Previously appeared in Hunting Trips 2 (2007), from Neon Rainbow Press (way before AHBL...)
K Hanna Korossy
Sam Winchester opened the motel door and examined the room before turning back. "Okay, Dean, let's get you inside."
He received no reply and, after two days, had almost stopped expecting one. But Dean came pliantly enough as Sam tugged at his arm, walking into the room with him. Sam glanced around again and finally pulled Dean over to the padded chair by the table.
"Sit down here and I'll get us something to eat, all right?"
The lack of response – the lack even of hearing – didn't stop him from talking and asking.
Dean safely settled, Sam dumped their bags onto the nearest bed and, working as he had so often those last two days to keep his emotions in check, he took stock of their situation and tried to figure out the next move. Food; after driving most of the day, they really needed food. Dean needed a bathroom break, and probably a shower soon. Sam had learned the hard way he needed to think about things like that now, but thankfully if he gave Dean a push in the right direction, his brother took care of the necessities himself. Wind him up and the machinery worked, there was just no one home inside the shell.
Sam's eyes stung again, and he squeezed the bridge of his nose with two fingers to make it go away.
Okay, food. He could do this.
Pizza was the easiest, delivered to their door. He could and had left Dean before, finding him in the exact same spot when he returned, but it wasn't Sam's first or even tenth choice. He paid the pizza guy out of their flagging funds – Dean's wallet – then settled with the box into the other chair, opposite his brother.
"Lunchtime, Dean," he said with a pathetic attempt at cheerfulness. Sam pulled out a piece and wrapped Dean's fingers around it, nudging it toward his mouth, and Dean began to eat.
Sam took out another piece he really didn't want, and chewed on it while he opened his journal.
"Okay. We're in Truman, Mississippi, now. I figure we're about four hundred miles from that thing, for the moment. Ian lives near here. I thought I'd go talk to him after we eat, see if he's heard anything from Dad. I can also pick up some more sanctified oil from him." He glanced up automatically for a reaction, quickly dropping his eyes at the blank look he got. "Uh… I thought I'd also call Caleb, see if he can tell me anything about this thing and how to beat it. How does that sound?"
Dean chewed silently.
Sam sighed. "Right. Dean, I really wish…" His mouth wobbled with a near grin. "…you would yell at me, or… make a stupid joke about all this, or something. Man, I wish…" He blew out a hard breath, rubbed his forehead. "Right, 'cause wishing's done us so much good before. I am gonna fix this, Dean, I swear, all right? I'm gonna figure it out soon."
Dean finished the last of his slice of pizza and sat, gaze on nothing.
Sam shook his head hopelessly and dug out another piece for him. He couldn't bear to sit there and watch what was left of his brother, though, and got up to unpack.
The salt came first, a circle around Dean where he sat and another around his bed. Which was the farthest from the door this time. Sam soaked the carpet with holy water in another ring inside that, watching the edge of the salt circle melt as it got wet. He then heaved himself to his feet and treated the doors and windows with similar wards, saying a prayer over each. It was the best he could do to protect Dean when he wasn't there and Dean couldn't protect himself. By the time he was done, Dean was ready for a third piece of pizza. Sam got him one, and trudged into the bathroom to take care of his own needs.
He helped Dean clean up afterward, then led him back to the beds, sitting him at the head. There, he crouched down, about a foot below Dean's line of sight, and gently grasped his chin and turned it downward. At least he could pretend the hazel eyes were looking at him now.
"I have to go out, but I'll be back, all right? I'm gonna find a way to get you back, Dean. But right now I just want you to sit here and wait for me, okay?" He had the motel card on him in case something happened to him, and he had left instructions at the front desk to clean the room in two days, if even his body didn't turn up. It was the best he could do to make sure his brother was looked after if he wasn't there to do it. "I'll be back soon," he promised anyway.
He couldn't hold the illusion. Dean's eyes were never that blank, not when he was furious with Sam, not when he was exhausted, not even the time he'd been possessed and a stranger had looked out of them. There was just nothing there despite the familiar façade, and Sam choked down tears again. Firming his jaw, he gave Dean's leg a pat and pushed himself up.
