First appeared in A'Hunting We Will Go 1 (2007), from Agent With Style
Things That Go Bump in the Light
K Hanna Korossy
Dean was gone.
Sam hadn't been surprised to wake that morning to an empty bed beside his. Dean had gone out the night before to do a little drinking, ask some questions, maybe make a little money hustling pool. It wasn't unusual for him to stay out all night if he got a lead or found a girl. He would show up in the morning with breakfast and a smirk, and Sam would shake his head and laugh because that was his brother.
But he hadn't shown up, and morning was now hours away.
Sam prowled the motel room restlessly, casting glances at his laptop and his dad's journal as he passed them, as if they might provide answers. He'd already spent the morning researching the Wildman it seemed they were hunting, then writing a few notes on their last hunt, but he couldn't concentrate. Once more he found himself by the window, looking for any sign of the Impala and, again, finding none.
What if Dean was in trouble? Sam had been tired the night before, plagued by more nightmares than usual on the eve of the sixth-month anniversary since Jess's death. He hadn't given Dean's going out alone a second thought. His brother knew how to look after himself more than most people, and besides, he was going to a bar, not hunting. There shouldn't have been anything he couldn't handle easily.
So…what if Dean wasn't in trouble? Then what, he'd gone hunting on his own? Or taken off, leaving Sam behind in the Texas hinterlands? They had been arguing a lot lately, over Sam's nightmares, over Dad's continued silence, even over how they did the job. What if he'd just gotten tired of having his little brother along?
No. Sam didn't really believe that. Dean had changed a lot during the years they'd been apart, grown harder and more cynical, but the bond between them hadn't changed. It had just grown a little more…complicated. Okay, maybe a lot more complicated, but not so much that Sam had doubts concerning Dean's loyalty to him or whether his brother had deserted him.
Not on purpose, anyway.
Sam grabbed his jacket and pulled it on. Maybe Dean was shacked up with some girl or was chasing down a particularly tantalizing story and Sam would be intruding, but maybe he was in trouble, too, hurt or in over his head. Sam wasn't going to sit around and wait. If Dean didn't understand that, well, it wouldn't be the first time they didn't see eye-to-eye.
Most of their weapons were in the Impala's trunk, but Sam quickly gathered what they had in the room: the Colt in the nightstand, the knife under Dean's pillow, even the handful of salt packets Dean had stuffed into Sam's pocket at a recent rest stop, "just in case." It had made him laugh then, but that was a million miles away. He'd have felt better with the shotgun, especially if the Wildman was responsible for Dean's absence. But if he found his brother, he'd find the Impala. One last glance around the room, and Sam walked out the door.
This time he was going hunting alone.
For a small town, Champsfield had a lot of bars. Sam had walked to the three closest, using precious time striding up and down dusty streets, before he had any success.
"You're sure it was him?" he asked the bartender, trying not to sound excited. Unlike Dean, Sam believed in telling people the truth whenever possible, and he'd been honest about looking for his brother. That didn't include showing how much the information meant to him. It was always wise to hide your treasures…or was it your weaknesses?
The heavyset man scratched his beard as he gave Dean's picture a second look and nodded. "Yeah, he was in here last night. We don't get a lot of new faces, so he stuck out. Had some beer, shot some pool, nothing unusual."
Sam carefully tucked the picture into his pocket. "Do you know about when he left?"
Another pause of careful thought. He was obviously straining the bartender's brain. "Maybe around eleven? Was about two hours before we closed."
"Did anyone go with him?"
No thinking needed this time. The bartender's mouth stretched into a grin. "Oh, yeah. Shelley Marks. Your brother did real good for his first night out."
Sam gave him a sour look. "Thanks." If this was about Dean getting caught up with a girl and losing track of time…but, no, that didn't feel right. Dean liked female companionship, but two things always came first: the hunt, and Sam. He hadn't ditched both and gone missing for close to…eighteen hours just for a girl.
Sam shifted his feet, leaning fractionally closer, automatically drawing the bartender in.
"Can you tell me where Shelley lives?"
Shelley Marks wasn't home, but his knocking drew the attention of a neighbor, who told him she was working, secretary for a local attorney. Resigning himself to yet another walk, Sam turned and headed back toward the center of town.
He knew it was her the minute he stepped into the office. The bartender had been right, Shelley Marks was just the kind of girl Dean would've been drawn to: breathing, built, and not exactly bashful. She started flirting the moment she caught sight of Sam.
