For Everything Else, There's (a Stolen) Mastercard
K Hanna Korossy
"I lost my shoe." The words were pathetic enough. The look that accompanied it? Abused orphan puppies needing a new home had nothing on Dean Winchester's little brother.
Exasperated, he turned away and headed for the car.
By the time he came back, Sam looked, if it was possible, even more pitiful, as if Dean had just abandoned him there. As if Dean could, Sam looking like that. Dean just grumbled at him, "Move," rolling his eyes discreetly as Sam propped a hand on his shoulder for balance and hopped aside so he wouldn't have to step down on the street in his sock. Dean had seen his brother take on three chupacabras before, stare down a baykok, confront an Old One and win. That Sam was a little hard to reconcile with the overgrown kid leaning on him now and waiting for Dean to find his shoe and fix things.
Then again, little brothers were always little brothers, weren't they? And with the incredible run of bad luck the lost rabbit's foot was giving Sam, he was probably entitled to a little pouting.
Dean jammed the end of the crowbar into the grate and levered up the iron lattice with a grunt. It clanged to the side, and he pulled the MagLite out of his pocket and turned it on to peer into the sewer after the lost shoe. He could feel Sam straining to see over his shoulder, too, and absently grabbed his brother's jacket just in case his luck tipped him headfirst into the slimy darkness.
'Cause…slimy was the right word. The shoe was there, but it was already half-buried in unidentifiable black muck and sinking fast. Dean grimaced, having no desire to fish the thing out of there, let alone to see—or smell—Sam wearing it again. He'd probably catch a disease from it or something.
Sam made a small unhappy sound behind him, and Dean swore it was the same one he'd made as a baby, the one that would have Dean crawling into the crib with him to make it better. He groaned silently. Terrific. Like they hadn't regressed enough that day.
He dropped the grate back with an echoing clang, then glanced at Sam. Yup, still channeling baby Sammy. "C'mon," Dean sighed.
"You're not wearing that, dude—we'll get you a new pair." He headed back for the car…but slow enough that Sam could hop alongside him.
Yeah, he was totally whipped.
Sam wrestled the other shoe off in the car, thankfully without inflicting major bodily damage on either his body or the Impala's, then twisted to fish his duffel out of the back seat, scratching himself with the zipper in the process. Soon he had his boots out and was putting them on with slow, reluctant motions.
"I can just wear these, Dean."
The obvious answer—you loved those shoes, man—was pushed aside by the memory it raised of exactly when they'd bought those shoes. It was one of the things Dean had splurged on when he'd been trying to replace Sam's incinerated wardrobe after the fire, and Jess. His brother had always liked cool shoes, even as a kid when they could rarely afford it, and the small smile it had brought to the grief-worn face had made maxing out one of their credit cards totally worth it. But Dean swallowed it, just flitted his eyes over to his brother and said, "You need a second pair of shoes, Sam." Which was true, in their line of work. And didn't sound at all parental.
He had to get to Bela's, but Dean was pretty sure he'd seen a mall down the street and…there. This wouldn't take long. He pulled up to an entrance and started to get out of the car, an admonition for Sam to wait there on the tip of his tongue. Until the vision of a truck plowing into the parked car and its unlucky passenger flashed through his mind. Uh, no. He settled back inside and turned the car around to park it.
"You're coming in, too."
Sam didn't argue, still too busy looking like somebody had stomped on his favorite toy.
Every fourth store in the place was a shoe store, which thankfully let them avoid the minefield of the escalator, freshly waxed floors, and the crowds of shoppers, if not an upturned cup of soda from a clumsy teen on the level above. It didn't take long to find a place that had a wide array of sneakers for sale. Thankfully, Dean plunked the shoe down on the store counter. "I want the latest one in this line, this size."
A small pair of boys, probably brothers, were racing around as their mom tried on shoes, and just as Dean turned, one smacked headlong into Sam. Or rather, Sam's groin. Sam wheezed softly and bent over. Dean, feeling some genuine sympathy this time, winced and grabbed his arm, holding him up while he recovered, because the last thing he needed was to face-plant on the shoe store floor on top of everything.
Didn't stop a very amorous teenager from trying to cozy up to him until her mom pulled her away with a poisonous glare at Sam. Or one of the salespeople from jabbing him in the back with a shoehorn. Or a splinter from the edge of the counter jamming itself into Sam's finger. It was with real relief that Dean saw the guy return with a box and ring him up.
