First appeared in Hunting Trips 4 (2009), from Neon Rainbow Press
In the Details
K Hanna Korossy
"Dude, for like the tenth time, would you at least kick your dirty clothes into a corner or something? I almost broke my neck on your boots in there."
"You better not have gotten your cruddy feet all over my jeans, Sam." Dean didn't even spare him a warning glare. "That's the last clean pair I've got."
"Well, then, you might want to leave it someplace else than the middle of the friggin' bathroom floor," Sam huffed, and stomped out to get dressed.
Dean tossed toiletries into his case, making two out of three shots. "It's my home, too, little brother. 'Sides, I'm not the one who keeps leaving blood in the sink. Some motels gonna report us some day for butchering people in our room."
"It'll go with the other two dozen BOLs we have out on us already," Sam grumbled, shrugging into his T-shirt. "And the last time I got cut was washing and waxing your car."
"Hey!" Dean leveled a warning finger at him. "Keeping her clean is—"
"Obsessive, Dean. It's not natural. The way you sing to it…"
Dean's jaw shifted. "That's called 'humming,' Sam. It's a sign of having fun. You should look into it sometime. The last three bars we were in, you were glued to your laptop. You know how hard it is to pick up chicks when the friend you came in with is gunning for Geek of the Year?"
Sam yanked his jacket on. "Maybe if you didn't hit on anything with a pair of breasts—"
"Maybe if you quit acting like you're gonna get poisoned every time we go to a bar—"
They were getting closer, nose-to-nose, voices rising. "Maybe if your idea of fun was, just once, Dean, something totally legal—"
"That's it." Dean tossed down the knife he'd been checking. "I'm leaving. You enjoy your peace and quiet, Sam."
Two hours later, Dean was back. Sam was waiting.
"You ready to go?" Dean hefted the weapons bag, not needing to look inside to know it was packed right.
"Yeah, I'm good," Sam answered, subdued. "Turned the keys in." Dean's had been on the nightstand, as always.
"Uh-huh." A sideways glance as they tossed their bags into the car. "You get my stuff from the bathroom?"
A hint of a smile. "You get the car cleaned up?"
"I'm just sayin', Sam, I have to go hunting for the top of the shampoo bottle one more time…"
"Yeah, I love you, too."
The words had been simple. It had been the accompanying expression he hadn't been able to decipher.
"Yeah, looks like," Dean had said. Way too short an answer to Sam's question. Dean Winchester, who balked at telling Sam his favorite color, had told some girl what the Winchesters really did and wasn't even trying to deny it. Sam wanted to yell at him, wanted details, wanted to be disgusted. But that look…
He'd been silent for the rest of the trip, angry and bewildered.
It was another conversation, a day later, that turned the light on. Or rather, him talking and Dean just looking. Still unreadable. Or at least trying to be.
"You loved her." And, on the heels of that: "Oh, wow." Sam stared at him, stunned realization dawning. "She dumped you."
Dean's brow furrowed, eyes growing cloudy. "Get in the car." And they were back to the looks that didn't match the words.
In Sam's three years at Stanford, Dean had changed his vocabulary: expressions, inflections, the look in his eyes. He might as well have changed the locks to his life.
Sam was good at picking locks.
It took time. The ones that were important usually did. Before Stanford, it had all been bravado when Dean was hurt or defense of their dad or the sarcasm and gruffness of Dean's love and worry for Sam. Now, there were shades: bluster to hide fears, humor to cover emotional hurts, stoicism to guard his heart.
But Sam was learning, not just how to read the flickering expressions and see through them, but also about his brother. What hurt Dean and what he was afraid of and what he truly thought and felt under that which Sam had taken at surface value before. Maybe it wasn't so much picking locks as not needing to to know what they were protecting.
"Ever make you wonder if it's worth it?" he asked as they left the girl behind.
Dean gave him a long look. A smile. Didn't answer.
Didn't have to.
And a few weeks later, when Sam started getting waking visions and Dean was always there with the Advil and the wet washcloths and the shoulder two inches away to lean on and the banter when Sam needed it the most, he realized he hadn't been the only one studying languages all this time, either.
The form went on for four pages.
Dean stopped, flipped through insurance cards until he found a good one. Samuel Young.