There was no one in the office, which was probably a good thing because what he had to say was better without an audience. Sam crossed to her desk, put his hands on either side of the blotter in front of her, and leaned into her space.
"My name's Sam Winchester, and I'm looking for my brother, Dean."
From that proximity, even as she pulled back, he could see her pale. "What're you talking about?" Her voice rose, teetering between fear and anger. It hardened any sympathy he might have had into steel resolve.
"The bar last night. People say they saw you leaving with Dean. Now," he gave her a charmless smile and got even cozier, "do I have to drag the police into this, or are you going to tell me what I want to know?" His voice never budged from polite tones, but he left no doubt of his seriousness.
Perfect eyelashes fluttered in distress. "Look, I don't know what happened to him, I don't."
Sam felt a wave of nausea. "Tell me what you know."
She was still trying to scoot away, but his glare had frozen them both into a tableau that could have probably gotten him arrested for assault if someone walked in on them just then. Shelley finally made a small, distressed noise. "We did leave together—we were going to go to my place in that cool car of his. But then Kenny and his boys came along and…"
Sam's jaw tightened. "What?"
"They, uh, took your brother. Just said they were going to take him for a ride, but… Look, people have been getting killed around here, people we know. Your brother's a stranger in town—Kenny was just a little suspicious."
"A little suspicious," Sam repeated flatly, finally pulling back a few inches. Time to make friends instead of enemies. "Did they hurt him?"
"Not that I saw. Well, not much. He didn't wanna go with them, but Kenny had about four guys along, so he didn't put up much of a fuss."
No, Dean was smarter than that. Usually. "And they took his car?"
A nod. "His car and Kenny's."
Sam's gut tightened. Two cars left, one comes back. He should have started looking earlier; who knew where Dean had ended up the night before and in what shape?
Actually, someone did. Sam narrowed his eyes at Shelley, and dispassionately saw her flinch. "Kenny who?"
"Kenny Mossberg. He works down the street at Florentine's Restaurant."
He nodded, straightened, started to turn away.
"I hope you find your brother."
It wasn't the if, it was the how that concerned him. "I will," Sam said, and walked out.
The restaurant where Mossberg worked as a busboy was thankfully just a block away. When a waiter pointed him out to Sam, his heart sank a little more. It wasn't the fifty or so pounds he had on Sam or the perpetually angry expression that dismayed him, but the sight of the black eye and the bruise trailing down Kenny's cheek. Dean could have autographed the guy's face and it wouldn't have been any more obviously his work.
Still, they weren't alone and Sam wouldn't do his brother much good if he got himself tossed in jail, so he approached Mossberg with a ten-dollar bill. "Can I talk to you a minute?"
Mossberg sized him up, plucked the bill out of his hand, and nodded at the kitchen.
They passed through the busy room, out the back door into an alleyway. Perfect. Sam's body sang with tension and dread, but only about what Mossberg would tell him, because Sam had no doubts he would talk.
"What do you want?"
"What did you do to Dean Winchester?" Sam asked calmly, almost pleasantly.
Kenny cursed, turning back to the door.
Sam went into motion.
Five seconds later, he asked again, not quite as nicely. "What did you do to Dean Winchester?"
It was probably a little hard to talk with his face mashed against a brick wall, but from the steady stream of invectives, Kenny was finding a way. "I dunno what you're talking about!" spilled out between the curses.
Sam bent Kenny's arm a little higher, increased pressure on his fingers, and asked again. "What did you do to Dean Winchester yesterday?"
"If you think I'm gonna tell you any—"
It would shock him later, when he actually thought about what he'd done. But right now, every minute of the dance they were doing was another minute Dean was alone and hurt in the gathering dark, and Sam wasn't thinking about anything else. He pressed a little harder, until one finger popped, bending a way it shouldn't have.
Mossberg let out a howl, muffled against the brick.
Sam ignored it. "What did you do to—"
"I'll tell you!" Kenny was crying. "I'll tell you, just stop."
Sam silently waited.
"He was askin' about the murders, so we took him out to Mardine's fenceline and tied him up so he could find out in person. That's all, I swear!"
He and Dean had read about the Mardines. The three murders had all occurred on the edge of their property. The two of them were supposed to go check the area out today, until Dean hadn't come back. Tied up? If it really was a Wildman, that would have left Dean a sitting duck.
No. A sacrifice.
Sam shoved Kenny a little harder, not caring when the man groaned. "Alive?"
