Double Feature: Roughed Up
K Hanna Korossy
Sometimes it just wasn't worth it, being a hunter.
Sam jabbed his hands deeper into his pockets as he trudged on, collar turned up against the chill. They'd been in town just four days, but that was long enough, it seemed, to make an enemy of every single person who lived there. Even a couple of kids had turned and run inside at the sight of them. And why? Not because they were pretending to be reporters, or because Dean had milked a couple of hundred out of the neighborhood bad boys at the card table, or even because five kids had died in the area the last few weeks.
No, it was because they'd brought back the body of Annaliese Danner, apparently the golden child of the town, mauled and dead. Didn't matter that an abiku had killed her, or that it had almost done the same to Dean when they'd fought it, or that it nearly wrecked Sam to wrap the small body in his coat and carry her out. Didn't matter that the coroner had confirmed that a "wild animal" had killed her, definitely not a human. The town needed an outlet for its grief and fear, and the Winchesters were a good target.
Sam ducked even deeper into his jacket as he made his way back to the motel. He sorta wished he'd taken Dean up on the offer of the car to return the stuff they'd borrowed from the library, but he'd needed to clear his head. Death, for all they faced it on the job, still reminded him at every turn of Jess, and Annaliese's long blonde hair hadn't helped. The worried looks Dean kept throwing him told Sam he wasn't hiding his thoughts as well as he'd believed, and he'd craved the solitude of a walk to push past the memories, wipe away a few tears and clear his head outside of his brother's scrutiny. Find the reason in himself why he was doing this again when he could've been back at school with friends and no greater concerns than food money and good grades…
A sixth sense prickled the back of his neck, and Sam looked up and around. There were a few people in sight; the sole motel was near the heart of town, for once, and it was only midday. Nobody seemed to be paying him any attention, which was a relief, and yet… Sam peered back, then surreptitiously checked the surrounding windows and shadowed doorways. It still felt like someone was watching him.
He straightened up out of the meager protection of his jacket, walking a little taller now to give him a better peripheral view. Sam quickened his pace even as he checked the corners of his eyes and strained his ears. Yeah…there. About half a block back, someone dogging him but trying to stay out of sight.
Not a good sign.
Sam casually slipped his cell phone out of his pocket, grateful Dean had made sure he'd had it on him before he'd left. He pressed the buttons without looking.
"I'm being followed," Sam said tightly.
He could almost feel the shift in Dean, even across the line. "Where are you?"
"'Bout four blocks north of the motel, on Grandview."
"On my way. Stay on the phone—you see who it is?"
"No, they're making sure I don't."
Dean cursed quietly. "You packin'?"
Sam made a face "Just my knife."
"Better than nothing."
Except when you were facing down a gun barrel. Like Sam suddenly was.
The guy had stepped out of the building Sam was about to pass, no warning. Sam heard the furtive steps behind him suddenly start running closer, and he swallowed, one hand clenched around the phone, one around his knife in his pocket. Boxed in, outdrawn. Not good.
The gun twitched to the right. "In there."
Sam's eyes flicked over to the narrow space between the two nearest buildings, more a small side yard, with grass and bushes, than an alley. But there was just enough foliage and narrow angles to be out of sight from most of the street, and that was just all kinds of bad news. "Or what?" he asked, almost sarcastic. "You'll shoot me, out here?"
He ignored Dean's distant voice, dropping the still-open phone into his hoodie's pocket. Sam held his hands out, non-threatening, placating. "Look, man, I know y'all think we had something to do with the kids' deaths, but we told you, it was a wild—"
"Cougar—yeah, we heard." Sam had been so busy staring at the gun and thinking about escape maneuvers, he only really looked at the guy's face now. The hardness wasn't worn into the skin; the man couldn't have been a lot older than Dean, and those were laugh lines in his face. And a sorrowful anger that burned bright in his eyes, not a cruel one. Parent, maybe, or uncle. "Just think it's a real coincidence that you two found her when nobody else could. Or that a cougar could lure our kids out of their locked houses."
Yeah, he'd be kinda suspicious of that, too. Sam licked his lips, opened his mouth to speak, when he felt the sharp jab of a knife against his spine. His stomach knotted.
Backup had arrived, and it wasn't for him.
