Previously appeared in A'Hunting We Will Go (2007), from Agent With Style
K Hanna Korossy
Of everything their dad had warned them about, neither French fries nor hitmen had ever made the list.
Dean was in a bad mood, unhappy about some sound the Impala had started making as they reached the city limits. Sam had kept his teasing jibes to a very restrained handful, but even he knew that when Dean's eyes darkened to brown, retreat was the better part of valor. Sam had volunteered to go get dinner while Dean unpacked the car and prepared their armory. Cleaning guns and sharpening knives always cheered him up, and maybe he could even take a look at the car in the remaining daylight. Besides, Sam was starved, and French fries were the perfect snack while he walked back to their rooms. These were terrific, crispy and hot and salty, and he made a mental note of the place in case they ever came back that way. Sam popped another one in his mouth and chewed happily.
Nearly missing the sounds coming from next to the dry cleaners he was just passing.
Sam frowned, dropping a fry back into the bag and moving more stealthily to the corner of the building. It sounded like…a fight maybe, scuffles and grunts, then the unmistakable sound of fist meeting flesh. He peered into the gloom, trying to make out details and decide if it was worth interceding for. Dean would have walked off already, not wanting to get involved in anything that could get them in more trouble than their, er, night job already did. Not unless there was a girl involved, in which case Dean's strong sense of ethics would be awakened, if not the lust he would have had the world believe. Sam almost smiled at the thought, despite the circumstances.
But as his vision grew accustomed to the dim lighting, there was no girl to be seen, just several men. One stood watching coldly as two more beat on a fourth. Sam winced, juggling odds, risks, and how mad Dean would be.
As it turned out, he didn't have to decide. Even as he watched, the first man shifted his stance, then casually pulled out a silenced handgun and shot the battered fourth, twice. The man slumped silently to the ground.
Sam's breath caught in his throat.
And then the gunman looked up, and met his eyes.
Not good. Really not good. Sam dropped the food and ran.
There was a shout behind him, and pounding footsteps. He couldn't hear the gunshot, but felt a pluck at his sleeve, heard the zing of another too close to his face. This was bad, and if Dean would have been mad at Sam getting involved in a back-alley fight, he'd be absolutely enraged at Sam getting himself shot. He poured on a little more speed, long legs pumping, and felt more than heard his pursuers fade back.
Sam didn't dare risk even a glance back, just veered abruptly to the left, in between two other storefronts. Evasive action, go to ground, don't lead them back to Dean: this he had been trained for. At the end of the alley, he turned back toward the motel, but zigged a few more times on the way for good measure.
There was another shout somewhere, and Sam dropped into the shadow of a restaurant dumpster, becoming one with the dark. He concentrated on sucking air into abused lungs.
So not good.
But no footsteps followed the call, and it wasn't repeated. Sam waited a full five minutes, then started moving again, trading stealth now for speed.
It took another ten minutes to reach the motel, but there was no sign of pursuit the rest of the way. Sam glanced all around at the door, then unlocked it and slipped inside.
Dean glanced up from where he sat on the bed, polishing his knife, then did a double- take and set the knife aside. "What happened to you?"
Sam, spine pressed against the door for that moment, suddenly surged ahead and grabbed his duffel. "Dean, we have to go."
"What? Why? We just got here."
"I just…I'll explain on the way. Hurry."
Dean was already shoving weapons back into their case, but confusion and frustration were evident in his tone. "Would you care to tell me why we're leaving when we just paid for the night? Or do you just not like the décor?"
Sam stuck the laptop back in his satchel and cast a frantic gaze around the room to make sure he hadn't missed anything.
"Whoa, wait." Dean's tone had suddenly changed, drawing Sam's gaze to him. His brother's eyes narrowed as he advanced on Sam. Or rather, Sam's arm. "Are you bleeding?"
Surprised, Sam glanced down at the limb Dean was gently straightening. His jacket was a glossy dark red just above the elbow, and now that Dean mentioned it, the arm stung. Sam winced, fingering a round hole in the material. "It's just a graze, all right? Dean—"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. We have to go. Just…tie something around that until I can take a look at it, okay? And you'd better not have any more holes in you. As soon as we hit the car, you're telling me what's going on."
"I will," Sam swore, already wrapping one of Dean's unused cleaning rags around his arm. He reached for the satchel next, but Dean beat him to it with a scowl. Sam spared him a small smile, saw his brother's face soften fractionally in return, and grabbed his duffel with his good arm.
He did another visual sweep of the area as they went out to the car, and saw Dean notice and mimic the action. Sam's heart still thudded with adrenalin and fear, but there was only the hunt in Dean's eyes. Something had hurt Sam, and Dean was looking for something to hurt back. Sam couldn't help wonder sometimes if other siblings knew with such certainty as he did that their family would die or kill for them.