He did wince at the amount, though. "Dude, could you get more expensive sneakers?"
Sam looked at him sheepishly, but that combined with his already present misery was just more than Dean could deal with right then, and he turned away, shaking his head, to sign the receipt.
Of course, the pen chose that moment to self-destruct and splatter Sam with ink.
Dropping him off in a motel room twenty minutes later—in new shoes—was a relief. Now Dean could go take care of Bela and end this. And meanwhile, even Sam wouldn't be able to get into much trouble sitting and not moving in an empty room…
Medical Supplies: $23.52
He and Bela had a little date later on that evening to discuss her shooting Sam and stealing their lottery tickets, but Dean needed to make a side trip first. Turned out cleaning gunshot wounds took up a lot of first aid supplies—something Sam knew more about than he, as per Dean's usual luck—and their kit was sadly depleted. Sam would need a bandage change when he finally woke up, and that meant vengeance could wait a little longer while Dean made sure his brother would be taken care of.
It wasn't overcompensating if there had been a total lack of compensating beforehand.
The pharmacy was a little mom-and-pop place, the kind of business Dean preferred even though he would never steal from one. The small private stores almost made him feel small-towny, though, not in the everybody's-keeping-secrets way, but in the sense of community, a sense he'd never really been a part of. The Winchesters had always been their own small community, now expanded to Bobby and Ellen and one or two others, reduced hugely by Dad. It wasn't much. Not like he would know what to do with an account at the grocery store and a "usual" at the diner, but Dean was willing to bet nobody in the small Connecticut town had ever had to patch up a bullet wound in their sibling in a motel room, or find the right ritual to break a deadly curse.
And while he was wishing, a tiny puppy for the overgrown one back in their room would have been nice, too.
Dean shook his head and scooped up a basket by the door, throwing the middle-aged woman behind the counter an insincere smile as he headed down the aisles.
Stationery, women's products—he hurried past that one—deodorants. Actually, Sam was almost out, so Dean tossed one in the basket. Toothpaste wouldn't hurt, either. With a grin, Dean grabbed a tube of bubblegum-flavored. If Sammy was gonna act four, might as well indulge him. Besides, bubblegum always beat mint.
Finally, first aid products, and there he slowed. Sterile gauze, check. Two rolls of bandages, and a new sling because Dean had gotten slime all over the other one through absolutely no fault of his own no matter what Sam said. They were okay on tape and Ace bandages, but Dean stopped to compare different antibiotic creams like someone with a couple of letters after his name. Maybe he wasn't all-around brilliant like his brother, but what he knew, what was important, he knew well. Two tubes joined the other items in the basket.
Heading back up to the counter, Dean noticed a rack of periodicals, including The Wall Street Journal. Pretty much useless for finding a new job, but they wouldn't be ready for one for a few days, anyway, and Sam liked to keep up with current events for some reason. Dean collected a paper, along with The New York Times for good measure.
The cashier rung him up with a kind smile. "Had a little accident?" she asked, arthritis-knotted fingers lingering over the gauze.
Dean shrugged, lies and acts coming easily. "My brother. He's been kinda accident-prone the last few days."
The woman chuckled, bagging his purchases, folding the newspapers and tucking them in the side. "Just the last few days, hmm?
Dean let himself join in on the joke, canting his head, grin lopsided as he handed over a pair of twenties. "Well, okay, since he's been walking. It just got a little ridiculous today."
"Good thing he has you, then," she said pleasantly as she handed over his change and the bag.
The words sunk like a stone in his gut. Yeah, good thing Sam had him. For about eleven more months, anyway. After that, curses, dad's secrets, demons out to get him, even, God help him, missing shoes, and the kid was on his own.
The woman was watching him politely, and Dean shook himself free, dredging up a smile for her. "Yeah. Good thing," he mumbled, and hurried out the door.
"I hope your brother will be all right," the woman called out after him.
Dean got in the car, dropping into the front seat, then leaning back heavily against the vinyl. With his head tipped back, it was hard to swallow.
"Yeah," he muttered to the roof of the car. "I hope he'll be, too."