"He was alive when we left him! Got himself a little beat up when he wouldn't do what we told him, but he was alive."
Was alive. And "a little beat up"? God, it was so casual. Dean's life was just a game to these jerks, when it was all Sam had left. He ground his teeth. "Where did you leave him?"
Kenny started babbling directions.
If the tables were turned and Dean were trying to find him, Sam had no doubt Kenny Mossberg would have ended up in the hospital after their little conversation. But for all his des-peration-borne pragmatism, Sam didn't have it in him. He suddenly felt heartsick and weary, giving Mossberg a shove toward the restaurant's back door. "Get out of here."
He didn't have to say it twice. Which was a good thing, because he didn't have the time. While he'd been walking all over town, Dean was beaten and bound, playing bait for a carniv-orous Wildman. He was so not going out at night without an escort ever again, and the first smile of the day tugged briefly at Sam's mouth as he considered what his big brother would have said to that.
Would say, because there was just no way Dean Winchester would go down like this, victim to a bunch of paranoid, small-town jackasses. Sam wondered absently if Mossberg's four friends looked even worse than he did.
There. He glanced around the restaurant parking lot, looking for the right mark, and found it in an unobtrusive little Ford. The recent murders had spurred people to lock their doors at night, but cars were another matter. Sam slid into it without hesitation, reaching under the dash. Hotwiring: just one of the skills John Winchester had made sure his sons acquired, although Sam had never agreed with that until now.
The Ford came to life. Sam turned out of the parking lot, driving as fast as he could without attracting attention to himself, heading toward the Mardine ranch.
Night had crept up on him. Sam stared out into the darkness and wished fervently he'd thought to either bring the flashlight from their room or pick one up in town, but he wasn't going back for it now. Besides, if he found the Impala…
The tightness in his chest had grown painful, making it hard to breathe around. It felt just like those first few days after Jess had died, when the grief was fresh and raw, and despair had settled in his body like silt. He refused to believe Dean was dead, but at the same time was so scared he was wrong, his fingers spasmed from it on the steering wheel. Exposure, Wildman, the beating…
On the other hand, Dean's determination, experience, and sheer stubbornness were no small counterbalance. The same Winchester intractability Sam had admired as a child, come to hate as a young adult, and finally grudgingly respected, was at least good at keeping Dean alive. If that was what it took, Sam would never complain about it again.
Well, at least for a few days, anyway.
The road to the Mardine ranch was marked with a small sign, and Sam turned right when he reached it, the small car bumping along on the dirt path. Kenny had said another road turned off the main driveway, into the trees. That was where they—
Sam almost missed it, swinging the Ford into a hard right as headlights found and swept past the turn-off. No Impala, or any car, was in sight, but the treeline was still a mile or so off. Sam floored the gas.
The fence swooped in to run alongside him on the left about halfway down the road, and Sam's attention sharpened. Kenny had talked about that, and Sam slowed to make sure he didn't miss anything. But there was nothing to see except the wire mesh, which seemed to veer right in front of him a few hundred feet down. Either the road ended, or it turned right to keep going along the fence just shy of the trees. As Sam followed its line with his eyes, light glinted briefly off metal.
He pushed the Ford to go faster.
And there it was, the approaching headlights illuminating the lines of the Impala tucked behind a tree. His heart hammered in his throat with the kind of fear he didn't usually feel on the job, not since the Wendigo had taken Dean. Sam smiled bitterly to himself at the realization that the only thing that seemed to scare him anymore was losing the last loved one he still really had. He wondered not for the first time if he would have sought Dean out after Jess died if his brother hadn't come to him first. If Sam hadn't died in the fire, too. He owed Dean his life in a lot of different ways, and would be happy to pay back one of them that night.
The Ford stopped in a puff of dirt next to the Impala—Dean would hate how dusty his baby had gotten—and Sam was already out the door, glancing over the muscle car. The keys were in the ignition. He grabbed them and wrestled the trunk open, collecting the shotgun, flashlight, and a blanket. Then he stood staring past the car, at the fence and the darkness and trees beyond it.
Crickets hesitated a moment before starting to chirp again. It was early spring and they shouldn't have been out yet, but the nights had been mild. Provided you wore a jacket, didn't stay out all night, weren't injured…
"Dean!" Sam yelled again, more frantically. He flicked the flashlight on and swung it along the line of fence as far as the light would reach, illuminating nothing but wire and scrub and dirt. If Mossberg had lied, he really would end up in the hospital, but Sam didn't think he had. Why leave the car here and not Dean? He walked closer to the fence, shining the flashlight on it again.
