Who Will Always Come
K Hanna Korossy
He couldn't seem to fully wake up, which was the first sign something was wrong.
The next was the fact he was upright, arms pulled tight above him. His shoulders were already taut with pain.
It took three tries for Sam to raise his head and open his eyes, and even then he was squinting, wobbly-necked, in the dim light. At the round, pale face in front of him.
A snort. "Naw, I didn't touch your brother. It's just you and me, Winchester."
The voice was familiar but he couldn't quite place it, and his vision refused to clear. Sam's head tipped again, and he managed to prop it against his upraised right arm, blinking owlishly. "Who're you?" His voice was also sluggish, thick with…something. Drugs? …coming out of the store, sting in his arm, scenery reeling… He couldn't think…
"Aw, I'm disappointed you don't remember me, dude. Palo Alto, 'bout a year ago? Me on a simple salt-and-burn, and you—a fellow hunter—almost bashing my head in for it? You seriously don't remember?"
Sam swallowed dryly, peered harder. He could make out the thin blond hair now, the glasses, and a hint of the muddy eyes. But he already knew who he was dealing with, and his blood quickened in his veins, stomach clenching. "Kopelian," he mumbled.
"Yeah, I'm Ray Kopelian," the guy confirmed, squinting at Sam from the open doorway. "What's it to you?"
"I've seen your work," Sam answered darkly.
"Aw, you do remember." And with some motion Sam couldn't quite make out, squeaky, rusty machinery started grinding above him. Without warning, his arms were yanked higher, dragging him first to his toes, then suspending him completely off the ground. The weight on what he could feel now were bound wrists rocketed the pain to blinding levels, and the strain on his windpipe started Sam coughing.
He writhed like a hooked worm, trying to find some leverage to lift at least a fraction of his weight off his arms, but there was nothing under his flailing legs, and he was too weak and disoriented to flip himself or slide off whatever held his wrists. Getting weaker by the second, in fact, as he couldn't get enough air. Black crept into the edges of his vision, and his body started to sag in its lost fight. Not this way. God, please, not this way. Dean would…
Sam's head jolted up, feeling as weak as a newborn. But his feet were firm on the ground again—when had that happened?—and Sam braced himself, raising his chin by slow, determined inches to stare his enemy in the face. "Wh-what do you want?" Hating that his voice shook for thisguy.
Kopelian smirked. "I've been hearing some things about you, Winchester. I just want to know if they're true."
"…it true? You dug up her grave and burned her?"
"Dude, calm down, it was just a restless spirit thing—that's what we do, right, people like you and me?"
"She was mygirlfriend."
The blow rocked his head back, shot his equilibrium again. It took long seconds before Sam sorted out which way was up, set his feet once more, and stared defiantly at his captor.
"Pay attention, Winchester."
"You like attention, don't you, Ray?" Sam seethed back. "Right from the start. Refused to train with a seasoned hunter, just struck out on your own. And now, what, you're going after other hunters? Innocent girls not enough for you anymore?"
"She was dead," Ray snapped, and fumbled with the box in his hand.
Again, the pulley cranked above Sam. He tilted his head back, caught sight of a massive hook that was snagged on his bound wrists—meat-packing plant?—before the ground disappeared beneath his feet again and his upper body started screaming in protest while he struggled to breathe…
…couldn't breathe in Sam's grip. Wide, pitch-dark eyes stared at him in defiance and fear. "It was a suspicious death…couple people even think…they've seen her around campus…Dude…she probablystarted that fire."
Sam didn't even remember deciding, just saw his fist slam into the pasty face.
…sending his head flying back painfully on his weak neck. Sam gasped and shivered at the abuse. His shoulders throbbed in rhythm to his heart, his arms feeling permanently locked above his head, and his chest and stomach quivered from the strain. "Please," he said hoarsely, before he could think about it. "Don't do this."
He could only hear the sneer in the voice, because he couldn't see much of anything yet. "I said that, too. Didn't make much of a difference to you."
He had. "Please. I was just doing my job. Our job—you'd have done it, too, if you weren't so blind, Winchester. What, just 'cause you sleep with a girl means she can't go bad?"
Sam's upper lip curled and he punched the guy again, and again, until only his grip on Kopelian's collar held him upright. Sam wasn't going to tell this scum that Jess had been beautiful and loving and innocent. He wasn't going to waste the memory on trash. But he couldn't let it ride, either, wanted to wipe that bloody smirk off the guy's face.
He talked like Dean, and that unintended mockery was what made Sam let go of the shirt and swing a left uppercut that sent the neophyte hunter sprawling to the ground. "You don't get to call me that," he growled.
He tried to look up, managed a drunken lean of the head to his right. "Wha—?"