Dean flew down the street as if demons were chasing him, instead of the other way around.
He'd had to have been blind and deaf not to pick up on the hostility of the townfolk since they'd showed up with a child's torn-up body that morning, and even then he could've felt the chill in the air. It was a response he was well used to and normally just let run off his back; no outsiders were popular when local folks were getting killed, and that usually happened to be right when the Winchesters rolled into town. Kids just made it all the worse. Dean got it.
Sammy, besides being Mr. Empathy, was grieving himself. He still did his job and did it impressively well, but it cut deeper, lingered longer for him. And that was without being a target for a town's anger and sorrow. Dean tried to protect him as much as he was able, but there was only so much he could do. He hadn't wanted to let Sam go to the library on his own but had finally relented because the kid looked like he was suffocating in the room.
There'd be time to regret that choice later. Dean would make sure of it.
He'd passed the end of the third block, had to be getting close now, although he couldn't see Sam or anyone else directly up ahead. Dean had listened to the low voices at first; Sam had never shut his phone, but Dean had finally dropped his into his pocket in his haste to get there. Now he dug it out as he crossed the street with barely a glance.
There was the sound of an impact, a low grunt, and sounds of scuffling.
Dean swore and went a little faster.
He almost ran past them.
The sharp movements caught his eye, snagging his brain with their wrongness before he could even process what he was seeing. That only took a second more: Sam down on his hands and knees, three men crowded around him, one with a baseball bat perched on his shoulder, one with a knife, waiting his turn, while the last watched as he held a gun.
Dean's face settled into a cold sneer as he dove in without even thinking, letting the rage take over.
The bat slid out of the first guy's hands and cracked the gunman's wrist, sending the handgun skittering. Dean instantly reversed momentum and drove the end of the bat into the stomach of the guy he'd taken it from. He folded with a pained squeak.
One more to go, but first things first. Dean stepped forward, placing himself between his downed brother and the threat, tension immediately loosening along his spine. Sam at his back, no matter the reason, was the way things were supposed to be. Now Dean could take a breath, finish this right.
"I knew you two were trouble as soon as I met you," gun guy said, cradling his arm as he glared at Dean. He had a blackening eye, which gave Dean some perverse pleasure. Sam hadn't gone down without a fight.
Dean gave the man a feral smile. "The kids? That was us helping you yahoos. You haven't seen trouble yet." Without pause, he lunged for the knife-wielder.
A minute later, all three attackers were on the ground, out for the count. Dean eyed them warily, then half-turned to Sam.
The thin wheeze to his brother's breathing told Dean that Sam had probably gotten the wind knocked out him, maybe by the baseball bat. Blood dripped down his chin from a cheek that was missing a few layers of skin, his hanging hair hiding the rest of his face. One hand was flat on the ground, the other clenched around his knife. As Dean splayed a hand on his back, Sam growled, pushing up and swinging the blade out.
"Hey, whoa." Dean blocked the clumsy thrust with little effort, something he would've given Sam grief for in other circumstances but that quietly impressed him now. Whatever edges Stanford might have dulled, Sam's instincts remained intact. "It's me, Sammy."
Sam canted his head, squinting through his too-long bangs. "Dean?"
"Yeah. You okay?"
Sam breathed a moment, seemingly running a self-diagnostic. Then he nodded, pushing up to his knees. He rubbed a hand over his middle, wincing, but didn't pale or spit blood, so Dean figured he wasn't bleeding inside. Sam took one more breath, then gave an unamused laugh. "I hate this town."
"I don't think they're crazy about us, either, dude." Dean tugged the knife free and slipped it into his pocket as he peered critically at Sam. "Can you walk?"
Sam held out a hand. "Yeah. Help me up."
Dean did, one hand against Sam's chest as his brother found his balance. He was favoring his abdomen and side, but still there were no signs of hemorrhage or broken bones. Not that Dean wouldn't be checking more closely back at the room, but his worry scaled back for the moment. Besides, the sooner they got out of there, the better.
Sam had just noticed the scene around them, and blinked at the sight of the three bodies littering the ground. He glanced up at Dean, mouth curling in silence.
Dean frowned at him. "What?" he demanded.
Sam just shook his head and slung an arm around Dean's shoulders for the trip back.