He didn't look back as he walked out of the room.
Ian McClellan was an old friend of their father, and Sam still remembered the grey clapboard house from childhood visits. He looked both ways before crossing the street, although it wasn't cars he was looking out for. His single-minded rush slowed, however, as he drew near and saw the door was ajar.
Suddenly wary, Sam crept to the side of the doorway and tried to peer inside. Nothing but darkness. He pressed his palm flat against the door and lightly pushed inward. It swung open without a sound and, with still no answers visible, Sam slipped inside.
The house looked and smelled much as he remembered it: fragrant cedar-paneled walls, gun oil smells from the trunks in nearly every room, the spartan look of a true hunter's home. Sam glanced into and cleared each room as he passed it, a gun now clenched familiarly in his hand.
It was waiting for him in the rear room, the one his father had trained with them in.
Ian McClellan was sprawled on the floor, neck clearly broken. Sam swallowed, glanced up from his body to the too-familiar figure standing over it, a small smile on its face.
"Samuel. How nice to see you again."
He stared at it with all his hatred. "How did you get here so fast?"
"Oh, I'm very efficient. You should know that by now. How's Dean?"
"You leave my brother out of this and deal with me."
"All right." The smile disappeared, and the face became as cruel as its owner. "Where's your father?"
"I don't know. We split up in Chicago and we haven't seen him since."
"Yes, that's what Dean said, too." The thing in human disguise moved around Ian as if he were litter to be avoided. "I didn't believe him."
"What did you do to him?" Sam asked, low and hard.
The smile was back. "To him? Nothing. I just… borrowed his soul for a little while. It's safe, I assure you. He'll get it back as soon as I have your father."
"That's not going to happen."
A shrug. "We'll see." And suddenly the thing was in motion, faster than Sam could react.
The gun was knocked effortlessly from his hand, and one blow sent him flying into the far wall. Sam slid down the surface, seeing stars.
A hand grabbed the front of his jacket and pulled him to his feet. Up close, he could smell the sulfur and see the flame in the almost-human eyes. "Would you trade your brother for your father?"
"No," he ground out, and wrenched himself free. "I'm not choosing." Sam ducked down to evade another sweep of the arm, but found it useless as unseen forces picked him up and slammed him bruisingly, first against the ceiling, then the floor. He tasted blood in his mouth and spat it out as he watched expensive shoes step into his line of sight.
"Sooner or later," the unruffled voice said above him, "you must." And then the shoes stepped over him, out of Sam's vision.
He gathered himself, flipped over onto his back, a knife already in his hand.
But the hallway was empty, only Ian's lifeless eyes staring at him from the room at the end.
Sam gathered himself up, shaking, and stumbled out the front door.
It took too long to get back to the motel. One arm numb, his knee wrenched, and his hands unable to stop trembling, Sam nevertheless broke speed limits in his desperation to see if Dean was safe.
The door was still locked, a good sign. Sam struggled with the key, breath coming in sharp pants, and finally wrenched it open hard enough that it banged against the closet behind it.
Dean didn't look up from where he sat on the far bed, right where Sam had left him.
The sudden adrenaline dump and various aches and pains threatened to fold Sam to the floor right there in the doorway. But he managed to shut the door behind him and clear the staggering few steps to the bed. There, he crawled up onto it, to where the figure he tried to pretend was Dean was sitting, but it was becoming harder and harder, and there didn't seem to be any answer on the horizon. Ian was dead, their father was gone, and Dean…
Sam dropped his head into his brother's lap, wrapped one arm around Dean's waist, and cried.
He woke to the smell of his brother and, for a moment, it felt like everything was all right.
And then he remembered.
Sam pushed himself up guiltily, glancing at the clock. Almost seven, and from the light outside, that meant a.m., not p.m. Dean dozed where he sat, his body responding to a cycle his head didn't recognize, uncomplaining at having stayed up all night. Wincing at stiffened muscles and a tweaking conscience, Sam stood and coaxed Dean to his feet to go to the bathroom, then brought him back and tucked him into bed. His brother instantly went back to sleep.
Sam watched him, heart breaking a little more at the sight because he could almost pretend it was Dean really sleeping.
