Usually when they found time to get together there was beer, boasting, and bullshit, followed up by highly satisfactory and extremely enthusiastic sex. They had their power struggles, but at Eliot's last count he'd come out on top more often than not which was just the way he liked it.

The mood tonight was different. They hadn't happened to meet up in a bar – which occurred far more often than was statistically possible considering the way they both moved around. And, it wasn't a meeting they had set in advance. Dean called Eliot and left a bizarre message, hoping against hope that Eliot was not only in the country, but in the same state. Eliot hauled ass to get to the location Dean left after stopping off for supplies.

Eliot approached the door to the motel room with extreme caution. Nothing seemed out of order from the outside. He shifted the bag he was carrying to his left hand and knocked with the right. "Dean?"

There was an immediate reaction from inside the room. The chain was released and the deadbolt thrown back. The knob was turned enough to open the door, but it didn't swing free. Eliot could hear Dean moving back into the room, and he made his next move carefully. Eliot hoisted the bag in his left hand to his hip, and used his right hand to ease the door open fully, making sure to keep both hands in plain sight.

Eliot suppressed the urge to make his entrance with, "Honey, I'm home!" and considering the look on Dean's face it was a wise move. Whatever was going on with Dean was no joke. Instead, Eliot gave Dean a nod of recognition, keeping his eyes on Dean's face and not the shotgun pointed at his chest. "Hey," he called softly, "I brought the salt." Eliot gave the bag on his hip a shake for emphasis.

Dean's expression didn't change. He had a panicky, desperate look on his face which is something you never want to see on the face of a man with a gun. Dean didn't utter a word, but Eliot moved forward as though he'd been invited. He stepped carefully over the threshold and was glad to see Dean's face relax slightly once he was inside.

"I wasn't sure how much you needed," Eliot said quietly as he sidled toward the small table under the window, keeping his body facing Dean. He wanted to make sure Dean didn't feel like he was invading his space. When his hip bumped the table, Eliot gave the bag a little lift and settled it with a satisfactory thump. "There's another bag in the car."

"Go git it." was Dean's terse reply.

By the time Eliot returned, Dean had the first bag of salt opened and had liberally applied salt to the space in front of the doorway and under the windowsill. Once Eliot stepped inside, Dean closed the door behind him, threw all the locks and poured more salt. Eliot watched in silence as Dean crouched there, one hand against the door for support and the other hanging loosely between his knees.

When Eliot approached, he did it much like he'd approach a spooked horse. He kept his movements smooth and slow and kept himself in Dean's peripheral vision. He spoke low, in calming tones, more to give Dean a sense of where he was than to say anything in particular. When he got close enough, Eliot crouched down as well; he wasn't all that big, but he didn't want to appear looming. He placed his left hand on Dean's back and could feel the trembling that Dean was fighting to hard to suppress.

"Is that all we need to do?" Eliot waited a moment for an answer. "Dean? Is there anything else we need to do?"

"Bathroom window. Salted, just like this." Dean's voice was rough, and he wouldn't look at Eliot.

"Okay." Eliot moved quickly, making much more noise; again, it was more for Dean to track his movements than anything else. The bathroom window was quickly taken care of and Eliot returned to where he'd left Dean. This time he crouched on Dean's left and placed his right hand on the other man's back.

Then Eliot asked the question that weighed heavily on his mind. "Is it safe, Dean?" Eliot let the question hang until he realized Dean was too far gone to answer. Eliot moved his hand up to grasp Dean's neck and moved in closer. Quickly thoughts of creating a barricade and using the bathroom window as an escape route invaded his mind. He asked again, giving Dean a shake and squeezing his neck at the same time. "Dean. Are we safe here?"

This time Dean raised his eyes and looked at Eliot. "The job's done." The price Dean had paid for getting the job done was written all over his face, but Eliot took him at his word that the room was secure. And if that was the case, it was time for Eliot to turn his attention to Dean.

Sliding his hand across Dean's shoulders and down to his waist, Eliot pulled Dean upright with him when he stood. Dean lost his balance coming out of the crouch, and Eliot had to hold him up to prevent him from toppling over. Dean sucked in his breath and winced at the contact, confirming Eliot's first impression that Dean had taken some kind of beating. But a beating would not explain the panicked and desperate behavior that Eliot had witnessed. Dean looked shell shocked; haunted. Though Eliot was not inclined to push for an explanation, he was not about to ignore the state Dean was in.

"Alright, man. Let's get you taken care of." Eliot guided Dean over to the foot of the bed. Then he hooked the chair from the desk and pulled it over so he could sit in front of Dean, knee to knee. Gently he grasped Dean's head in his hands and started to examine his skull. It made Eliot feel much better to have an actual job to do.

"Hey," Eliot softly asked, "Does your head hurt? Did you hit your head?"

"N'aw. M' head's fine." It filled Eliot with a weird sort of relief that Dean was responding more quickly to his questioning. But that didn't stop him from continuing to check for bumps or bleeding.

"What about your arms? Ribs? Anything broken?" Eliot changed the area of his examination as he skimmed his hands across Dean's broad shoulder and down to his wrists.

"Sore, not broken." Dean sounded tired, and he started to shiver.

Eliot moved more quickly in his examination. He worked Dean's t-shirt up over his ribs, and the over his head. Dean hissed in pain, but made no further complaint. Eliot had never seen anything like it; he pulled Dean to a standing position so he could get a better look. Dean had bruises all around his ribcage, encircling his waist. On his back was the imprint of two hands; small hands. The height of the bruising and the size of the hands made Eliot think of a time his nephew had tackled him and squeezed the breath out of him. There was no way to tell if whatever grabbed Dean was supposed to be the means of his destruction or someone begging for salvation.

Dean turned back toward the bed and snatched his t-shirt. He struggled to pull it back on, and when he was finished he stood still with his back to Eliot. The tremors began again, stronger now than when he'd been crouched by the door. Eliot knew enough to know that Dean just couldn't let Eliot see his struggle any more, but there was no way in hell Eliot was about to leave him alone.

He'd seen this more times than he'd wanted. Men left shell shocked and tortured by the jobs they had taken on; jobs that had gone horribly wrong or missions that ended up exacting an unexpected price – much higher than any mercenary would willingly sign on to give, no matter how lucrative the payroll appeared to be.

"C'mon," Eliot urged Dean to sit on the bed once again. "Let's get those boots off."

Once again, Eliot talked for the sound of it, rather than the sense of it. He kept up his commentary as he gathered the pillows and blanket for the other bed, wondering as he always did why Dean got a room with two beds. Dean was fully caught up in a delayed shock reaction, trembling so hard his teeth chattered, and so tightly coiled his arms had involuntarily pulled up to his chest. Eliot didn't even bother trying to get Dean to stand up again; he simply pushed him down until he was curled on top of the thin coverlet facing the door.

Eliot covered Dean with the blankets from the other bed, and crawled in behind him. He wrapped his arms around Dean, curling his body around the taller man's and trying to will the warmth of his own limbs across the space between them. Over and over he murmured soothing things focusing mostly on "I won't leave you alone" and "I swear I won't let anything in."

Gradually, Dean's body lost its unnatural tension and stopped shaking. Little by little his breathing eased and became even. Eventually Eliot was able to roll to his back and pull Dean across to him. It seemed to Eliot that once Dean was no longer facing the door he was able to let down his hyper-vigilant attention and finally fall asleep.

As he lay there in an unfamiliar room staring at an all too familiar ceiling, Eliot wondered just exactly what it was that Dean believed the salt would keep out.