He snorted. Good thing they had a system to remember which address went with which application. Dad had done movie and military references; Dean stuck to band members, albums, and dates. 1997 Bonfire Street. He had to glance at the hospital letterhead to remember what city and state they were in.
Dean put down his cell.
Dean chewed on the pen top a minute. Student, he finally put down. Sam might see the forms at some point, and he'd like that.
That one always took a while. He filled half the page, running out into the margins. Grinding to a halt when he reached 2002. Sam had told him about a sprained ankle and a bloodied nose while he was at school, but Dean kept meaning to get details and never had. He skipped those, doubting they'd be relevant.
God, yes. Bees, sulfa. Had anything else cropped up at Stanford? Dean bit his lip. He should have asked. Well, if it hadn't shown up in eighteen years, and the four months since, it probably wasn't going to.
Dean's mouth quirked at that one. Unknown, he'd learned to put, because it avoided questions and made them check for everything, just in case. Kept some of the memories at bay, too.
Reason for visit.
Dean's face shuttered. Somehow he thought, Incensed ghosts beating up on patient because he hasn't got his shining down to where he can communicate with them, wouldn't cut it. Attacked and beaten went down instead.
Person responsible for payment, Person to contact in case of emergency, Next of kin, Power of attorney…
At least those were all easy. Dean Young. One slightly tarnished protector.
Is there any other information we should know about?
Dean sat and stared at that one. Thought about Jess burning on the ceiling. Sam's visions and nightmares and headaches. The ten or so pounds he'd lost when they'd first hit the road, until Dean had realized it and started changing where they ate and what food he bought, and cajoling Sam into trying some. A mom who died in a fire and a dad who never called and could be dead. A job that came with no retirement plan. Three-plus years of school that were a near blank to Dean.
He glanced up at the voice, pen still poised in hand.
The nurse was smiling at him. "You can see your brother now."
She wasn't hot, but was kind of pretty. Dean smiled back at her, threw the pen on the clipboard and held it out. "Great. I think I'm done with this, anyway."
"So, why do you wear your hair so long these days?"
"Huh?" A question about a water sprite would have taken Sam less by surprise.
Dean didn't look away from the road. "Your hair. When'd you turn into Rapunzel?"
Sam's mouth curled. "You know Rapunzel?"
"Shut up and answer the question, Sam."
A shrug. "I was so used to you cutting it, took me a while to find a barbershop. By then, I kinda liked it long." The smile grew, tinged bittersweet. "So did Jess."
"Long, huh?" Dean asked contemplatively. "Girls dig those floppy bangs?"
"Jess did. When'd you cut yours so short?"
A shrug without amusement. "Dad said it was time to grow up."
Sam would have bet good money it was within weeks of his departure, and felt a curl of sadness.
"And what's up with the tea and bagels?"
Sam turned a little in his seat so he was facing Dean. "You do know people's tastes change, right? I mean, it's not like we experimented much on the road. There are even these green things called vegetables, Dean, that—"
"—will kill you," Dean finished without hesitation. "See, you needed protection at school, after all."
Sam rolled his eyes. "You don't like brownies anymore."
"Man, I never liked brownies – you liked brownies. Dad just wouldn't get something for only one of us."
"Oh." He didn't know that.
A pause. "And what's with all the girly hair stuff? Dude – conditioner?"
Sam felt his cheeks go warm. "Jess taught me to—"
"Yeah, yeah. See? Chick hair, Sammy, I'm telling you."
Sam shook his head. A mile or two passed. "Where'd you get the scar on your shoulder?"
Dean flexed the part in question with barely a glance. "Werewolf."
Another silence. Comfortable in ways it hadn't been the last time they'd been on the road. "I like watermelon a lot, now, too," Sam finally ventured.
Dean threw him an inscrutable glance. "Good to know." Then, because he's not nearly as dense as he plays, he cleared his throat and added, "I can make an awesome stew."
Sam blinked at him. "You're kidding."
Dean was grinning. "Swear to God. Grateful wife of a client showed me. Next time we've got a hotplate, I'll show you." A belated careless twist of the head, because he's not nearly as confident as he plays, either. "If you want."
"Are you kidding? Homemade food and seeing you in the kitchen with an apron?"
"Sam." Dean's voice fell, serious, as he looked him in the eye. "No apron."