God, he hated this. Dean would loathe it even more, but Sam truly, powerfully hated this.
Okay, he drew his hand over his raw face. Pity party over. Now what? The thing – demon, some part of Sam's mind conceded – was in town, probably knew where they were, and Sam still had no idea how to beat it. He was lacking in Dean's tactical skills, but it was time to lean on his strengths now and start figuring out what that thing was and how Sam could kill it ten ways to Sunday, preferably slowly and painfully. Sam gathered his laptop and went to sit on the other bed next to Dean's.
He'd done a lot of this research on Meg already, for all the good that had done. This… flunky knew about Chicago and was looking for their dad, apparently sent by the same master as Meg's, maybe the demon. And Meg hadn't been that easy to kill, if they'd killed her at all; Sam still had his doubts about that. It stood to reason this thing wouldn't be any easier.
He went past the usual research, the basic elements and rituals, and dug deeper, careful always to stay on this side of Good, because while nothing else could tempt him to the Dark like his brother at risk, Sam had learned the hard way from Sue Ann Granger the double-edged sword that was. He wouldn't bring Dean back only to have him find Sam was the shell now, twisted and unrecognizable. Sam would see them both dead first.
Lunch came and went. Sam brought back granola bars and soda from the vending machine down the hall and roused Dean to eat some with the leftover pizza. Then, reluctantly, he set the laptop aside and helped Dean wash up and change. There was no telling how long their current situation would last, even though Sam's heart was shattering a little more each day, and he wanted Dean to be as comfortable as possible. If… when… he got back.
Sam sat with his head in his hands for a long moment before finally going back to his research.
"Okay. Demons are hard to kill, right, but it can be done. Dad's gonna find a way to destroy the one that killed Mom and Jess, and this is just working for that one, so it's gotta be weaker. Which means we can find a way to kill it and get you back."
Dean's expression was serene at least in its blankness. Sam watched it for a moment before thinking wrenchingly how much worse this would be if his brother seemed in pain.
"But what if…?" Sam's voice softened, uncertain now. "What if killing it doesn't get you back? The… thing might need to undo what it did, or destroying it might mean destroying the only way you have to get back. What if I kill you, too?"
Dean offered no reassurance, or censure.
Sam swallowed, laughed huskily. "Right. It's not like you'd want to live this way, I know. I swear, Dean, I'll try to find a way to get you back, but… if I don't…" That promise didn't really need to be put into words.
The problem with research like this wasn't a lack of solutions, however, but rather a flood of them. So many rituals, so many chants, and only one of them might be right. Sometimes there was no way to know but to try, and most demons or creatures didn't stand around just waiting for you to hit on the right one. Sam took notes feverishly, prayed, and tried not to feel the hopelessness of the task.
"Okay, Dean, here's what I came up with." The clock showed 10:05, the streets outside long dark. Sam was tired, his throat scratching from a long day of one-sided conversation. "I found an ancient Church banishing ritual that seems to work on both the possessed and manifested demons, just in case." They never had figured out which Meg was. "It takes about ten minutes, so I haven't figured that part out yet—" There being no one to run distraction for him this time while he did his thing. "—but I figure it's a start, right?"
The blank look made his inchoate smile falter and fade. He didn't know how much longer he could stand it, yet not being with Dean seemed inconceivable.
"It also calls for olive tree ash and sanctified oil. I couldn't get any from Ian yesterday, but I think we still have some in the trunk, don't we?"
Yeah, like Dean would have ignored Sam crying all over him but would respond with what supplies they had in the Impala.
"I'm gonna go check." Sam rose from the bed. "I figure if I can treat some of the—"
It was in the doorway when he opened the door.
Sam instantly threw himself to one side, lunging for their weapons bag for all the good he knew it would do. He didn't even have that chance, though, as an inhumanly strong arm whipped out and grabbed him by the throat, wrenching him back front-and-center before the thing in their doorway.
"I've come for your answer."
"I'm… not choosing," he choked out.
One eyebrow curved and, with a small shrug, the demon tossed him across the room as if he were a wad of paper.