Dean took his bag and tossed it into the back with a nudge of Sam's ribs. "Get in."
Sam didn't need to be told twice, sliding into the passenger seat, fingers thrumming against his thigh until Dean joined him. Still no sign of the men from the alley, thank God.
The engine roared to life, and Dean pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward the nearest exit. "How far do we need to go?"
Sam took a deep breath. "We can't just leave. We haven't done the job—people are still dying."
Dean gave him a pointed look. "How far, Sam?"
"I think the other end of the city's enough."
Dean silently made the turn. Then, "So, what was it? Revenant? Ghoul?"
"Human," Sam murmured, and grimaced. His hand rubbed his arm absently.
Dean's gaze caught on that for a moment, then swung up to his face in disbelief. "Human? That's what we're running from, some yoked-up guy with a gun looking for an easy score? Sam—"
"Dean." He met his brother's eyes earnestly. "I saw him kill someone. Shot him in cold blood in an alley. I think he's some kind of hitman or something."
Dean was clearly trying to process that and having a hard time, although the car never faltered. "Wait, let me get this straight…you went out to get dinner and witnessed a hit? Guys in dark suits, guns with silencers, sleeping-with-the-fishes kind of hit?"
"He wasn't in a suit," Sam said, suddenly tired as the adrenalin flushed out of him. "And it was an alley—I don't think fish are going to be involved. But…yeah."
Dean's mouth opened, closed. "They saw you," he suddenly realized. Too-perceptive eyes raked over Sam. "They shot at you?"
"Yeah. I didn't realize I'd been hit until you said I was bleeding."
"Grazed," Dean amended tightly.
"Grazed," Sam reassured him.
Dean's jaw flexed, and he muttered a curse before slamming a palm down on the steering wheel. "You really know how to find trouble, little brother. I swear, Sam—forget the freaky visions: this is your real power. It's not enough we've gotta go up against every supernatural on the block. Now you've got humans…" Dean trailed off into a mutter.
Sam's arm throbbed and his head ached and the horror of what he'd just witnessed had his stomach clenched in a knot. He retreated wearily from his brother's anger and tucked his head against the frame and window of the car. "I'm sorry," he said, trying not to sound defensive.
Dean's eyes darted back to him, and even out of peripheral vision, Sam could see his brother's anger melt. Dean cleared his throat. "It's okay, Sammy," he said gruffly. "We'll figure something out."
"You realize I should've called the police already," Sam said quietly.
"You realize we can't do that," Dean shot back, dividing his attention now between Sam and the road. "You can't just walk into a police station and start talking. They're not going to take your word for this and thank you and go arrest the guy—they'll check you out, Sam, which means they'll check me out, which is gonna be tricky considering I'm supposed to be dead. And then there's ID-ing the guy and the trial and testifying—"
"I know, Dean," Sam interrupted irritably. "Pre-law, remember?"
Dean's face twitched. "All I'm saying is, you come forward with this, you're off the hunt for at least a year, if not more."
"So we just let the guy get away with it?"
"Dean, we can't kill—"
"I didn't say that, okay? I'm just… We have to be smart about this. Let's finish what we came for first—who knows, maybe they'll arrest the guy in the meantime even without you. They do that all the time without witnesses."
Sam sighed, rubbed his forehead. "Yeah, maybe." It wasn't an unreasonable hope, they just usually weren't that lucky. "We should call it in anonymously, though, before they do something with the body."
Dean glanced around, nodded at a nearby convenience store. "Payphone."
They stopped, and Sam shoved his door open. A handkerchief abruptly dangled in front of him. He glanced back at Dean.
Sam nodded, climbed out.
He could feel Dean's eyes on him as he made the call. He told the dispatcher what he'd seen, hesitating when she asked him his name. "I can't," Sam finally said, and saw his brother's shoulders come down an inch. Dean knew what he'd just said, and hadn't been sure what that would be until that moment. Sam didn't know what to think of either of those realizations. He hung up the phone, unwrapping the handkerchief from the receiver, and went out to rejoin his brother.
"It's done," was all he said, and Dean silently nodded and pulled out of the parking lot. They didn't say anything else until they reached the new motel.
Dean carried everything inside except for Sam's bag, then herded Sam toward the bathroom. Sam sat on the toilet seat and let his brother take care of the arm, peering with sluggish interest at the two new holes in it. A little more than a graze, but it looked like the bullet had traveled just under the skin, only skimming muscle. It hurt, especially when Dean disinfected it, but Sam had had worse, and was surprised when he swayed as he stood.
Dean caught and steadied him with that same intense silence, then escorted him out into the room and watched him sink down on the edge of the bed. "I guess dinner didn't make it, either, huh?" he finally asked, a tinge of his usual sardonic humor at long last making an appearance.