"Your phone. Someone's trying to reach you. Guess your brother finally noticed you were gone, huh?"
Dean. He was holding on for Dean. If his brother knew now that something was wrong…if Kopelian had his phone around here somewhere and it was turned on…that was significant somehow…if only Sam could think…
The gears groaned, and Sam froze, bracing himself to be lifted once more. But the movement stopped when his toes were still pressed against the ground, his weary body swaying.
"I could do this all day, you know. Found this place just for you, Winchester. I don't even have to leave a mark, just keep dragging you up there until your windpipe kinks or something dislocates and you start screaming. You'll tell me what I want to know then."
"Tell me what I want to know!"
The groundskeeper shrank from him, and some part of Sam was mortified for intimidating an innocent man. But Jess's sister hadn't known anything, and the grave was…the grave was a mess but hadn't provided any clues. And Sam needed to know.
He swallowed his scruples, and leaned ominously over the slight man. "What did you see?"
Sam blinked hard, bringing his tormentor's face into view if not focus. "Wh-what? Wha'do you—?"
"—want to know? Well, for starters, if you've really got some kind of powers like people are starting to say. I hear you walked away from an accident that killed your dad and almost took out your brother, too. But you were fine—isn't that a little weird? Maybe your girlfriend knew about you, too, so she had to go, huh?"
The haze Sam saw had nothing to do with the way he was restrained. He lunged forward the few inches he could, barely satisfied at seeing Kopelian lurch back, and gritted, "Shut up. You have no idea what you're talking about, you son of a—"
The machinery grated and rumbled, and Sam couldn't breathe again. His arms did feel like they were being pulled out of their sockets, and he would've cried out if he'd had breath.
His thoughts fractured, spinning away.
"You're a hunter, too?" The round face crinkled in delight, and Sam just glowered at it. This guy thought what they did—what life Sam had been forced into—was fun? The irresponsibility…
He stepped inside the motel room, a rundown cousin to a thousand others he and Dean and their father had stayed in over the years, and the "hunter" he'd tracked there—a new guy on the scene—scurried back like a threatened mouse. Sam deliberately loomed over him as he demanded, "What did you do to Jessica Moore's grave?"
He wasn't sure how many times he hit him, but the guy's unrepentant outrage, his righteous glee over what he'd done, blinded Sam. When he finally stumbled back out the door, Kopelian was lying whimpering on the floor, face swollen, bleeding from nose and lip, and Sam's knuckles were torn and aching. It didn't make him feel better. But at least this time he'd done something to protect her.
"…protect her, could you? You just let her die to keep your secrets. Right?"
His feet were back on the ground, Sam registered dimly. His upper body didn't seem to exist as anything but pain, and as he tried to straighten his neck, something in his abdomen lurched. He was retching before he could even try to stop himself, helplessly shaking under the force of the nausea. It was wet warmth on his shirt, down his front, and Sam couldn't even bring himself to care. The misery was overwhelming, bringing tears to his eyes and a crushing sense of despair to his spirit.
"Gross," Kopelian muttered petulantly from somewhere in front of him.
Sam almost laughed. Did, maybe, strangled and weak. He couldn't support his head anymore, could only bob it weakly, but he spat, cleared his throat. "You're…hunting the wrong th-thing, man. D-demon killed J-jess…my dad…"
"Is that what you're calling what's in you now?"
His head swung heavily from side to side. It wasn't him. Jess hadn't died because of him. Sam blinked back tears again, wishing so badly for Dean, he could almost feel him there. "Me…I'm jus'—"
He thought he imagined it for a second. Memory, or wishful thinking of a desperate and overtaxed mind. Dean's voice was exactly as Sam would have imagined it: restrained fury and hidden concern, with a definite overlay of You shouldn't have touched him.
He tried to look up to find his brother, but every movement made him gasp, and the room was swimming around him. The best Sam could manage was a twitch of the head in what he thought was the right direction.
"Dean Winchester." Kopelian's voice, on the other hand, held overt fear, even in its defiance. "How the he—?"
"New at this whole kidnap-and-torture thing, huh?"
The hardness in Dean's voice just made the playful tone even scarier. Sam's mouth twitched against his chest. It was kinda mortifying needing Dean to come to the rescue, his brother seeing him like this, but for a moment Sam was five again, grinning smugly at the neighborhood bully from behind his big brother's back. You're gonna get it now…
"So let me explain something to you, since you're still learning." Dean's voice was closer. Sam wondered if he was aiming a gun, or even needed one. It was probably held loosely at his side. Nothing was as threatening as casual self-assurance. "Sam, he's the good cop of the team. You ask him, and he'll give you the shirt off his back. Well, not like you'd want some of the shirts he wears, but…"
He was right beside Sam's now. A moment more, and the brush of familiar fingers against the side of Sam's neck instantly eased his breathing. Head still hanging, he managed to nod it a little. The fingers curled to the back of his neck and let go.