Sam hit hard, all oxygen slammed out of his body, and crumpled to the floor gasping. He felt broken, inside and out, as he pressed his cheek into the dirty carpet and tried to draw in some air.
The thing strolled casually over the treated doorway and toward Dean, who sat in oblivious waiting.
Panic gave him strength. Sam pushed himself up on tottering arms and somehow managed to gain his feet. He stood there, swaying, and glowered at this thing he'd rapidly come to despise. "You are not touching him again."
"Really?" It seemed to consider that a challenge and stood in contemplation a moment.
Sam didn't waste any time seeing what it came up with. He scooped up the knife lying on the table – an old habit of Dean's, leaving weapons around the room in case they were needed – and charged.
The reaction was more swift and severe this time. The arm that caught him in the face felt like it cracked bone, darkening his eyesight, and sent him crashing so hard into the table and chairs that Sam could not move afterward, body aglow with pain, needing all his concentration just to keep conscious. He managed a moan, which made the damned thing smile.
"So, you were saying?"
Sam closed his eyes, felt the sting of despair.
He opened them again almost immediately, not yet ready to quit. The creature had taken his silence as capitulation, and moved toward Dean again, just barely pausing at the circle of salt.
Sam's hand flopped and groped around beside him. The weapons bag had been on the table, he was sure of it…
It stepped over both rings. Its heels smoked as it touched the holy water, but that didn't seem to bother it any. The thing was in reaching distance of Dean now, and Sam had never so strongly willed his brother to move, react, something. But he was gone, already taken from Sam by the monster standing a few feet away, and, by God, Sam wasn't going to let it take any more.
His hand closed on metal. He closed his eyes and chanted a blessing under his breath, then reopened them.
"Hey," Sam croaked.
"Ready to decide?" it asked as it turned toward him, smile not faltering at the sight of the crossbow.
Sam aimed and let the quarrel fly.
It stopped an inch from the thing's face and hovered in mid-air. Even as Sam blinked in surprise, the evil smile widened. "I thought you were smarter than that. Ah well." The quarrel turned away by slow degrees.
No. He'd lost his brother already, the soul that made Dean who he was, and Sam complete. He wasn't losing the little he had left, and no way on earth by his own hands. No. Sam's desperation flared hot and white in him.
The quarrel jerked in the air, turned back to the creature it was meant for. Its smile melted at the sight as it struggled to regain control. But it couldn't, the quarrel soon hovering in front of its face once more.
And then Sam pushed.
The scream was deafening, as was the wind that filled the room, like a thousand angry bees. Blackness rolled through the room, as blinding as white light, and Sam caught glimpses of blood and gore and grotesque, squirming, dark things. And then it all faded, leaving silence and stillness and the two of them alone, Dean still unmoving on the bed, Sam's one clinging thread of consciousness unraveling fast.
Like the coda to their little horror story, the door clicked softly shut on their quiet room.
Sam's head dropped back to the carpet, and he blacked out.
He smelled Dean again when he woke, and this time the memory hurt.
"Sam? Come on, Sammy, wake up."
Or maybe he was dreaming, because that was Dean's voice, pitched just the right amount worried.
A hand chafed his cheek. "Sam, c'mon, naptime's over. Come back."
He frowned, and opened his eyes to blink, upside-down, into his brother's.
The mouth above him twisted into a painful smile. "Thank God. Dude, I was starting to wonder if you were in there."
Sam felt his face crumple, and squeezed his eyes shut.
"Sam! Sammy, what's wrong?" A quiet curse, and the legs beneath him started shifting. "Screw this, I'm calling an ambulance."
"No, wait." He had a hard time getting the words out, an even harder time sorting out his jumbled body and lifting one arm to grasp Dean's sleeve. His brother reached over to unhook his hand and grasp it. "I'm okay, I just need a… need a minute."
"Take your time," Dean said. "No rush. But then I want to know what happened, why you're looking at me like the Second Coming, and how come one minute I'm facing down some thing dressed up as a human in North Carolina, and the next, we're in some strange motel and you're on the floor looking like you went up against Tyson."