Sam shook his head. "I was a little busy running."
The corner of Dean's mouth turned up. "You hungry? There's a Dunkin' Donuts up the street."
Sam made a face. Even the fries were no longer sitting well in his stomach. He shook his head. "I think I'll just get some sleep."
Dean nodded soberly, and watched him climb into bed. He headed for the door, then hesitated and turned back. "He won't get away with it, Sammy, okay? I promise."
Apparently, he'd needed to hear that, because suddenly Sam could breathe a little easier. He nodded his gratitude and agreement. "'Night, Dean."
Sam smiled as he went to sleep.
Libraries really needed to get computerized. There was no excuse for a big city library to still be binding their newspapers in folios.
Yeah, and while he was wishing, it would be nice to have his degree, and Jess and his mom back.
Sam sighed, shoving aside the large binder and pulling the next one in front of him. Dean had opted for the easier job that day—checking death dates at city hall—claiming not incorrectly that it would involve more physical exertion and Sam needed to take it easy with his arm. The fact that it left Sam with the dullest and mentally most taxing work was entirely coincidental, of course. Ironically, the only paper he hadn't seen was that day's, but he suspected Dean had kept that one from him on purpose. Truth was, Sam wasn't so eager to find out who'd been killed in that alley, either, but his brother was protecting him as always. Sam smiled wryly as he flipped through the newsprint. Dean was so transparent sometimes, it was incredible he even tried.
And Sam wouldn't have changed a thing about him.
His phone started vibrating in his pocket, making him jump, and Sam pulled it out while his eyes scanned the pages. He glanced away once at the phone—Dean—then back at the paper while he answered the call.
"You get anything?"
"Do paper cuts count?"
"Occupational hazard, Sammy."
"Yeah? I never see you get any."
"Experience and skill."
Sam snorted. "Did you have any luck?"
"Maybe." Dean grew serious. "Each new death has been about a month after the previous one. Straight line through the family: dad, mom, then the kids."
It was the youngest child's death, a college student at the state university, that had caught their attention. "So it started with the dad?"
"Dad was the first in the chain, but his dad died about a year earlier."
"So?" Sam asked. "It doesn't sound like it's a part of this."
"I don't know." He could just see Dean shaking his head. "Grandpa died violently—hunting accident. Something about it just feels connected, Sam."
And Dean's instincts were usually good. "Okay, when did he die? I'll see if I can find anything."
Dean rattled off dates and details. Finally, "How's the arm?"
Sam smiled. "I'm taking it easy."
"Don't lift any heavy books—get a cute librarian to help you."
"Yeah, thanks, man. I should be done in about a half-hour."
"I'll meet you there." The briefest hesitation. "Watch your back, Sam."
"Bye, Dean," Sam said cheerfully, then glanced over the folio-laden table and sighed. Of course, he'd need to get some new binders now. Maybe he could find a cute librarian…
There was, after all, not much to learn about Zeke Chillum's death. A friend had shot him while they were out hunting, thinking him a bear, and the death had been ruled accidental and Zeke buried. It didn't say where, but Dean would have gotten that information.
Sam copied what little he did find into his journal, then smiled at the librarian—not exactly cute, at sixty-something, but she had definitely been sweet—and left, thumbing through his notes. There was no sign of the Impala in the library lot, but Sam was a few minutes early, and he headed toward the road to meet his brother on the way.
He wasn't even distracted this time and still didn't see it coming.
The man stepped out from between two vans, invisible until then. Sam saw the same dark hair and sharp nose he'd caught the night before, but his eyes were quickly drawn to the gun the man held. Trained on him.
"I don't like audiences, or snitches," the man growled in a voice an octave below Dean's, and motioned Sam toward the rear of the library.
Sam's eyes ticked around the lot again, willing Dean to show up, but his brother wasn't in sight. Neither was anyone else, for that matter, at least not close. Sam started to shrug the satchel off his shoulder, but the man shook his head once, motioning again with the gun, his intention clear: move or I'll shoot you where you stand. With the silencer, he'd probably get away with it, too.
Sam licked his lips and started moving. His footsteps covered the sound of his phone dropping behind him into the grass. It wasn't much, but he was praying it was enough.
The two other men were waiting in the shadowed alcove behind the library.
"I didn't call the police," Sam said.
"Yes, you did." A hard smile curled the gunman's mouth. "You just didn't give your name. It made it a lot harder to track you down, Samuel Winchester, but with enough resources, you can do anything. Like make a body disappear. Or two."
Sam shook his head, fear and nausea rising in his throat. "Look, there's no reason to do this, all right? I'm not going to the police, I'm not gonna identify you. I've got things to hide, too."
"Yes," the man said, stepping closer with an intrigued frown. "Just what is it you and your quite-alive brother drive around the country doing?"