"Me? I'm not so big on mercy. You mess with me, and you're going down. You mess with Sam, and you might not get back up again." There was the soft click of a gun hammer being drawn back; Dean had brought one of the revolvers, probably exactly for that effect.
"Dean," Sam murmured.
"Don't worry, Sammy, I'll try not to kill this one."
It wasn't a gun he heard go off. It was Dean.
There was the sharp smack of flesh meeting flesh, and body hitting floor. More scuffling. More punches landing. Soft moans and cries from Kopelian. Not a sound from Dean. He was in a lethal zone now, and Sam shifted, trying to see something but only managing to jostle his strained body, making him gasp.
He greyed out a little on what came next. But when he returned, it was to the feel of his arms being lowered, first by the hoist, then with hands reaching to catch him, lift him free.
It hurt. Agony swelled and flowed and battered him, arching his back weakly, tearing humiliating whimpers from him. But Dean was steady against his back, his fingers digging gently into the locked muscles of Sam's shoulders, loosening them determinedly, shifting pain into an endorphin-high relief. Sam's breath sobbed out of him, and he pressed his face against Dean's breastbone, grateful to finally have something to brace himself against.
"Who'd you tick off this time, dude?" Dean asked warmly. The tone was so different from Kopelian's, the dude made Sam smile instead of grimace.
"Hunter…pretender." His voice sounded like he'd been screaming even though he was pretty sure he hadn't, and Sam coughed, wishing for a bottle of water. The bile was still a sour taste in his mouth. "Guy who…dug up Jess."
Dean paused so briefly, Sam barely felt it. He had one of Sam's arms down now, curled trembling in his lap, and was working carefully on the other. "So, what, this was payback for you pounding him?"
Sam rolled his head, Dean's shirt bunching under his cheek. "Wanted t'know…'f I was evil. Guess that would've helped…his rep, bring in…hunter gone bad."
"You're not…" Dean broke off with an under-the-breath curse, something about Gordon Walker and some questionable sexual activities, and Sam snorted. Then moaned as Dean eased his other arm down.
The next minute, Dean was unexpectedly lowering him to the floor, before surging to his feet. Sam frowned, confused, watching his brother's boots stomp across the floor back to the blurry figure that was Kopelian. Sam only understood when he saw the boot rear back and deliver a pair of hard kicks into the huddled figure. Kopelian wailed pathetically.
"Dean," Sam whispered.
"Hold on a second, Sammy, I just gotta break this punk's face in."
"Dean," he insisted, sliding his arm under his side. Holding his breath against the searing jolts of pain, Sam levered himself up a few shaking inches. "Don't. Please."
"Don't, please." The defiance had been wiped away by the last few blows, and the one eye that wasn't swollen shut yet pinned Sam in place, pleading with him. "Stop, please. I'm sorry, okay?"
Sam suddenly reeled back, seeing for the first time the blood on his hands, the cowering form at his feet. Felt nausea rise just like it had at Jess's violated grave, only now it was for what he was doing, what he was so tempted to do. He stumbled away, still staring at Kopelian, who pressed himself back against the rug and watched Sam with fear.
He wasn't worth it. Not besmirching her memory. Not leaving Dean to worry. Not the nightmares that were sure to dog Sam after this.
It was time to let go.
"Let him go," Sam said softly.
Dean's head swung up, and even with questionable vision, Sam could see the change in his brother's eyes as they looked at him. Then Dean's mouth turned down, and he gave Kopelian one last disgruntled kick, then crouched down beside him. His voice, deceptively mild, barely carried to Sam.
"The guy you were so sure was evil just saved your life, you sick bastard. But you even go near my brother again, and I'm gonna track you down like the dog you are and finish this. You understand me? We clear?"
"You even go near her grave again, and I will find you and end your hunting career, you hear me?"
"Sam." Dean was back at his side, holding him up just as his arm gave way. Kopelian must've given him a satisfactory answer. "You with me?"
"Mostly," Sam groaned.
"Let's get out of here, huh? This place gives me the creeps."
Sam chuckled before he considered the wisdom of it, and it hurt but not enough that he was sorry. He sucked in a breath as Dean gently levered him upright.
"Can you walk?"
He nodded jerkily, and managed not to face-plant as Dean got him to his feet.
"That's good. 'Cause you're a mess, dude, and this jacket…I don't know…"
"Shut up," Sam half-laughed, half-groaned. It was still excruciating to lift his arm, so Dean propped him up instead against his side and held on to Sam around the waist, coaxing him along.