The rope blended into the dirt, and Sam almost missed it. But the light caught it a few feet away, and he crouched by the fence, reaching through to pick up the short length. Blood stained it, and as Sam peered closer at the wire fence, he could see a few dabs of maroon on it, also, and on the dirt below. Right next to a spot where grass was flattened and ground disturbed.
"Dean." Sam winced, lifting the flashlight to look along the length of the fence again. The disturbed ground continued, more obvious now that he was looking for it, following the line of the fence. Either the Wildman had come along to accept his sacrifice—although the rope showed no signs of cutting or biting—or Dean had gotten himself untied and, disoriented, had gone the wrong way. Sam rocked back on his heels to contemplate the fence that was nearly as high as he was. Or maybe he hadn't been disoriented, he just hadn't been able to make it over the fence and had gone to look for a way out. Yeah, Sam liked that explanation best. He set off along the fence line, alternating between scanning the length of fence beside him for more clues and following its length, looking for his brother.
And finally finding him.
It was just a shapeless lump ahead, but Sam increased his pace as soon as the flashlight picked it out of the gloom. By the time he could see the leather jacket and the one outstretched, jean-clad leg, Sam was running.
The figure jolted, and Sam's heart did, too. He was close enough now to see Dean's head rise, wobble, then sink down against his chest again. Frustration that his brother didn't know how close he was made Sam's eyes prick.
"Dean! It's me. Sam."
As he slid to his knees behind his brother, Dean lifted his head again, tilted it back against the fence between them, and to Sam's eternal gratitude and chagrin, actually grinned. Or at least tried to. "Sammy. What—"
"If you ask me 'what took you so long?' I'm leaving right now," Sam said flatly, plucking at Dean's jacket, skimming his hair through the gaps in the fence. Sam grimaced. "Hold on a minute."
He put the safety on the shotgun and tossed it over the fence, aimed away from Dean just in case, followed by the blanket. The flashlight Sam clamped between his teeth, then grabbed hold of the fence and climbed, dropping down on the other side.
Dean flinched away from his sudden arrival, and Sam slowed as he knelt and reached for him. Although Dean was watching him with what looked like lucidity, he still hadn't moved, and there was a resignation Sam didn't like in the one eye that wasn't swollen shut.
"What're you doing here?" Dean asked, tone almost conversational despite his hoarseness.
Sam shot him a look of disbelief. "What do you think I'm doing here? I thought you might need some help." His eyes passed over the tattered but only slightly bloody jeans as his hands skimmed Dean's side.
Who winced as Sam's fingers reached the swollen and hot skin stretched over injured ribs. "Don't know where you got that idea." Dean's breath caught.
Sam leaned in for a closer look. "So, you don't need help?" He tugged his brother's shirt up and saw with simmering anger the collection of foot-shaped bruises. He pressed his lips together.
"No, I was just sitting here. Thinking." Dean flinched again as Sam's fingers found a sensitive spot, and took an irritated swipe at him. "Moving a little fast, aren't you, honey?"
Despite the fear nestling in his gut and along his spine, Sam rolled his eyes. "Oh, I don't know, you sleep next to someone for a few years, you stop being shy. Does this hurt?"
Dean swallowed, dropping his head back against the fence and shaking it tightly. "Not bad. They're just cracked." He stared up. "I would've been fine, just couldn't get over the stupid fence. Who puts a fence in the middle of nowhere?"
"Ranchers," Sam said absently, skimming arms now and turning up bloody wrists. "So maybe I'll just give you a hand, since I'm already here, okay? What else hurts besides your ribs?"
"Try all over." Dean shifted, groaning, then pushed Sam's hands away again as they came up to support him. "S'okay, I get off on pain. Hey, how bad's my face? If they messed up my face…"
Sam slid a hand under the swollen jaw, trying not to press on anything that would hurt, but it looked like it all hurt. "You'd scare off the bride of Frankenstein right now, but it's mostly just swelling that'll go away in a few days," he soothed. And some impressive bruising, but Dean didn't need to know half his face was deep blue and purple. The gash behind his ear wouldn't leave visible marks, nor would the scrape above one eyebrow, but that brought Sam back down to Dean's eyes, which were doing their best to pretend nothing was wrong.