Well, at least that he knew what to do with. Launching into a lecture about how one Winchester should've been able to take on three armed men, Dean gently turned and guided Sam down the street.
It sucked to be them sometimes.
The job was lousy: no pay, skeevy motels to stay in, crap food to eat, and constant danger. Sam had almost resigned himself to the negatives, but the people you were supposed to be helping beating up on you? Not that long ago another set of good, honest folks had worked Dean over in a paranoid little Texas town on a case. Dean had blown it off, but Sam hadn't been able to be as understanding.
He shifted, adjusting the icepack against his side as he did. His soft hiss of pain pulled his brother's attention from the windshield in a quick assessing glance. "You okay?" Dean asked yet again.
Sam sighed, tongue pushing at aching teeth before he spoke. "I don't know how you do it, man."
Dean's brow furrowed. "Do what?"
"Not let it get to you. I mean, it's bad enough facing the monsters and the ghosts, but now we have to fight off the people we're trying to help, too?"
Dean shrugged. "It's just fear, Sam. It's not personal."
Sam probed his sore face. "Feels personal," he grumbled.
He got a grin for that. "I don't know, I think it's an improvement."
Sam glared at him.
Dean tipped his head and turned back to the road. "You need some more ice or painkillers yet?"
His head did ache, but he wasn't sure any pills would help. Sam rubbed at it, wrinkled his nose. The moment's despair was so sharp, it wrung the words out of him before could think. "Is anyone on our side?"
Dean drove in silence for a minute. Long enough for Sam to regret his bluntness, and the unspoken answer. No. Mom and Jess were gone, Dad was who-knew-where, and that was it.
"I'm not going anywhere," Dean said quietly from across the seat.
Sam stared at him a moment, but Dean doggedly avoided his eyes. Would pretend he hadn't even spoken, Sam knew, if he called his brother on it. But he didn't, just let it sink in. It was still our side. He wasn't alone. Maybe everything else was stacked against them, but Dean would always come to his rescue.
Sam sank down in his seat. "Yeah, okay," he said softly.
And…it actually was.
"You John Winchester's boy?"
Dean stopped halfway to the car to turn and look at the speaker. Normally, that question would have rung all kinds of warning bells, set off an immediate defensive and deflecting reaction. But with the Roadhouse a dozen feet behind him, the query wasn't too surprising. In fact, his smile touched on pride as he answered, "Guilty as charged. You a friend of his?"
"Was," the middle-aged, grizzled hunter replied, nodding once.
By the time Dean realized the guy wasn't nodding at him, or had time to wonder about the answer, he found himself face down on the ground with a mouthful of gravel. What the…? He tried to push up, only to fold with a grunt as pain shot across his shoulder and down his back.
Rifle butt, he immediately identified. Ambush. Crap.
Dean rolled away from the footsteps on his right, only to slam into someone on his left. He kicked out instantly, heard a yowl of pain, and immediately surged in the opposite direction. But the hunter had a lot of friends, and the initial blows were still shaking through Dean's system. He deflected a kick, swept the legs out from under another attacker, but he was surrounded. Try as he could, he couldn't gain his feet.
The hits rained down with anger and experience behind them. One knocked the wind painfully out of him, while a steel-toed boot to the thigh set his bones on fire. Dean retched dryly when his kidneys took a hit. Another strike numbed his left hand.
God, they were gonna kill him. Adrenaline-fueled panic surged as the shadows converged around him, when a stupid roughing up was suddenly looking more like a struggle for his life, and Dean managed to push to his knees for a moment, swinging with everything he had. But it only took one clip behind the ear to drain the fight out of him. Dean sank back into the mass of sneering faces and punching fists, hopelessness eclipsing pain. Dad would've been so ticked off…
He wasn't even sure when the blows stopped.
"You John Winchester's boy?"
Sam looked up from his watch. He was used to losing Dean for a while, although it was usually when his brother was going into a bar, not when he'd run out of one for a moment to grab something from the car. It had been a couple of minutes already, though, and Sam had just been pushing away from the bar to go check on him when the shadow had fallen over the scarred wood beside him.
