Miles To Go
K Hanna Korossy
"…so they've been doing this hunting for generations," Dean wound up the Bender family history. "I bet if we checked the records, we'd find missing people dating back to early last century."
"Nice family tradition," Sam commented.
"What do they do with the bodies after the hunt?" He had an idea from what he'd overheard, but Sam hoped he was wrong.
Revulsion he didn't often see in his brother crossed Dean's face. "Dude, you do not want to know."
So, probably not wrong. Yeah, that didn't paint any ugly images in his head. "So I guess Jenkins…"
"Definitely. I found pictures."
Sam swallowed. Really ugly images. He sighed, glancing up and down the empty road. "You'd think people would make more sense than creatures or demons. At least have more of a conscience."
"Yeah, no kidding." Dean's smile was bittersweet as he looked up at Sam. "You know, sometimes I think we've got the easy job."
"How far were we from town, anyway?"
"'Bout six miles," Dean said wearily. He eyed Sam not for the first time that evening. "They knock you out for the trip?"
"Choked me out," Sam corrected, one hand rubbing his throat absently. He smiled without humor. "I guess they didn't want to mess up their trophies."
Dean snorted. "How'd they get the drop on you, anyway?"
"Grabbed me from under the car. It was a little close quarters to fight in, Dean."
"Yeah, well, next town we're in that's had a lot of unexplained disappearances, I'm not letting you out of my sight."
Sam smiled slightly, let the unspoken concern pass without comment this time. "How did you figure it out?"
Dean shrugged. "Found your whining-growling monster. Kathleen and I followed it out here and started checking turn-offs."
"'Kathleen'?" Sam asked, amused.
Dean gave him an exasperated look. "We pretty much dropped the formalities after she figured out I wasn't a middle-aged black state trooper who's had too many donuts."
Sam blinked. "What?"
Dean sighed. "Look, I needed some footage from a traffic cam…"
"We can sit down and rest a few minutes," Sam offered the third time Dean stumbled.
"I'm fine," Dean said tersely. "Point is, I'd probably be sitting in jail right now and you'd be dinner if Kathleen's brother hadn't gone missing."
"So…even though she caught you impersonating an officer, she agreed to keep looking for me because she knew what it was like to lose a brother?"
Sam frowned. "I thought it was her—"
Dean blew out an impatient breath. "Her brother, my cousin. Keep up, Sam. I couldn't tell her I was looking for my brother, Dean Winchester still being dead and all." They'd done their best to fix that one, but apparently not good enough.
Sam nodded slowly. "Right. She mentioned the cousin thing. I'm just impressed you convinced her not to turn you in."
Dean shot him a glance that was meant to be a glower, but didn't quite pull it off. Sam instantly sobered. He had a sudden feeling it hadn't been acting skills that had convinced the deputy to trust Dean. For his brother to get that honest with anyone, let alone a cop…
He pasted on a smile. "A middle-aged black cop? Do you even look at the people you steal IDs from?"
"Hey, saved you, didn't it?"
"…she almost took him down. Then I came through the door and saw the guy standing over her with a gun and dove for it, and he shot the dad behind me by accident."
"That's why she was covering the dad." Dean's shoulder was nearly touching his; he'd caught Sam's sleeve the last time he'd staggered and hadn't let go. Getting his balance back in more ways than one.
Sam nodded. "I locked the other two in the cages." He was silent for a moment. "I wondered if…I don't know, I thought maybe she wanted to kill him, but…"
"Forget it, Sam," Dean said with a shake of the head. "He made a break for it, she shot him, end of story."
"Yeah," Sam said quietly. He cast a sidelong glance at Dean. "I could hear you yelling in the house, you know."
Dean's jaw shifted. "Trying to psych out the enemy, that's all."
"So…all those threats about killing them all if they hurt me, that was just to throw them off?" He said it with surface amusement, but down-deep feeling.
"'Course," Dean said instantly. "I mean, I like you and all, but…"
Sam laughed. "Yeah. Thanks."
"We're taking a break," Sam said firmly, and turned off the road into the woods, out of sight of the police cars occasionally racing past, lights and sirens blasting. The two of them had already been slowing down, Sam silently matching his pace to his exhausted brother's. But the unsteadiness he couldn't ignore any longer.
Dean sank onto a fallen tree trunk, left arm still curled against his body. Sam crouched down in front of him.
"I can go back to town and get the car."
"Dean, the Benders are all locked up—it's completely safe to—"
Dean's face was drawn in more than just fatigue. "I said no. It's only a few more miles—I'll be fine." He started to struggle to his feet.
Sam pushed him back effortlessly with a hand on his good shoulder and ignored the resulting glare. "What did they do to you, anyway?"
Dean breathed out tiredly. "It's nothing, okay? I just…should've watched my back, that's all. The old guy got the drop on me."
"Right. And being outnumbered three to one had nothing to do with it."