But he was shivering, weary, and, Sam realized with an internal grimace, dehydrated. First things first. He grabbed the blanket from the ground behind him and shook it out, tucking it as gently as possible around Dean's braced body. "Do we need to go to the hospital?"
"You're sure?" He gave his brother a serious look, and for once, Dean returned it.
"Yeah. I am." Because they unfortunately had enough experience with internal injuries to know.
Sam accepted the diagnosis with a nod. "Can you stand?"
"Stand? Yeah. Climb? Not so much."
"That's okay, I'll help." Which was about the most unnecessary thing he'd ever said in his life, but words felt jammed in his throat. Panic, grief, joy, relief tangled inside him. For all Dean's glibness, it didn't look like he was up to Sam trying to sort it out for him, anyway. There'd be time for the what-ifs and adrenalin withdrawal later, after he'd taken care of Dean.
Sam tried to lift him slowly, conscious of every grunt and stuttered breath, the bloodless fingers clamped onto the fence for support. Broken ribs were torture, impossible to keep still, grating with breathless pain at every movement and breath. They had to be screaming now, not to mention all the other bruises and aching muscles that had stiffened during the twenty or so hours Dean had been out there.
Dean choked back a groan, and swung up the arm on his uninjured side to clutch Sam's shoulder. With the added leverage, they finally got him swayingly to his feet. Sam leaned him against the fence and gave the wire mesh a speculative look. "I could cut through it with the bolt-cutter in the car…"
"Let's get out of here," Dean gritted out.
Sam sighed, nudging Dean up as his brother found handholds, trying to do the lifting for him. The blanket slipped off and they both ignored it, although Sam could have used the distraction from imagining what climbing was doing to Dean's ribs. His brother had all but stopped breathing, and his jaw was clenched so tightly to keep from making a sound that Sam half expected it to crack.
One more lunge, and Dean was balanced precariously on top.
"Hold on." Sam grabbed the shotgun, flashlight, and blanket, tossing them without a glance. Then he jumped and flipped himself over the fence as smoothly as possible. On the other side, he got his hands under Dean's back and leg. "Okay, I've got you."
Dean's fall was even less controlled than Sam had expected, his brother apparently just barely hanging on. Sam's own ribs strained as he worked to cushion the landing, with mixed success: Dean didn't land too hard, but he kept right on going, sinking to the ground at Sam's feet.
Sam went down with him, not liking the pallor under the bruising or the way Dean was trembling. He retrieved the blanket, wrapped it around his brother again, and gently tilted his chin up so that his head rested against the fence. Déjà vu on this side of the fence.
"Do we have to go to the hospital?" he repeated quietly.
The answer wasn't immediate this time, Dean both taking longer to process the question and to take stock of himself, but Sam trusted the "No" he got all the more for it.
"I'm gonna bring the car over. Don't go anywhere."
Dean glared at him. "Very funny."
Sam smiled, then darted off toward the Impala.
He drove it back, surprised again at just how far Dean had gotten, then did a 180 so the passenger-side door was within feet of his brother. He got out and jogged around the car to crouch beside Dean, struck anew at how really awful he looked. Then Dean grinned at him, and there was suddenly a relieved lump in Sam's throat. He wondered how he could have thought even for a moment that Dean would've run out on him. But all Sam said was, "Ready?"
A terse nod, and Dean wound an arm around his neck again as Sam did most of the lifting, easing him into the car. Dean sank back against the seat, eyes closed, breaths short and sharp. He looked fragile. That concept didn't fit into Sam's world so he dismissed it, shutting the door gently and racing back to the driver's side.
He drove a lot more slowly and carefully this time.
Dean's eyes opened after a minute, watching the darkness pass with dull eyes. "How'd you get here?" he finally asked.
How'd he find Dean, or how'd he get out to him, Sam wondered. "Found your girl from last night. She introduced me to your new friends. Then I, uh, borrowed a car."
Dean's head turned enough so he could see Sam out of his good right eye. "Borrowed?"
"Don't say it," Sam warned.
"What, that you've made me proud?" Dean coughed, paling as he wrapped an arm around his ribs. Belatedly, Sam realized that while he'd automatically grabbed the shotgun, the blanket and flashlight were still on the ground by the fence. He turned the heater on and leaned under the seat to grab a bottle of water, handing it to Dean.
"Why did they do this?" he finally asked the question foremost in his mind.
Dean shrugged one-shouldered, sounding almost philosophical. "Small town, three murders, strangers. It's happened before." He was struggling to open the water bottle without being obvious about it.