Sam clenched his teeth together.
The man shrugged. "Oh, well, doesn't really matter. Still, we were just going to have a nice little chat, but since you're feeling stubborn, it's going to be the hard way." And he nodded to the men behind him.
Sam threw the satchel to one side and pulled his knife in one motion, falling into fighting stance.
And gasped when the bullet knocked the blade out his hand. He shook his hand loose, trying to get rid of the sting, and glared at the gunman.
The other two men closed in.
Sam could and had fought two-against-one before, and more. But there was only so much even a trained fighter could do at gunpoint. Any offensive motion was checked by a threatening lurch of the weapon, and defense couldn't last him forever. One hard slam against the concrete wall was enough to daze Sam, and he soon found himself on the ground. A hail of fists and feet quickly descended on his back, his stomach, his legs. The pain was lancing, and Sam curled around himself, trying to protect vulnerable areas.
A kick connected with his bad arm, making Sam groan. He balled up a little more, trembling with each blow as it shot streaks of pain up his limbs and rattled his skull. One cracked something in his hand, and Sam's eyes watered beneath closed lids. He couldn't take much of this, and as Sam considered and discarded each idea for escape, the little brother in him just wanted Dean.
Another kick rolled him over into a puddle of fetid water, and a hand pressed his face in it. His fear ratcheted higher, and Sam began to struggle, pushing up, crawling away. But he didn't have enough power nor leverage. His movements grew weaker as his vision dimmed, panic growing as awareness shrank. The hand let him up just before he would have passed out, and Sam tipped back onto his side, coughing weakly.
The man with dark hair loomed over him, gun still held in a casual grip. "Now, you don't say a word about what you saw," the kick threatened to turn his stomach inside out, "or heard," the agony from the blow to his gunshot wound exploded through his body, choking Sam, "or we're go—"
He braced himself for more, swallowing whimpers of pain. But nothing happened.
To him, anyway. There was the sound of scuffling, and the fleshy slap of a body hitting something hard. But it wasn't his body, and Sam pried his eyes open to see what was going on.
A shadow fell over him, and even as he cringed away, he recognized the heels of the boots that were inches from his face.
"You're not touching him again."
Dean's voice was low and horrible, and the sweetest thing Sam had ever heard.
The boots suddenly moved away, and the sounds of continued fighting filtered through Sam's haze. Stupid—they should have known not to cross Dean when he sounded like that. Sam would have laughed if it wouldn't have hurt so much. Every movement made him moan, and his stomach was burning so badly, Sam couldn't even tell if the nausea was still there. He rested his cheek against the cool cement, listening to Dean put the fear of Winchester into his attackers.
And the gunman? Sam jolted aware, pushing himself up on an elbow and looking around. Dark hair was fanned out on the ground not far from him, the figure it topped unmoving. There was no sign of the gun. Sam panted through the fireworks of pain from the exertion and stared at the man.
The sounds of the fight ended with a thud. The shadow and the boots quickly returned, and then Dean's hands were gentle on his face, tipping it up to look into it. "Sammy?"
He considered an "It's Sam" for old times' sake, because it made Dean laugh and he looked like he could use the reassurance, but the words wouldn't come. Instead, to his mortification, Sam felt his eyes fill again as the helplessness and fear and pain rushed him all at once.
The lines around Dean's eyes deepened for a moment, and he swept Sam's dripping bangs out of his eyes with a kindness that probably would have broken Sam's composure completely if it hadn't been coupled with, "I think we need to go over the watching-your-back lesson again, Sammy."
Sam actually laughed at that, if wetly and ending in a groan. Dean's hands tightened on him, one moving lower to check him out, the other returning soon to Sam's forehead. "My front, actually," Sam whispered. "He had a gun, Dean…"
"Yeah." His brother turned away a moment. "Had." Returning his attention to Sam, Dean paused to slip Sam's cellphone into his pocket and patted it, then continued his triage. He froze when Sam hissed as his hand was brushed. "Sam? Hospital?"
Sam tried to collect his scattered thoughts and pin down the pain that shuddered and throbbed through him. But it was too diffuse and his head too cloudy. He shook his head. "I don't…think so."
Sam looked up at him pleadingly. "Just get back me to the room, okay?"
Dean's mouth drew tight, but he nodded. He slid an arm under Sam's neck and carefully pulled up, pausing whenever Sam's breathing hitched. And it hurt, badly enough that the involuntary tears finally trickled out despite him, but nothing stabbing or vicious like he knew internal injuries to be. He'd made the right decision.
Dean didn't comment on the unmanly crying, but he did wrap an arm around him a little longer than was necessary for support. "Can you walk?" he asked near Sam's ear, and it was Sam's turn to nod. Still, he sagged against Dean's shoulder and let his brother do the rest: levering him to his feet, leading him out of the alley.