Sam stared at him, barely hearing the words, trying to absorb that Dean was back. He wasn't sure how that had happened, and the abrupt swing from hopelessness to having his brother there again left him breathless. But he couldn't forget those dead eyes, and Sam felt his own fill again with the memory.
"Aw, Sam." It was almost exasperation, but Dean had never begrudged him an emotional display for his own sake, and right now Sam was feeling every minute of loss of those last few days. A hand rubbed the underside of his jaw and waited for him to find his balance.
He didn't cry this time, not really, not with Dean right there and God, how did this happen? and everything starting to right itself. Sam just choked a little bit until he didn't feel like everything would shatter into a million pieces if he moved. Then he managed a weak smile for Dean's worried gaze, and tightened his grip on his brother's hand. "Help me up."
It took concentrated effort on both their parts to get him untangled from the last pieces of broken furniture and on his feet. He swayed a little, hung on to Dean, and tried not to remember his leading his brother around the last few days. Dean sat him down on the edge of a bed, and it took Sam a few seconds to realize it was the one farthest from the door. He snorted a laugh, getting a puzzled look for it, and leaned gingerly forward, feeling the flex of every aching muscle as he moved. "Hold on a minute," Dean said as he was about to start talking.
Sam traced the sure steps into the bathroom, so different from the shuffle of empty-Dean, then, frowning, out the door. Dean wasn't gone long, probably feeling the absence as much as he did, if the look in his eyes as he handed Sam the towel-wrapped ice was any indication. Taking care of him again; it hadn't taken long for the balance to shift back. Sam considered for a second what hurt worst, and settled the ice against his cheek.
Dean was watching his every move, too. "You gonna be all right, or do we need to find a doctor?"
We. God, he'd missed that. Sam shook his head, throat tight.
Dean waited in silence, trying to be patient when it was obvious he was full of questions.
Sam cleared his throat and started talking.
He watched the play of emotion across Dean's face as he did – confusion, fury, revulsion, empathy, embarrassment, pride – because he was hungry to see anything in place of the recent emptiness. When Dean turned away at the news about Ian, Sam reached out and turned his face back gently, feeling the déjà vu to the day before. Dean let him, and didn't look away again until Sam finished, brow beetled and eyes dark.
"So it's dead."
Sam nodded wearily. "Yeah."
"And you still don't know how you…?" A wave of the hand.
Sam snorted. "Besides you being in mortal danger? Uh-uh."
Dean didn't know what to do with that one, never did when the subject was how much he meant to Sam and things were still too shaky for Dean to make light of it. Instead, his gaze roamed the room awkwardly, skimming broken wood and the crossbow and Sam's notes scattered all over the place. Then they turned down toward himself, as if he suddenly realized he hadn't put those clothes on. That seemed to cross Dean's limits, and he jumped up. "I'm, uh, gonna go get some dinner for us, okay? I don't know what you were feeding me, but I'm starving."
Sam looked at him impassively.
Dean grimaced. "Do you need anything before I go?"
He shook his head, dropped his gaze back to the carpet. It still felt surreal, going from being completely responsible for Dean, to Dean being back and worrying over him. Sam closed his eyes, swayed a little from fatigue and hurt and lightheaded relief.
Strong hands gripped his arms and laid him down on the bed. "I think you'd better take a nap while I'm gone, Sam."
"I'm okay," he murmured, lifting an arm over his eyes. And the weird truth of it was, he was. Had been ever since he'd woken up to Dean waiting for him, in all the ways that mattered.
Dean patted down Sam's jacket pockets, finding the keys. "What state are we in, anyway?"
"Mississippi. Truman." But Dean wasn't moving away, and Sam finally dragged his eyes open out of sheer curiosity. "What?"
His brother was frowning. "You gonna be okay while I'm gone?"
What a loaded question that was. "I'll manage," Sam said wryly, then softened. "Just don't be gone long, all right?"
A silent nod. Dean got it. He patted Sam's side once more, and headed for the door.
His brother immediately turned back.
Sam's mouth turned up. "If you need help taking a shower when you get back, just let me know."
Dean's brow drew together and he muttered darkly as he went out, slamming the door behind him.
There. Sam lay back grinning. Now things were really back to normal.