"You remember the last time you upchucked all over yourself?" Dean was tucking something—wallet, phone?—into Sam's jacket pocket. The GPS in the phone, he suddenly realized. No need to tell Kopelian as much, but Dean must've used it to find him. "You were about sixteen—yeah, sixteen, just got your license—and Dad let us go to that fair. You must've ridden the Tilt-Whirl thing about a dozen times—dude, I've never seen anyone living look that green. Ralphed all over your favorite shirt, the one with the little—"
"I remember," Sam gritted, concentrating on shuffling his feet.
"And my boots." Dean adjusted his grip when Sam inhaled sharply, patted Sam's stomach. "They smelled for a week."
Sam managed to turn back to look at Kopelian, still curled on the floor.
"You don't even know what hunting's really about," Sam said flatly.
Then he'd walked out.
"'S about this," Sam murmured, leaning harder into his brother.
"What?" Dean adjusted for his weight without effort and squinted at him.
"Nothin'." Sam shook his head and turned back, giving Dean a tired but fond smile. "Those boots were fallin' 'part, man."
Dean grinned back at him. Then composed himself into a mock glare.
"Hey, I loved those boots…"
Shave-and-a-haircut rapped against the motel room door. Sam untensed after the second beat, was smiling a little by the last. Dean had a key, but he also knew Sam would've been skittish from the rattling of the door.
His brother opened the door enough to peer inside, gave him a smile, then stepped in, tossing the room keys on the table by the door. "Well, you look better than you did last night."
Sam snorted, flicking the TV off with the remote but otherwise not budging from where he was sprawled on the bed. "You try being strung up by your wrists by some lunatic." As Dean pursed his lips, Sam rolled his head on the pillow. "No, you know what, never mind, I don't want to hear it."
Dean started unpacking the bag of food he'd brought, flat brown boxes instead of fast food wrappers. Sam's stomach rumbled in anticipation. "I've got some news," his brother said over his shoulder.
Sam slid his legs slowly to the side in preparation for the laborious process of sitting up. "Yeah?" he asked warily.
"Guess who got banned from hunting by no less than Ellen herself?" Dean gave him a significant look.
Sam paused. "No way."
"Yup. Told him if he ever showed his face in the Roadhouse—or, you know, pretty much any dealer, library, or other hunter hotspot in the country—she knew a succubus she could sic on him." Dean's eyebrows rose cheerfully.
"Huh." Sam laughed, shaking his head as he turned onto his side, then gingerly pushed up.
Dean was watching him sidelong. "Seriously, you okay?" he asked as Sam achieved vertical with a single groan.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm a little sore, but I'm all right." His shoulders ached, his arms felt like he'd been carrying weights all night, but there was no serious injury, he could tell. After cleaning him up the night before, Dean had packed his shoulders with ice, filled him with fluids and anti-inflammatories, then had put infomercials on at low volume, their version of white noise. Sam had woken twelve hours later feeling almost human.
But Dean was still eyeing him. "That's not what I mean, Sam."
Oh. Sam brushed at the bedspread, wriggled his shoulders lightly under his t-shirt. He hesitated, then started talking before he could change his mind. "You know, it's weird. When I went after Kopelian, last year, it was like…I left feeling even worse than when I got there, you know? Just…empty." He looked up, a little embarrassed, to find Dean's sober gaze on him.
"Now?" Sam dipped his head to the side. "Even when he had me trapped…I wouldn't've traded with him for anything. I mean," he hurried on, "yeah, our life sucks worse than a Lifetime movie, but…it could be worse, you know? A lot worse." His mouth quirked, less a smile as an admission.
Dean nodded his head a little. Then tilted it. "You watch Lifetime movies?"
Sam groaned, pushing to his feet, reaching back to the bed when he wobbled a little. "Shut up, you watch Oprah."
"One week, dude, and I was laid up with a sprained ankle."
"Yeah, whatever." Sam shuffled over to the table, craning to see the food.
"Be nice, or I'll cancel your date with Bonnie this afternoon."
Sam stopped. "What?"
"Massage therapist. Which actually isn't code for 'hooker,' turns out." Dean did a silent huh, then smiled, looking pleased with himself. "She even makes house calls. Or, motel calls."
"Massage therapist?" Sam asked, heavy with skepticism.
Dean fished a bent card out of his pocket, offered it to Sam.
Huh. Massage therapist, licensed and everything. "You're not gonna be here?" Sam asked cautiously.
Dean made a face. "Dude, trust me, I'm gonna be anywhere but here."
Sam let a smile creep out. "That sounds kinda good, actually. Thanks." He paused. "Hey, where'd you meet a—?" At Dean's look, he shook his head. "Never mind."
"Just go take a shower first—you still smell like barf."
Sam dropped in the chair with a huff. "You're never gonna let that go, are you."
"Oh, not for a while yet, no."
But he meant it.