Without looking over, Sam pulled out another bottle, opened it and took a swig, then passed it to Dean. "Yeah, well, if you ask me, the real monsters here are the people, not the Wildman."
"You got your germs all over it," Dean grumbled, but took a long drink. "You were right, it is a Wildman."
Sam glanced over sharply. "How do you know?"
"Smaller than a Yeti, red-brown fur, goes on all fours sometimes."
"You saw it?" Sam asked, his attention more on Dean than on the road now and illogically panicking anew.
Again that carefully nonchalant shrug. "Smelled me and kept right on going. I guess my yelling freaked it out."
More likely it had just eaten, but if believing that helped Dean sleep at night… Sam wasn't sure he was going to, though. Or if he could ever really understand what those last twenty-four hours had been like for his brother.
"Don't know how a Wildman got here, anyway," Dean continued muzzily. "Those things mostly show up in China."
Detachment, the way they usually dealt with things. Talking about everything except the most obvious. Sam swallowed. "You could've been killed. I thought you were dead, not coming back…"
Silence. He could feel Dean's concentration sharpen, and the energy that took. This wasn't the time to be talking about this, except that Sam felt like either the steering wheel or his fingers would crack from the pressure soon, which reminded him of Kenny. He was starting to feel sick. Each glimpse of Dean's bruised face didn't help, either.
Dean cleared his throat. "You thought I took off without you?"
Sam winced, taking the turn back to the main road automatically. "It crossed my mind." And although he wouldn't have lied, he knew the moment he'd said it that he'd hurt Dean in a way Mossberg and his band of half-wits hadn't been able to. "No," he added quietly. "Not really. I know you better than that."
Dean stared out the window a while longer, before leaning his head back. "I'm gonna grab a nap until we get back. Didn't sleep much last night."
Apparently, they weren't going to talk about it now, either. Sam just nodded.
The return trip was faster, despite Sam's care. At the motel, he half-carried his groggy brother inside, stripping Dean of bloody clothes and cleaning the cuts, applying heat packs to the worst of the bruises, then tucking him into bed. Dean was enough out of it that he didn't protest the "fussing," for which Sam was grateful. It made him feel better to be able to do something.
His brother was safe in bed, no thanks to the people they'd risked their lives to help.
Dean wasn't easy to rattle, but fighting supernaturals was a lot different than being attacked by a monster of the human variety. And he'd faced them alone, too, wondering if Sam would find him, maybe if he'd even look for him or just assume the worst…
Sam gave a brittle laugh. So that was where that question had come from. And he hadn't exactly set Dean's mind at ease about it, had he? How was it they could trust each other with their lives but not their insecurities?
Dean shifted in his sleep, groaning. He usually slept on his stomach, but the ribs had made that impossible. Sam got up and eased him back onto his side, then moved to sit down again and continue his watch.
"Since you're up, you wanna get me some water?"
He smiled. "Sure." There was already a cup by the bed, but he refilled it. Dean was asleep when he returned, and Sam roused him enough to drink. Going to the bathroom wouldn't be much fun the next few days, but dehydration even less so.
Then Sam sat back and kept watching, and thinking, until he slipped into sleep without even realizing it.
Dean was still dead to the world when the morning light woke Sam. As he stretched aching muscles, he noticed exhaustion had won out and his brother had ended up on his back. Sam washed up and changed in near complete silence, then went out to collect a paper and some food.
He'd read most of the paper and polished off his breakfast sandwich and coffee before Dean finally stirred, blinking at him from across the room.
"Your brother, Sam," Sam listed succinctly, "Champsfield, Texas; April first, 2006."
"I was hoping for Kirsten Dunst." Dean dropped back to the pillow with a groan.
Sam's eyebrow went up. "Really? Kirsten Dunst?"
"Shut up." Dean rolled slowly and painfully onto his good side and pushed himself up.
Sam stood, ready if he was needed, but didn't move closer, big brother image and all. He didn't care about that, but Dean did.
Dean wasn't rising to go to the bathroom. He reached for his bag, propped on the chair next to his bed.
Sam frowned. "What're you doing?"
"I'm getting dressed, what does it look like I'm doing? Jeez, Sam, you get hit in the head yesterday, too?"
"I mean," he said with exaggerated patience, "why are you getting dressed? You need more rest, and we don't have to leave yet."
"What, you take care of the Wildman while I was sleeping?" Dean froze, gaze piercing Sam. "You didn't, did you?"