"I blew it, Sam, all right? I thought the little girl was a victim and I let my guard down."
The same little "victim" who'd been holding a blade to his bound brother's eye when Sam had slipped inside the house. Dean was too good to let his surprise show and give Sam away, but his relief had been obvious even from across the room. No more than Sam's, who'd been just as uncertain until that moment that his brother was still alive. He'd only just started breathing again by the time he stealthily crossed the room, Dean providing loud distraction, and snapped the knife out of the girl's hand. Sam had picked her up and shoved her, biting and screaming, into the nearest closet. Only then had he gotten a good look at his brother, and stopped breathing all over again.
Dean scrubbed tiredly at his face. "They told me to pick which one of you to hunt," he finally said with a mutter.
Which probably explained both the burn and the yelling. Sam's hand curled over his brother's knee. The fact that Dean wasn't complaining was all the reason he needed to leave it there. "You picked me," Sam realized with some surprise.
Dean looked up at him, only not really. "Of course I picked you. You had the best chance out there."
"No, I agree with you, I just didn't think…" He paused, regrouped, realizing what Dean had to be thinking. "Thank you," Sam said earnestly.
It was barely a laugh, but Dean was looking him in the eye again. "You've got a sick sense of gratitude, Sammy."
Sammy. Funny how that didn't rankle him at all coming from Dean.
He considered saying he was grateful Dean had made the choice for Sam he would have made for himself, that he trusted Sam enough to stay alive, that he hadn't put the deputy's life on Sam's conscience like Sam had laid a few on his those last several months. But Dean would know all that already, so Sam just slipped a hand under his arm and helped lift him back to his feet.
"Let's get back to town, cuz."
"How did you get out of the cuffs?"
It was the home stretch, the lights of the town already visible in the distance, and Dean was fading. Sam hung on to him and kept asking questions.
"The deputy said she cuffed you to the car."
"Oh. Picked the lock with the antennae."
Which he must have had to stretch to get; Sam had seen the skinned wrist below where the ropes were when he'd first untied Dean. The head injury was what had concerned him, though. He'd checked back at the house to make sure Dean wasn't concussed, but blood continued to drip down the side of his face, and he was moving now like each step hurt.
"You should carry a spare handcuff key with you, as often as you get yourself locked up."
"Paperclip." Dean tripped, falling drunkenly against Sam, who automatically set him back upright.
"Paperclip, right. Why do anything the easy way?"
Dean's mouth twitched.
The burn couldn't be helping, either, right on the shoulder and chest muscle. Sam hadn't gotten a good look at it; Dean had swatted him away when he'd tried, but it had to be agonizing. Not that Sam had heard Dean cry out, just swearing to kill anyone who hurt his brother. He wished again they'd had a chance to tend to the worst of Dean's injuries, but the gunshot from the barn had ended that. Dean had dropped a hand on his head for a second, Sam's fingers closing around his wrist just as intently, and then they were racing out the door.
"Did you end up getting a room?"
"You're making my head hurt."
Sam smiled. "Sorry."
Dean had gotten a room, although from the maps, notes, and pictures scattered across the king-sized bed, he hadn't used it for sleeping. Sam shook his head as his gaze swept the room one more time before returning to Dean.
His brother was out, sleeping on his back in deference to the burn, the freshly bandaged side of his face turned up. He'd fussed about Sam cleaning him up, helping him to bed, making him take some painkillers, and generally everything that didn't include collapsing on top of the covers filthy and bloody as he'd wanted to. In short, he was all right.
Except for the watching Sam like a overprotective mother hawk part.
Sam yawned. Dean hadn't wanted to stay, worried about their hanging around town, but neither of them were up for driving that night. Even though he was relatively uninjured, adrenalin, a night in a cage, and worry had taken their toll on Sam even before the long walk back. He'd finally won the point by taking Dean's keys.
But he understood. And that it wasn't just staying in town Dean was worried about.
Sam stripped and showered, then wearily cleaned off the bed, gathering all Dean's research into one pile on the table. Research done to find him. Sam shook off the moment of déjà vu to when the tables had been turned and he'd been trying to save Dean. He'd understood too well Dean's gruff admonition not to do that to him again.
Sam turned off all the lights but the one in the bathroom, then climbed in on the opposite side of the bed from his brother. Sometimes they could only get a single room instead of a double, but a king was usually big enough that he didn't even know Dean was there.
Which, come to think of it, wasn't what he was really going for that night.
Sam hesitated, then gingerly slid over toward the middle of the bed, just in arm's reach of his brother. And that was exactly what he did, stretching out to rest his hand on the curve of Dean's ribs, where he could feel the rise and fall of his breathing.
Dean sighed deeply in his sleep. Consciously or not, he wouldn't move around any more that night, Sam knew.
He just hoped he woke up first, because Sam wanted to see his unflappable brother realize why.The End