Saturday morning was probably the worst time to go shopping, and as the second kid bumped against his knee, Dean remembered all over again how much he hated the activity when it didn't involve things that were sharp or explosive.
Then again, it was the first day when Sam really felt up for it, and if he kept recovering as he had been, they'd be on the road tomorrow. Which left Saturday to pick up some badly needed replacements for both their wardrobes. The town had a sizable Salvation Army store, and that had decided it.
Another collision, and Dean reached down to steady the kid before he fell back on his rear. Probably the same kid as the two times before, come to think of it, and the wide brown eyes that stared up at him reminded him momentarily of Sammy at that age. Then the four-or-so-year-old's mouth rounded in an O. "Jine," he breathed, and pulled away from Dean to retreat to his mom nearby.
"Right," Dean nodded sagely, "same here, kid."
Two fingers disappeared into the open mouth. Shades of Sammy again, and damn that rabbit's foot anyway for reducing Sam to a moptop, and Dean to an unwanted trip down memory lane.
A low, soft whistle brought his head up. Speaking of, Sam was holding up a black t-shirt, AC/DC emblazoned on it in lightning-sharp letters. Dean grinned and gave him a thumbs-up, and Sam smiled back. He tucked the shirt under his sling and kept looking.
Dean wandered on, moving past the jeans and blazers, finding himself in front of the jackets before he realized it. An idle paw through the rack soon became a more focused search; Sam had just gone through two jackets that week, first catching one on fire, then collecting a bullet hole in the other, not to mention the blood. Shaking his head—caught on fire? How screwed up was their life, anyway?—Dean pulled out a few possibilities to drape over top the rack.
Then his breath caught and died.
He almost checked the back of the jacket for a knife-slash and a pool of blood, except that he'd jammed the original into a trashcan weeks before and had left it several states behind. But otherwise, it was a perfect match to the one Sam had died in.
The whistle sounded again, just loud enough to cut through the hubbub of sound in the store, not enough to turn any heads but Dean's. He was slow to look this time, though, fingers cramped around the light-colored jacket.
Sam was frowning at him; he must have seen something in Dean's face. Sam looked a question at him, and Dean shook his head. His brother watched him a moment longer before accepting the answer and holding up another t-shirt.
Dean sputtered a laugh. The two frogs it depicted were kissing, but their simply being frogs was enough. Sam's ears were pink, his smile self-deprecating, and Dean would never be forgetting his brother's admission that the reason his apartment had been dotted with frogs was that Jess found them a turn-on. Dean shook his head in mock despair, and, with a snort, Sam grinned at him and put the shirt back.
Dean let go of the jacket and kept looking.
In all, he had a small pile of a half-dozen or so by the time he was done, and he started pulling them on one-by-one. The ones that fit him were put back, only sleeves that went down to his knuckles surviving the culling.
Sam wandered back to his side as he was trying on the second to last, a couple of t-shirts and a pair of jeans bunched in his hand. "Too big," he pronounced as he critically eyed the latest jacket.
"It's for you, doofus," Dean muttered, a little embarrassed at being caught trying on jackets for Sam, but the way his brother's eyes darted up appreciatively made it a little more tolerable. Besides, it wasn't like Sam could try on anything with that arm.
"This one," Sam finally said, tilting a chin at the dark windbreaker on top of the rack.
Dean nodded, grabbing it and stuffing the rest back on the rack. "You got everything else you need?"
They headed up to the cashier together, Sam with his button-downs and tees and jeans, Dean with the one jacket. That latter was actually what Dean had wanted to come for, even if he'd billed it to Sam as a general restocking run. Sam had other shirts and pants besides the ones he'd destroyed the last few days. Heck, the jeans he'd torn didn't look any different from some of their other pairs, at least once Dean had washed the blood out. And yeah, Sam also had an extra jacket or two, shoved somewhere deep in the Impala's trunk. But easing the blood-soaked one off his groaning sibling, then finding the burnt other stuffed into the bottom of Sam's bag, had bugged something inside Dean. Like proof he hadn't taken care of his brother like he should have. Or maybe just another stupid memory of trying to clothe the out-of-control weed when he was a preteen and growing an inch every month.
"Jine," came the shy whisper from his right, and Dean paused, finding the kid half-tucked behind his mom's legs.
He grinned, crouched down. "Hey, little guy. 'Jine' to you, too."