Sam stared at the gunman as they passed him. He was unconscious, one eye already swelling. Sam swallowed. "Dean."
"I've got it covered."
He let the matter go.
The car was welcome torture, pressing on new bruises but feeling safe. Sam nestled into the seat and watched through half-open eyes as Dean drove back to the motel. Slowly and gingerly, and again Sam felt a fond gratitude at his tough-guy brother's obvious worry and care. It might take torture—Sam's, not his own—for him to admit it, but Dean's actions always screamed what he rarely could say in words.
Sam finally sighed, ready to face the world again. "What're we going to do?"
"Get you cleaned up and let you rest." Dean eyed him in profile. "You look awful, Sam."
Sam puffed a laugh. "The other guys look worse."
"Yeah. They do," Dean said flatly. He inhaled, exhaled tension. "We can make another call. I left the gun nearby—maybe the police'll pick him up and put two and two together."
"Because they're so good at that," Sam said softly and with a cynicism that surprised even him.
Dean was watching him again. "Hey, I'm supposed to be the anti-establishment one, remember?"
Sam smiled faintly before sobering. "I can't let him get away with murder, Dean."
"We won't. We'll think of something."
He tried not to doubt that; Dean maybe had a little too much bravado and denial sometimes, but he never lied. Still, it was hard to repel the depression that settled over Sam's bruised body and spirit. For all the horrible things they saw in their line of work, at least they could do something about them. Human monsters, they had no wards or weapons for except a legal system Sam wanted to be a part of but that they usually had to work around and under. Even now, they couldn't play by its rules, even though they wanted to.
"Sammy." Dean's voice sounded threatening, and it jostled Sam out of his funk. "Stop thinking."
Sam smiled again despite himself. Maybe his life was a disaster, but at least he had Dean. His brother made up for an awful lot.
They reached the motel, and Sam rallied enough to make it into the room on his own steam and Dean's arm. Bed called, but he was dirty and bruised and bloody, and didn't protest when Dean led him to the bathroom again. "If I help you strip, you think you can manage a shower by yourself?" his brother asked him matter-of-factly, the only way to ask a question like that without embarrassing them both.
Sam nodded, and, within a few minutes, stood with face upturned into the stream of hot water. It stung the open scrapes and made his blood-stuffed nose even more congested, but it felt good on his battered face and body. Sam leaned against the wall and soaked.
A bang on the door finally roused him with a wince. "Sam? You better not be passed out in there."
"No," he called back, "I'm coming." He was reluctant to turn the water off, but considering his stagger out of the shower stall, it was probably time. Dean caught him at the door, helped him lug his aching body back to the bed.
Dean grabbed some boxers, knelt at his feet to get them around his ankles, then sat back to let Sam do the rest. His eyes passed clinically over Sam's body, cataloging damage, hardening at the sight of him. "Dude, we should just bury you in ice," he said with a shake of the head. But he was gentle as he brought the kit over and started to splint Sam's broken finger in silence.
He'd been silent a lot, in fact, those last two days, and a silent Dean was always a worry. It was an effort to keep awake, body and mind screaming for rest, but Sam shook himself and gazed down at the blond head bent over his hand. "Dean?"
"What if the police don't figure it out?"
A pause. Then, quietly, "I don't know."
Which was a huge admission from his brother right there. "We can't let him get away it."
"I know." No hesitation.
And that reassured him more than any of his brother's optimistic promises, because it meant Dean felt the same way. And Dean always fought for what he believed in.
Sam swayed, dozing for a second before he caught himself. Dean glanced up at him, then went back to work. "If they convict him, he gets the electric chair in this state," he offered almost off-handedly.
On the heels of wondering how his brother knew what the capital punishment laws were in that state, came realization of what Dean was really saying. The fog of fatigue evaporated.
"No," Sam said firmly.
"No, Dean. We're not killing a person."
Hazel eyes flashed a passionate green. "That person almost killed you today, Sam. How does that make him different from a monster?"
"Because we know he's different." Sam softened. "Dean, I don't like it, either, but this isn't our playing field, man. If we start being judge-and-jury for humans, where are we gonna stop, huh?"
Dean was listening, Sam could tell, but his face was still twisted in disagreement. "And if he kills you, Sam? Is that going too far? When does it stop being killing a human and start being self-defense?"
Sam's mouth moved for a minute. Then his fire bled away, leaving him drained. He swayed again, and felt Dean catch him by the shoulders and ease him down on the bed. "I don't know." Sam closed his eyes. "I don't know, I just…I can't live with that, Dean. Please. Not for me."
There was a hand on his forehead, and he recognized it more than he did his brother's voice. "I can't promise that," and as Sam shifted, trying to answer, Dean added, "but I'll try. And he's not getting another crack at you."