Dean turned on every light in the room, turned up the heat, laid out a fresh sheet, gathered supplies, and scrubbed up like a surgeon. Homemade first aid didn't mean sloppy or unsterile, not if they wanted to avoid professional medical care. Not if he wanted to be able to tend to his own.
"Sam, can you lift up for me?"
The lean body quivered and tensed, managing to roll enough so Dean could slide the sheet under him.
"Pills kick in yet?"
"Good. Just take it easy – I'm gonna start on your back, okay?"
Sam sighed, settled into the pillow.
His back looked like someone had taken rough-grade sandpaper to it. Road rash was the story Dean had already been crafting in his head – motorcycle fall? – in case they had to go to a hospital. But the abrasions weren't deep and the blood loss non-lethal. It was just… a mess.
"No more going one-on-one with a berserker, got it?" Dean said sternly, earning another sleepy and meaningless mm-hmm before he bent to work.
It was actually a tree and a rock that Sam had scoured his back against, not blacktop, and the scrapes and scratches were full of bark and bits of stone. Dean washed them out as gently as possible with water, laying a palm on Sam's shoulder or hip when he lurched, until the wounds were mostly clean. Then he tilted the bedside lamp over and started in with the tweezers.
Sam registered discomfort but didn't seem to be in outright pain. Dean started talking as he worked, anyway, whatever came to mind: the TV shows they'd watched the night before, the utterly meaningless gossip he'd picked up that morning at the diner about someone named Joey, what he'd learned about berserker history while he'd been researching. The small pile of debris on the nightstand grew until even Dean's critical eye could see no more in the wounds.
"Okay, one more rinse, then I think we're good." He took advantage of Sam's pained arch to let the water follow gravity's pull, collecting at the small of his brother's back where Dean patted it dry. The antibiotic ointment at least had some topical anesthetic in it, and Sam's muscles slowly gave as Dean smeared the wounds, making sure to cover every open surface.
One palm had also been laid open, and Dean cleaned that next, humming as he bent over the hand. One of Sam's eyes drifted open to look at him, out of focus and blank, and Dean gamely grinned at him. It shut again. Dean finished with the abrasion, certain it was clean, and laid the hand gently back down.
Bandages would have just stuck to the torn back and made it worse. The ointment acted as a sealant, so as long as Sam didn't roll over and rub it off, open healing was best. Dean put supplies away, each in their place, until he got to the gauze. He did wrap the hand because there was no way Sam was keeping that still, molding the white over knuckles and fingers.
He pulled double layers of blankets up to Sam's waist but only the sheet up to his neck. The room was warm now, and he should be okay half-covered for the night. Still, to both add warmth and make sure Sam would stay still, Dean settled fully-clothed on the covers next to him, chest against Sam's arm. Sam sighed and loosely clasped an edge of Dean's shirt, turning his head into the curve of his older brother's neck. Dean watched the settling in with raised eyebrows and an amused twist of the mouth. Sam had never quite gotten used to sleeping alone, embarrassed and stand-offish in the morning but a lonely heat-seeking octopus during the night. The only time Dean had ever protested was when a half-asleep Sam had thought he was Jess and tried to kiss him. Sam heard about that one for a long time after.
Dean eyed the pile of bloody debris on the nightstand on the other side of the bed. "You're okay, go to sleep," he said quietly, and threw an arm over Sam's uninjured shoulder. They'd need more antibiotic gel soon, he'd have to sterilize the tweezers in the morning, and Sam would need more pills around dawn, but for now the important details were taken care of. Sam was fine, was safe and tended to. Dean smoothed down the edge of the gauze around Sam's hand. "Go to sleep," he murmured again, more to himself this time.
Sometimes, in the deep dark places inside, he even admitted he'd missed this, too.
They were brothers, they were guys, they had a killer job, they worked and lived and spent ninety-five percent of their time together. Ergo, they fought. A lot.
Sometimes it even got nasty.
Sam stalled by the Impala as he stormed out the door, tempted for a second to kick her, scratch her, do something to her in effigy of her owner. But he didn't really feel like walking to Boise, so he kept going.
Besides, there was nasty, and then there was unforgivable.
Geez, it was just so… Dean could be so unreasonable. It made sense Sam was frustrated by their dad's continued silence, felt like he was being treated like the kid he no longer was. He'd just wanted to vent, blow off some steam, but then Dean had to come to Dad's defense. Dean, who'd been the one really abandoned. Why did he have to see the man as such a saint!