The large eyes moved to Sam, waiting behind Dean, then back to Dean's face. "Two jine."
Ah, giants. Dean snorted a laugh. "We're not so big. See?" He tilted his head so he was looking up at the boy.
A hesitant smile curved the kid's mouth.
Dean rested a hand on the dark hair, coarser and straighter than Sam's had ever been, then stood again, winking at the kid. He actually got a dimple for that one, even as the boy burrowed tighter into his mom.
"What was that about?" Sam asked with amusement as they again continued to the front of the store.
"Kid thought we were giants," Dean answered with a chuckle.
"You, too?" Sam asked innocently.
Dean elbowed him in his good side. "You'll always be a shrimp to me, Sammy."
But darned if that jacket that had hung off Dean like a scarecrow hadn't fit Sam just right.
One Alive, Healthy, Pain-in-the-Ass Little Brother: Priceless
Dean's eyes flicked to the door as it was wrestled open, doing a quick catalog: no injuries, smile on Sam's face, paper bags in his hand. Then Dean returned his attention to the television set.
"Yeah, don't let me interrupt your important TV watching to help me or anything," Sam muttered, dumping bags and a two-liter of Coke on the table behind the door.
"Dude, it's almost to the part with the farmer with his eyes eaten out." Dean sat up a little as, on-screen, Tippi Hedren timidly crept closer to the door.
Sam glanced at the TV, then shook his head. "You know, you'd think with the way you screamed when that owl dive-bombed you the other night, you wouldn't want to be watching The Birds."
"I didn't scream," Dean protested with a frown. "I was surprised. You try having a furry Buick make a kamikaze run at your head and see how calm you take it."
"What?" Dean tore his eyes away again to blink in confusion at his totally incomprehensible brother.
"Not fur, they have— Never mind. You want food or not? 'Cause I'm starving and I'm not saving you any."
"Yeah, just—" Dean's gaze swung back to the TV, just in time to catch a glimpse of the dead farmer before the camera turned back to a horrified Tippi. He scowled. "Great. You made me miss it."
"Sorry," Sam answered, so totally not, muffled around a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
Which, masticated, didn't look so much different from regular mashed potatoes, but Dean grimaced anyway. "Nice."
Sam grinned at him. Open-mouthed.
The next few minutes were mostly quiet, ominous Hitchcockian music in the background and food busily being devoured. Sam had brought corn chowder—they were in New England, after all—mashed potatoes and thick slabs of meatloaf with gravy, small containers of some amazingly good slaw, and, for dessert, a flaky pastry with cherries oozing out the sides. By some sort of unspoken mutual consent, he never got pie anymore, and in a quiet way that didn't need to be ruined by saying it, Dean appreciated it.
"So, back to Bobby's?" Sam asked after inhaling enough food to feed a small family.
"Yeah, figure we start in the morning," Dean answered, nodding. They were between jobs now, anyway, no sign of demonic activity, even the clouds and electrical storms that had first hovered after the gate had opened now long gone. Checking in with Bobby for the latest info and his progress on the Colt, and a few days of just hanging out, sounded good to Dean.
Heck, just spending time with Sam sounded good to Dean these days. He didn't know how much he'd remember in Hell, how much he could store, what he was even trying to brace himself to get through. But he was going to make as much as possible out of this last year, and savor every minute of it.
Which reminded him. Dean drew the bag close again and reached in for the pastry. Something soft brushed his fingers under the container, and after he pulled it out, he peered back in the bag with a frown.
Then yelped, dropping it onto the floor. It was quite possible he'd have gone for the nearest weapon if Sam hadn't been convulsing with laughter.
"Dude," Dean said in the most disgusted voice possible, which lost something of its effect when it shook. He prodded the rabbit's foot that had tumbled out onto the rug with the toe of his boot. "That's so not funny."
"So much for not screaming," Sam gasped after a minute, arm tucked around his middle as if it hurt from laughter.
"I told you, Chuckles, I don't scream," Dean said with dignity. "I just didn't expect m'brother to sink that low, that's all."
"Don't like the company, huh?" Sam managed between trailing fits of laughter.
Dean glowered at him.
Sam just smiled back, eyes alive, contented.
And, man, if that didn't make everything else manageable, 'least for the moment.
Dean would take it, at any price.