He shook his head in frustration. "No, I didn't go anywhere. Dean, they almost killed you."
Dean was shrugging into his shirt one-armed, the other wrapped around his ribs. "Who, those punks? That wasn't so bad, and it doesn't change the fact we've got a creature running around killing people."
"Forget the Wildman! Let them deal with it if they're so good at ganging up on things."
Dean stopped dressing to stare at him. "Dude, you're scaring me here—usually you're the one who's all about the self-sacrifice and helping people."
"Yeah, well, strangely enough, I don't feel like helping people who try to kill my brother."
Something softened in Dean's face. "They were scared and stupid, Sam."
"They were cruel, Dean."
A flash in his brother's eyes, and Dean went back to wrestling with the shirt. "So, you just wanna leave them to it? Somehow, I don't think the Wildman's gonna stick to attacking the guys who strung me out there, little brother."
Sam gave an exasperated huff, strode over to the bed, and fixed the shirt, pulling it over Dean's head and helping him thread an arm through. His brother gave him a wary look, but didn't say anything.
Sam returned to the chair, sat down, and dropped his face in his hands. He listened to Dean's uneven breathing as his brother eased into his jeans, and the puff of frustration as he finally gave up on socks and shoes. Sam sighed. "Okay, I'll take care of the Wildman, but only if you stay here and rest."
"No deal," Dean answered without hesitation.
"Fine, then you go after it by yourself, see how far you get."
"About as far you're gonna get without the car."
Dean did, too. "That's not what I— Listen, I am not leaving you behind, Sam, okay? So just forget about that. No matter how annoying you get, that's never gonna happen. I might take a swing at you, but I'm not going to take off without you."
He couldn't promise that, not without being immortal, and Sam's thoughts must have been more transparent than usual because Dean sighed.
Sam shook his head. "That's the deal, Dean—you stay, I'll take care of the Wildman." He leaned forward. "It's not really fast or hard to kill, you know that. I know what to look for and where. I'll be fine."
Dean glared silently at him.
Sam took that as a yes. "Might take me a while to find it, so don't worry, okay? I'll bring back dinner."
"Take your cell."
"I am." He also slipped something else into his jacket.
"Use the shotgun—it's loaded with buckshot."
He nodded, pocketing Dean's knife from the night before, too.
"Don't do anything stupid. If it's got you in a bad spot, get out of there and we'll take care of it later."
Sam gave him a look. "Are you done? I'm not exactly new at this."
"Hunting alone's different than hunting with someone, Sam. You've gotta have eyes in the back of your head." Dean was somewhat reluctantly easing back against the headboard. Sam stopped as he passed the bed to pick up the dropped covers and toss them back over his brother.
"I'll be okay," Sam promised earnestly.
"You better be." Combination threat, vow, and self-reassurance, and typical of his big brother. Sam smiled at him, got an exasperated look in return, then for the second time in as many days went out to hunt alone with a heavy heart.
The ease of the job would have mollified even Dean. The Wildman's tracks weren't hard to find in the light, and Sam followed them into the trees, looking for a place where it could have gone to ground. He found the rough pile of rotting and overhung tree limbs without too much trouble, and the ball of red-brown fur tucked inside. Sam stepped back and raised the shotgun to his shoulder. He sighted…then lowered it. Instead, Sam gave a sharp whistle.
The Wildman started awake, long limbs flailing, and jumped to its feet. Upright, it was taller than Sam, and had a feral face. Even as Sam stared at it evenly, it bared its teeth, sharp and stained. The thought of that thing sniffing around Dean made Sam grow cold.
This time he didn't hesitate to shoot.
He left the body there to molder. It would just be another mystery if it was found, probably starting a new local legend or two, but at least the killings would stop. Sam nudged the carcass with one foot. Satisfied, he turned and walked back to the Impala, giving the abandoned Ford a faint grimace as he passed it.
Sam swung by Kenny's restaurant next, leaving a gift in the guy's back seat. After that, he stopped at the deli he'd spotted during his walk the day before and ordered sandwiches and drinks, adding some chocolate cupcakes for Dean. Then it was back to the motel.
He'd left the shades drawn, and the room was dim. Dean was uncomfortably asleep against the headboard, apparently determined to wait up for him. Sam shook his head, woke his brother long enough to tell him he was back and get him flat again, then pulled up a chair and a book and read until he got sleepy.
That was one good thing about sandwiches; they would keep.
