job," he said, nodding at the check.
"Five hundred for a week?" Dean's eyes narrowed. "Nothing illegal, right? No burying bodies or anything? I read The Firm."
Sam ignored him. "They checked my record with Stanford and hired me to do some research for them. It was kinda fun, actually."
One day, those words would actually bring him joy instead of a regret and insecurity. Dean chewed his lip before he was able to bring himself to say it. "You wanna stay longer? Put in another week?"
Sam was seeing right through him again, his look way too fond for this conversation or Dean's comfort level. "No," he shook his head, "one was enough. That's not what I'm here to do, Dean. But it'll cover the cost of replacing the exhaust system on the car, right?"
Dean frowned, offered the check back. "Yeah, but…Sam, I don't want to take your—"
"If you're gonna be an idiot, I'm taking a nap." Sam leaned back on the gurney and closed his eyes.
Dean looked at him, at the check, and got the message. He slipped the paper inside his jacket and propped his boots up on Sam's gurney by his hip. "I'll wake you when it's time to go."
Sam's mouth pulled up, but he didn't open his eyes.
Dean shook his head, dropped his head back too against the chair. Maybe it didn't pay much, but, their job?
It definitely had its perks.