"Don't promise," Sam whispered, too tired to fight sleep any longer. "Don't promise what you can't…"
Dean's voice was right next to his ear, hoarse and fervent and rock-solid. "I promise, Sam."
It wasn't a bad thought to go to sleep on.
Sam was sitting in the motel room chair rubbing his forehead and cursing life in general when the lock rattled and the door opened. He tensed, fingers curling around the handgun on the table, and only relaxed when Dean walked in, juggling papers and a cup.
His brother's eyes flicked down to the gun and then up to him, never changing expression. "Well, you look…colorful. And only half-dead. Improvement from yesterday."
"Where have you been?"
"Brought you something." At Sam's uncertain look, Dean added, "'Cause I'm such an awesome brother."
"Is that coffee?"
Dean grinned and set a cup in front of him, and Sam latched onto it greedily. It wasn't coffee, actually, but the tea felt even better, soothing while it kicked his brain awake.
It took several swallows before he could tear himself away and search Dean's face again. "Where have you been?" Sam repeated. There had been a note on the nightstand between their beds, but it had said just enough to reassure Sam his brother had left of his own free will and was coming back, not anything useful. Nor a guarantee Dean wouldn't run into trouble while he was gone.
"Police station," Dean said succinctly, thumbing through the pile of papers he'd brought, then looked up before Sam had a chance to do more than open his mouth. "Relax, I didn't tell them anything. Just charmed—"
"—my way into their records for a while. I thought we should know a little more about your friend."
"He's not my friend," Sam said bitterly.
"Cops didn't take the hint and pick him or the gun up last night, but I did find this." Dean pulled out a sheet of paper and reached it over. Sam took it, giving it a glance, then a harder look, and sucked in a breath at the mug shot.
"Yeah." Dean nodded. "Found him in the computer. Look at the dude's rap sheet."
He did, eyes widening at the list of crimes. "Assault, attempted murder, conspiracy, racketeering?"
"Now check out the 'known associates'." His brother sounded oddly subdued.
Sam obeyed, frowning. "Am I supposed to know who these are?"
Dean's mouth stretched into an almost amused smile. "And you're supposed to be the smart one, pre-law and all. The Godfather ring any bells?"
Sam groaned. "Mob?"
"Got it in one." Dean nodded.
"Hey, the good news is, these guys disappear and get killed all the time. It wouldn't—"
"No, Dean," he said wearily.
There was a mutter of discontent from across the room, but Dean dropped it. As the moment of silence stretched, Sam looked up to find his brother appraising him.
"How're you feeling? You up to going out?"
"Kid's funeral is today—thought we'd go mingle."
"Sounds fun," Sam said woodenly. "I'm fine."
"Yeah." Dean didn't sound too skeptical. "Right."
"What're we gonna do about him?" Sam asked, nodding at the police record he'd set on the table.
Dean shrugged. "Same thing we have been—keep our eyes open and watch our backs."
"Yeah, 'cause that's worked really well so far."
Another smile from Dean, the snake-oil one he used for voluptuous women and dense cops. "This time it's gonna be different."
Sam found himself smiling a little. "Yeah? Why?"
A tip of the head as Dean ushered him out the door. "I'll be watching your back, too."
They skipped the funeral and went straight to the wake.
Sam moved like an old man, and his discolored face drew every eye to him. Dean, being Dean, used that to their advantage, sneaking in questions while people were distracted looking at his brother. All while staying discretely at Sam's elbow to steady him every time he wobbled. The solicitous presence at his side reminded Sam unexpectedly of Jess, and lodged a lump in his throat.
He listened with divided attention to the conversations Dean was having. It was important stuff, but Sam found his eyes wandering again and again to the yard and trees around them, looking for a flash of dark hair or a hooked nose. He'd caught Dean doing the same thing, only a lot more subtly, and his brother's body hummed with a tension only Sam could see. But Dean kept talking, and Sam tried to pay attention. His brother was good at the people part of his job when he wanted to be, and Sam was very willing to leave it to him this time.
But the kid—Chris—had died of apparently natural causes, a heart condition no one had known about. The family, what was left of it, was saddened but not suspicious, and there was little to tell. Sam finally caught his brother's eye and nodded to a row of chairs, and Dean gave him a minute nod in return. Sam limped over and eased himself down, and resumed studying the trees.
Two chairs down sat a kid in a suit with an iPod clutched in his hand, head bouncing to whatever was playing through the headphones. Sam watched him with a small smile, remembering a much younger Dean. Of course, that was before Dean had converted his walkman into an EMF detector, and…hadn't he pushed that at Sam as they'd geared up that morning? Sam checked his pockets, awkward with the broken finger, finding his handgun and a flask of holy water before he finally closed on the homemade device. Wouldn't hurt, right?