The speaker was vaguely familiar, either from their previous stops at the Roadhouse or maybe from their childhood. Dad usually worked solo—at least until his sons were old enough to join in on the family business—but he'd occasionally paired with another hunter for a more difficult case. This guy looked about the right age, and his face was lined but kind.
Sam nodded, shoving his beer aside. "Yeah. Why?"
"I think your brother could use some help outside."
There was only about a half-second of confused hesitation. Then he was bolting for the door.
Outside, the moonlit parking lot was dotted with trucks and SUVs and one shiny Chevy Impala. Sam's eyes were immediately drawn to the open center of the lot, though, where several large, rough men were converged on a figure on the ground, kicking and hitting and grunting.
Sam didn't need to glimpse the leather jacket the downed victim was wearing to know.
"ELLEN!" he bellowed over his shoulder, then dove forward.
His first punch reverberated up his arm, but he was pretty sure the crunch came from the other guy's jaw, not his hand. Not that it mattered. He took the second one down with a tackle, the guy going limp under him as soon as they hit the packed gravel, and Sam was already rolling to his feet to grab the rifle a third was starting to swing at him like a bat.
A shotgun blast froze his attackers.
Sam took advantage of the distraction, yanking the rifle away and swinging it hard enough to snap ribs. Rifle-guy folded with a pained cry and went down.
"You collect your gear and your wounded and get out of here," Ellen was growling from behind Sam with her whiskey-gruff voice.
Sam clipped another guy's legs with the rifle, and knocked the knife out of a fifth's hand. Snarling, he raised the rifle to his shoulder to put the man down with his buddies.
Two voices, one stridently feminine, the other weak but brotherly. Sam's shoulders dropped, rage channeling into a mere scowl as he loomed over the straggling mob. They cringed away, battered and ragtag, and shooting both him and Ellen surly glances, collected their injured and headed for a knot of trucks in the far corner of the lot.
"I've got 'em, Sam," Ellen assured him, and that was all Sam needed to hear.
Turning his back on the departing threat, he dropped the weapon and went down to his knees by Dean. Or what he assumed was Dean under swelling bruises and bloodied skin. His hands hovered, not sure where to touch. "Hey. God, Dean, you're a mess. Who'd you tick off this time, man?"
Dean solved his dilemma by wrapping a hand in Sam's shirt and using it as leverage to try to sit up. "Not me," he puffed. "Dad."
Sam quickly wrapped an arm around him, sliding it instantly lower when Dean arched away from his touch. Pressure mid-back didn't cause the muscles to bunch or flinch and, boldened, Sam also hooked a hand around Dean's arm. He couldn't help notice Dean was curling the wrist and hand protectively to him, and Sam avoided putting any pressure on the limb. "Can you walk?"
Dean didn't answer, just pulled at him harder. His face was contorted with pain, but even half-swollen, his eyes held a stubborn look Sam knew well.
He sighed, pulling his brother as gently to his feet as he could. "You gonna make it inside?"
"Car." Dean hunched into him, a little blood dribbling from his mouth with the words.
Sam winced. "No way. We're not going anywhere until I can check you out. Walk or carry, dude?"
Dean gave him a murderous glance, which was more mournful than lethal when he looked like a breeze would knock him over, but it made Sam's mouth twitch.
"All right, man, slow and easy. I gotcha."
Dean grumbled but started shuffling.
His body was trembling, he was limping heavily, and he couldn't seem to straighten out. It was the way his hand was locked into Sam's shirt that told him his brother's state of mind, though. Dean was shaken.
And the only way Sam knew how to deal with that was to pretend for his brother's sake that he didn't know it.
Ellen met them at the door of the Roadhouse, shotgun tucked under her arm and her eyes crinkling with concern as they studied Dean. Her gaze flicked up to Sam, who shook his head minutely. They didn't need help. He could deal with Dean.
"They're gone. That was Trucker and his gang—always stirring up trouble. Probably thought Dean looked at him wrong."
"He said it was about Dad," Sam responded, and blinked as Dean suddenly pushed away from him. Swaying but upright, the elder Winchester stumbled forward on his own steam, into the roomful of hunters.
Oh. Never show weakness. For Sam, it had always just been one of Dad's rules. For Dean it was probably a survival technique.