Dean woke with a jerk and a hiss, his arm clutching at his ribs as Sam's head shot up.
Sam recognized a nightmare from vast personal experience and raised an eyebrow. "You wanna talk about it?"
"You wanna talk about yours?" Dean shot back.
Sam's mouth twisted. He was always amused at how his "no chick-flick moments" brother seemed so willing to discuss what was eating at Sam. Touched him, too, when he wasn't busy being annoyed by it. "I brought food," he said.
Dean still moved by painful degrees. Sam watched him out of the corner of an eye while unpacking the sandwiches.
He chewed on his lip. "I've been thinking…"
"I thought we talked about that," Dean said distractedly, standing with the help of a chair.
"Would you be quiet and listen? The Wildman's gone and we don't have a new job yet—maybe we should take a few days off."
His brother gave him a hard look. "I can handle it."
"Yeah, I can see that," Sam said dryly. Then, to skip the inevitable argument, "It's not that. I just…I think we need some time off. We both need some sleep, and I wouldn't mind reading something that doesn't have to do with monsters and spirits for once. We don't even get weekends on this job, Dean."
His brother was looking at him speculatively. "You wanna stick around here?"
"No." Yeah, he'd said that too fast. "I was thinking maybe Austin, actually—get a little culture, lose ourselves in a big city…"
"…No good ol' boys coming after us," Dean tossed in.
Sam shook his head. "They're not coming after us again."
"What aren't you telling me, Sam?" Dean had made it to the other chair at the small table and sank into it with ill-disguised relief, but had paused now to narrow his eyes at Sam.
"I stole a car and I was a little too busy to wipe it for prints—isn't that enough?"
"Sure, but is that it?" Dean took the sandwich and pop Sam offered.
And nearly choked on a mouthful at Sam's quiet, "I sorta broke Kenny's finger to make him talk."
"Are you serious?"
Sam nodded reluctantly.
"Bro, that's, uh…" Dean's excitement ebbed. "That's so not you. More like me, actually."
Sam stared at his sandwich.
A long silence followed. Then a foot nudged his. "Okay. Vacation—sounds good. We get some sleep, you tell me about the dreams—"
"—you go to some plays and libraries, I'll find a car show or something, maybe a blonde car show groupie—"
"Do the words 'cracked ribs' mean anything at all to you?"
"—it'll be great."
Sam gave an exasperated sigh. "Are you doing this for me or you?"
Dean looked at him steadily. "Does it matter?"
Good point. Dean probably wanted to get out of Champsfield as badly as he did, but the lines between what he and Dean needed had blurred a lot those last few months. Dean's welfare, like his search for Dad, had become Sam's own. The worry in his big brother's face after the nightmares was too obvious to doubt it went both ways. Apparently they were stuck with each other for the duration, but that was still just starting to sink in. But since Dean was leery of outright promises like the one he'd made to Sam, Sam had to find other ways to say it.
"No." He shook his head and gave Dean a small smile. "It doesn't matter."
He got a slow, suspicious nod in response, Dean knowing he'd missed something but not about to ask. Sam contentedly ignored him and bit into his sandwich.
A half-hour later, they were packing, or rather, he was packing while Dean restlessly watched. Dean frowned as Sam folded the last of his clothes into the duffel. "Where'd my shirt go?"
"The one I was wearing the other night."
"The torn one with the blood on it?" Sam asked with just a little sarcasm.
"Hey, it was salvageable."
"It's in the back of Kenny Mossberg's car. You want it, you can go get it." He didn't look at Dean as he said it, just stonily kept packing.
"What, you called the cops on him?"
"Maybe," he said, knowing he sounded like a defiant kid and not caring. Without a report from Dean, nothing would come of the shirt, but it would make Kenny's life miserable for a while and that had been worth the trouble.
Sam expected some retort, biting and funny and acid on his exposed nerves because he still saw Dean lying against that fence every time he left his concentration slip. None came. Sam finally looked up, sweeping hair out of his eyes to see the amusement in Dean's face.
There wasn't any. No teasing, either. Nothing but a look that made him blush, duck his head, and keep packing.
But as he loaded their stuff into the back and Dean into the front, Sam felt a lot better, the tightness in his chest easing for the first time since the morning before. Or maybe a lot longer than that and he just hadn't noticed, accustomed to the pain that had clung to him ever since Jess's death. He could actually take a deep breath now.
And it wasn't even because they left Champsfield in the dust behind them, Dean's music blaring in their wake.