He glanced around again, looking for more benign prying eyes this time, and pulled the detector out. Sam turned the volume down and flicked the switch on, and blinked as the row of lights immediately lit up.
Okay. Hadn't expected that one.
Either the movement or the lights had caught Dean's attention, although Sam knew his brother had been keeping an eye on him anyway, and his expression of surprise matched Sam's. He nodded at Dean, getting a nod back: Dean agreed he should go look around. Sam pushed himself up with a wince and a faint moan, and started working the crowd, detector clenched unobtrusively in one hand.
They had hypothesized, before the mob had interrupted, on possible causes for the death of the whole Chillum family. Dean had been leaning toward a curse, while Sam had thought maybe a revenant that had latched onto them. The latter would make the meter react, but the immediate family was dead, its last member buried. Why would the revenant still be around… unless it had moved on to the next closest family member.
Sam kept moving, checking readings while heading back toward Dean. He was almost there when the meter suddenly brightened to its highest setting, every single light on it glowing brightly. Sam looked up, staring at the middle-aged man a few steps away, noting every bland detail.
"Got something?" Dean's question was a crawl of warm air on the back of Sam's neck.
"The meter's going crazy on this guy." Sam nudged his chin up an inch.
"Him?" He could hear Dean's frown, and he turned halfway back to see his brother.
"You know him?"
"Friend of the family." Not related by blood, which meant neither a revenant nor a familial curse. Sam made a face as Dean continued. "Rick Something-or-other. He's inheriting the family place."
Sam's mouth snapped shut audibly and he stared at Dean.
Whose eyes lit up a second later. "Inheritance?"
"Cursed object," Sam breathed. "Probably from the grandfather, violent death and all. Something Rick's got on him."
"Huh." Dean studied the guy. "Guess in this family it pays to be written out of the will. We should pay Ricky a visit tonight."
Dean gripped his arm. "Let's get out of here. You look like you're about to hurl."
Yeah, he loved his brother.
It wasn't hard to get "Rick's" full name or address. Nightfall found the two hunters parked down the street from the Ebersole home, waiting until the lights went out.
"You sure you don't want me to go in with you?" Sam asked, fidgeting as he tried to find a comfortable position.
"Dude, it's a quick B&E, and you can't even climb stairs. I'll be fine." Dean's eyes narrowed as they looked at him. "You gonna be okay until I get back?"
He sighed. "Yes, Dean, I think the gun and shotgun and hunting knife and mace you left me will be enough to handle one guy if he comes after me again."
"I'm just sayin', have you seen The Godfather?" Dean shook his head.
"Thanks for the pep talk."
Dean's teeth reflected the moonlight. "Anytime." A minute later, he was checking Sam's gun and shotgun again, making sure they were loaded and ready to go, and Sam just shook his head.
The lights in the house went out, and they started counting down. Ten minutes later, Dean gave him that don't get yourself killed while I'm gone look and slipped across the street, a silent ghost dressed all in black.
Sam waited, tapping fingers nervously on his leg and craning his neck regularly to do 360s around the car. But nothing moved on the street.
He probably should have stayed back at the motel, as much use as he was to Dean out here, except for two things. One, if anything went wrong, Dean would need backup, slow and stiff or not. And, two, Sam didn't believe in hiding. He'd already lived his life looking over one shoulder for a demon that had claimed half his loved ones. He wasn't going to do it for a mere human, too.
And, a private three, he felt better being there with Dean, even if it was currently just Dean's car, because maybe he was an adult and a lifelong hunter, but, geez, the mob? Some things still rattled even Sam.
Five minutes later, Dean was silently slipping back into the car.
"That was fast," Sam commented.
Dean held up a silver pocket watch, letting it spin on its chain. "Only thing in there that set the meter off. Wanna bet we just saved Ricky from an early heart attack?"
"No bet." Sam nodded at it. "So, cleansing ritual?"
"I was thinking the whole penny-on-the-train-tracks bit."
Sam shook his head. "That might not destroy the curse, or if there's a bound spirit involved, it would just free it."
Dean tossed the watch into Sam's lap and started the car. "Ritual it is. Bet you've got one already picked out, too."
Sam lifted the watch, studying the detail. "Actually…"
Dean smiled at him, a real smile. "Geek," he said fondly. Then nodded vaguely at the street. "Any visitors while I was gone?"
"Just my imagination," Sam quipped, more upbeat than he felt.
He knew Dean caught that, too, like he did most everything about Sam. "Watch first, then we figure out what to do about our friendly neighborhood goodfella, okay?"
"Yeah." He almost believed it this time.