Well, Sam had his own technique. He marched behind Dean, drawn up to his full height, glowering at anyone who gave them more than a glance. An implicit Don't even think about it, a little too late but still making him feel better.
"Pretty sure Trucker hunted with your dad once," Ellen murmured from behind Sam.
Sam nodded. Didn't surprise him at all. But the timing sucked.
They'd only lost Dad six months before, found an oasis at the Roadhouse a few weeks after that. Dad was still a fresh wound for them both, but for Dean it had festered and didn't heal. Dealing with Dad's crap from a bunch of jerks with a bone to pick was the last thing he needed. And seeing his brother beat up and threatened was the last thing Sam did.
Dean ignored it all: the audience, his Sam shadow, Ellen. Looked like he had enough to do just concentrating on moving his feet. But he made it across the quiet room on his own, through the doorway to the room in the back. They'd turned down the offer of a bed the night before, but looked like they'd be staying now.
Dean made it one step inside, just out of the sight of curious eyes, before his knees buckled.
Sam jumped to catch him and swung him up for the few feet to the bed. "Stubborn jerk," he muttered heatlessly.
"Whiny…bitch," Dean said breathlessly back before groaning as Sam set him down. Sam quickly rolled him onto his side, his good arm.
Dean didn't push him away, not even when Sam silently started easing his clothes off. It said a lot about how much he was hurting. And how much he still trusted Sam.
Sam grabbed the bedding off the other bed and the first aid kit Ellen had set on the floor, to say it right back.
Maybe they hadn't actually talked much about Dad's death…but for right now, they were communicating just fine.
Sammy would make someone a good wife someday. That, or one of those big nurses who manhandled you in and out of bed and were a little scary when they gave you sponge baths.
Not that Sam—or any other guy—had ever done that for Dean, of course. Ever.
Dean shifted in bed, hiding a flinch from his brother's eagle eyes, and settled again into the decent mattress and the nest of ice packs. If it weren't for the blankets piled on him, he'd be frostbitten by now. "Is there anything left in Ellen's freezer?"
Sam's face creased. "Why, you need another one?"
He resisted an eye roll because Sam was dead serious. "No, genius, I think I'm frosty enough already, thanks. Dude, I can't even feel my right leg anymore."
Sam gave him a sympathetic look. "I saw that leg, Dean—believe me, numb is a good thing."
Dean sighed and dropped his head back. It still throbbed, and thinking was an aerobic workout, but at least he was pretty sure he was done hurling. Which, considering the first time had been down Sam's jeans, his brother was probably thankful for. "This sucks, man."
Sam huffed an agreement. "Ellen said she had a TV we could use while we're here."
"Yeah, but the chupacabra—"
"—is gonna wait," Sam said firmly. "Dean, five hunters almost killed you tonight."
Dean turned away uncomfortably, which in his current state meant rolling his head about three inches. Still, it effectively put Sam out of his line of sight. "Don't be such a drama queen, Sammy—they were just making a point."
"Yeah, that five against one makes for lousy odds."
Dean didn't say anything, studying the cracks in the plaster overhead. Ellen should really do something about those before the ceiling—
"You said…" Sam's halting tone unwittingly drew Dean's attention back, as his brother's distress always did. He felt Sam settle at the end of the bed. "You said it was about Dad?"
Dean snorted. "What can I say, the man just made friends wherever he went."
"I'm sorry," Sam said quietly, and when Dean's eyes finally swung down to him, he offered Dean a small, sad smile. Worried. Protective.
The kind of smile Dean had kept giving him after Jessica died.
Dean cleared his throat, reaching up to lift the icepack from where it was nestled against his left eye. Not that he could see a lot out of it that way, but he wanted to meet Sam's eyes squarely when he spoke. "He wasn't perfect, Sam—I know that. Look at what he told me about you."
Sam stared at him, mouth gaping like a fish. Which, considering he usually got all dewy-eyed when the subject of Dad's stupid last words came up, was a decided improvement. It even made Dean grin.
"Doesn't mean they didn't deserve you charging in like freakin' Rambo."
Sam flushed, successfully diverted. "I think I broke one of em's jaw," he said sheepishly.
Dean chuckled, dropping his head back. "That's my boy," he murmured.
And if Dean wasn't anybody's boy anymore…well, at least he wasn't alone.