Because, the traitorous voice of maturity whispered inside. You had Dean to take care of you. He only had Dad.
It wasn't fair. He couldn't even stay mad at Dean without feeling guilty.
Sam's angry stride had taken him down the street to the strip mall near their motel, and he slowed now as the building signs caught his eye: framer, bakery, dry cleaner, pharmacy, beauty salon, gift boutique, bookstore. Fifteen years before he wouldn't have even known what half those were. He hadn't set foot in a dry cleaner until he'd been at Stanford. That was the life Dean insisted on defending?
Sam's steps turned and carried him closer, inevitably toward the bookstore.
It wasn't just used books, he saw. They also had maps and videos and tapes. Probably an eclectic selection, considering how far outside town they were. Sam glanced back at the motel, the lonely Impala parked in front of their closed door, and felt a little of his anger fade. He went in.
Some time later, he emerged with a bag. He hesitated, then turned toward the bakery. A grocery store might have been better, but the only one he'd seen was on the far side of the motel. The bakery would do.
Second bag in hand, Sam came back out onto the sidewalk and peered down the street.
The Impala was gone.
Something sad and scared and ashamed tightened around his heart, and Sam loped back to the room. He knew better, he really did, but some part of him still expected to find the place stripped of Dean's things, maybe a note if he was lucky. Even Dean hadn't been able to completely shield him from the fear of loss that ran deep in Winchester blood.
Sam unlocked the door, rushed inside, jarred to a stop.
The room was like he'd left it. Almost, anyway: Dean's duffel was tumbled over, like it had been tossed aside in irritation, and the gun on the nightstand was gone, a usual precaution when he went out. Sam's stuff…
Sam's muddy shirt, remnant of the previous night's hunt that had started the argument in the first place, was rinsed out and hung up in the shower. The rest of his clothes had been bundled into a neat heap with Dean's for laundry. The laptop Dean had irritably slapped him away from earlier was sitting on Sam's bed.
The fear was gone completely, the shame burned out in mutual contrition, but the sadness lingered.
Sam turned as the lock rattled and the door opened, and he saw a moment's surprise cross Dean's face at the sight of him. More relief than there ought to have been, too. Sam really should have known better; Dean feared abandonment far more than Sam ever had. The bland disinterest that quickly covered the lapse didn't fool him for a second.
"Where were you?" Sam asked.
"Ran out to the store for something," was the terse reply. There was a plastic bag-wrapped object in his hand.
"I got us some éclairs and, uh, picked you up something." Sam held out the bookstore bag awkwardly.
Dean looked at him, at the bag, took it gingerly like it might be a snake, and glanced inside. His eyes widened.
"I didn't remember you having that one."
Dean's expression as he pulled the tape out and turned it over to look at the back pretty much answered that. "Dude, this is awesome. We are so putting this in when we hit the road."
"Yeah," Sam laughed, tension inside him starting to unravel like a top, "I was afraid of that."
Dean's eyes shot up to him for a second, but he was staring at the tape again as he shoved his package at Sam. "Eat first, then we'll take off."
Curious, Sam unwrapped the grocery bag to find a clear plastic container full of cubed watermelon. His smile softened. "Fruit for breakfast? Are you my brother?"
"Éclairs for breakfast?" Dean echoed, still enraptured with the tape. "Are you mine?"
"Yes," Sam answered simply.
Dean looked up at him sharply again, then grimaced, muttering about sisters and chicks. But he drew up a chair to join Sam at the small table, already claiming the bakery bag. "Éclairs are just a fancy way of saying donuts, you know," he said around a full mouth.
"It's French, Dean."
"Yeah, and I guess you learned French at school, too, huh?"
"Actually, I took a—" At Dean's incredulous expression, Sam caved, smiled. "No."
"Good. You've got enough trouble with Latin."
Sam sputtered on a piece of watermelon. "My Latin's fine. Better than yours, man."
"It's Latin by way of Texas, bro. I'm surprised the demons and spirits can understand you."
"Fine, you do the incantation next time."
"Maybe I will."
They glared at each other a moment. Then did the only thing reasonable as brothers and partners and guys.
They started a food fight.