They reached the motel in silence, and Sam pulled himself out of the car with a groan and shuffled to the door. He could feel Dean's eyes on him until he got the door open and stepped inside, the watch cupped in his hand. He turned back to keep an eye on his brother in turn as Dean stashed the bulk of their weapons back in the trunk.
Dean stopped suddenly, head coming up, eyes narrowed, looking around.
Sam stepped back into the doorway, his own senses going on alert.
And suddenly the guy was there, dark hair melting out of the shadows besides Dean's blond. The gun was unmistakable as it pressed into the skin of Dean's throat. Even from that distance, Sam could hear the quietly lethal, "I only wanted your brother, but you're always in my way."
Sam flattened himself out of sight and looked around wildly for a weapon, ears tuned to his brother's reply.
"Go through me." It sounded neutral, but the threat couldn't have been clearer.
"Thanks, I will."
Dean's knife. Sam lunged for the bed and grabbed it from under the pillow, was back in the doorway in less than a second, and the angry, "Hey!" slipped out of his throat the same time he threw. It was just enough to get the gunman's attention, to turn him enough that the knife hit his arm instead of chest.
And to give Dean an opening.
The crowbar Sam remembered too well flashed once, and then the guy was out cold, a very dangerous Dean leaning over him.
"Dean!" Sam rushed out of the room, barely feeling the protest of bruised muscles, and clamped a hand around a taut leather-clad bicep. "You okay?" It was only partially an excuse to drag his brother a step from the unconscious man.
Dean growled low, a sound that made Sam think of a mother bear facing a threat to her cub, then hard hazel eyes finally bored into Sam. "He is not getting another chance to come after you." And before Sam could react, Dean pried the nearly forgotten watch from Sam's fingers and leaned down. He turned the man's jacket out, tore a hole in the lining, and stuffed the watch deep inside. Then he rose to his feet with the same lithe grace he showed when he was hunting, and Sam realized for the first time why this hunt, this threat, had blurred Dean's usually clear lines of right and wrong. It had been aimed at Sam, with murderous intent. That was all that was needed.
Sam softened. "Dean…"
"I don't want to hear it, Sam. This has to end."
Sam glanced down at the man lying at their feet, knowing he'd be dead within days, and couldn't bring himself to mind. It was their kind of justice, and in its own way it was fitting. "I just wanted to say thanks," he finished quietly.
Dean looked up at him, the deep lines between his eyes slowly easing as he studied Sam. The fighting stance loosened, the rage dying into something like shared understanding. He clapped a hand on Sam's shoulder, very gently. "Let's get out of here before they take out the trash."
Sam nodded and went inside, Dean's hand warm on his shoulder the whole way.
It was a small entry in the obituaries: name, date, funeral details, and cause of death. Heart attack. Sam snorted and shook his head, feeling almost apathetic as he handed the paper back to a cheerful Dean.
They were digging into breakfast in a decent little diner about a hundred miles from the city, close enough to make sure one man died and another didn't, and not disappointed on either count. A little more digging had discovered that old Zeke had gotten his pocket watch from the friend who had killed him, and that his estate had taken a year to settle. His son had only received his belongings four days before his death, the pattern continuing down the inheritance line until it claimed its last, unrelated victim. They still had to go back and retrieve the watch before innocent members of the family inherited it and its curse, but Sam was healed enough now to be an asset instead of a burden, and it would be a piece-of-cake two-man job. Dean had archly suggested they let the watch pass through the whole "family," let it do a little more good, but the glare from Sam had silenced him. Dean didn't look too upset about it.
The heist was a success, as was the ritual. Sam stood and watched the metal soften and fold as unnatural fire consumed it. A few more minutes and it would be a molten heap in the dirt.
"You would've killed him," he spoke up softly, eyes still on the watch.
There was a beat. Then an equal quiet, "Yes," from his brother. But there was no regret in his voice.
Sam looked up at him. "Dean…I don't want to be responsible—"
"Even your precious laws allow for self-defense, Sammy. Mine sure as hell do. And that includes protecting your own." Dean was as serious as Sam had ever seen him. "Don't make me promise what I can't do."
Sam stared at him a moment longer, then nodded. He really shouldn't have expected any different.
"Anyway, who said anything about it being your responsibility?"
He smiled faintly at the burning remains of an entire family. "You're my responsibility, too, you idiot. You think you're the only one who would kill for his brother?"
There was a silence, Dean always uncomfortable at having the same emotions directed at him that he expressed in a thousand unembarrassed ways to Sam. It never stopped Sam, though, and, he suspected, despite all the protests and deflections, Dean appreciated it as much as he did.
"Dude," Dean said, hushed. "Does the California Bar know about you?"
What do you get when five writers come together to play? Fun fic! Three round robins are up now at my fellow writers' Yum, Tyranusfan, and Phx's sites. One more to come to Geminigrl11's when we finish it. Check it out and enjoy!