Boys on the Side

"How much further?" Dean asks, kicking the dark rock ahead of him, the same rock he's been kicking for what he's sure has been the past five miles. He's a champion like that.

"About ten steps less than the last time you asked me," Sam replies, trying to stick his stupid beanpole legs in front of Dean to reach the rock first, but Dean nudges him aside and beats him to it, just like he's been doing for what he's now pretty sure have been the past fifteen miles. Sammy always did suck at this game. "And you really shouldn't be asking me, you know, because I'm not the one who's been driving all around here in a police car for the past two days." Sam cuts a look at Dean from under his bangs. "Please tell me you remember the way back to town."

"It's pretty much a straight shot, Sammy," Dean says, waving his arm at the road that stretches way too fucking far in front of them. And yeah, maybe there are a few turns they'll have to make, and no, Dean doesn't remember exactly which ones they are, but he's sure it'll come to him when they get there. It's not like he's got them lost before. Much.

Dean kicks the rock twice more, then grumbles, "She coulda given us a ride."

"Or she could have arrested us," Sam answers, and wow, for a kid who screamed himself hoarse to be allowed to play soccer in middle school he's pretty damn terrible at kicking small round objects. "Personally, I'm okay with walking. I sort of feel like being done with spending time in cages for a while."

He says like it's a joke and the look he throws to Dean says it's a joke but they are so not joking about this right now. Dean gives the rock an extra hard kick that sends it flying into the overgrown scrub on the side of the road. Perfect.

"Dean?" Sam continues, and Jesus he's got that edge to his voice, and Dean is really freaken tired and his head and his shoulder are pounding, and if Sam tries to have an emotional conversation right now Dean is so totally knocking him on his ass on the pavement. "You okay, man?"

"Fine," Dean grunts, because yeah, his head feels three times it's normal size and his shoulder hurts like hell, but he already did the whole 'don't disappear on me again' speech to Sam, so if Sam is expecting some sort of tearful confession of 'I haven't slept since you went missing and didn't eat much either because I mostly felt like throwing up or sticking my knife in someone's face' then he's going to be sorely disappointed.

"Dean," Sam says again, and now he sounds tired. "There's a lot of blood on your face. I'm going to look at it when we get back to the motel, but tell me if you start feeling really dizzy or nauseous, okay?"

"Okay, Doctor Quinn." As far as comebacks go it's pretty lame but Dean doesn't much care because he's realized Sammy sounds tired, like seriously injured tired or I-just-had-a-freaky-psychic-vision-of-death tired, but he hasn't seen Sam clutching his head or thrashing around like some sort of seven foot noodle creature so he's pretty sure it wasn't a vision. "Sammy, are you… did they…"

Dean's going to blame the whole not eating or drinking thing for the way his throat closes up and he can't get the words out of his mouth. Sam nudges his shoulder like they're still fighting for the rock, and he sounds totally wiped but there's a smile on his lips.

"Ned Beatty me? Use me for dart practice? Dress me up in women's clothes and make me tap dance?" They're still totally not joking about this even if Dean does snort a little at that last one. "I told you, Dean, they didn't hurt me."

"Just enough to get you in a cage," Dean blurts out, and he knows Sam is going to sigh like a big girl at that, and he's probably going to say something bitchy or whiney and Dean's going to say something witty and awesome back but it's going to make Sam even bitchier and they're going to get in a fight for the rest of the four billion miles back to the motel and all Dean wants to do is be happy neither of their teeth ended up in a jar.

Sam does sigh, long and heavy like a freaken bellows, but he doesn't sound annoyed. He just sounds… loud.

"Let's order pizza when we get back to the motel," he says, and Dean is so startled by the change in topic he says "Okay" before remembering Sammy's version of pizza is one of the most boring foods known to man, so he immediately starts arguing his case for peppers and anchovies.

That conversation lasts them all the way to town and by the time they're pulling the Impala into the motel parking lot they've decided on one medium for each of them with their own separate toppings and one large with pepperoni (good) and olives (sick) and green peppers and onions (suck it, Sam) that'll be good for lunch tomorrow.

Dean orders the pizza while Sam goes to get Cokes from the vending machine. There's beer in the trunk and Dean's not opposed to drinking it warm, but they've got time so he sticks it in a drawer in the freezer and fills it with ice and even adds a handful of salt, a neat little trick Sam came up with when they were younger that used to make their Dad pissed and rant about wasting materials. Doing it now feels a bit like a satisfying rebellion against the man who wasn't around when his youngest son was snatched away and nearly carved up by Northwoods hicks.

Dean hadn't even tried to call him this time.

Sam comes back into the room when Dean is in the bathroom scrubbing the blood off his face and trying not to wince as he probes at the cut on his forehead. He's balancing six Cokes in his arms and downs two of them before coming into the bathroom and crowding right up in Dean's space and insisting on poking at Dean's cut himself.

"It doesn't need stitches," Sam declares after elbowing Dean in the chest twice to keep him from swatting Sam's hands away.

Dean wants to say "No shit, Sherlock" because obviously he can tell when a cut needs stitches and if his was that bad he'd've busted out the needle and thread already, but up this close he can clearly see the angry red skin on Sam's cheekbone that's going to be one hell of a shiner tomorrow and the fingertip bruises like fucking chicken pox on Sam's neck so Dean growls, "Your turn" and tries to tug Sammy's shirt off.

"Uh uh, no." Sam hisses and backs up like the time near the border when Dean suggested they go see a donkey show— which wasn't even that crazy of an idea, Sammy loves animals— and actually holds up his hands like he's trying to ward Dean off when all Dean is trying to do is find out where else those sons of bitches laid their fucking hands on his brother.

"We do that burn on your shoulder next," Sam says.

Fuck, how did he know about that? Dean put his jacket on as soon as they found it stashed in a closet, and the burn had been under his shirt before that, and he wasn't the one who'd been kidnapped and stuffed in a cage anyway so they were totally doing Sam's wounds first and nothing Sam could do was gonna—

Sam snapped his arm out poked Dean in the shoulder, and Jesus that kid would move fast when he wanted to and that hurt!

"Yeah," Sam says after Dean bellows some of that out loud and flails away, crashing into the edge of the sink. "We're doing your burn next."

Sam is making one of his patented prissy little I-am-so-right faces and Dean keeps swearing at him and even takes a swipe at the side of his head that the hicks seem to have neglected but his vision is still swimming a little from that poke so he goes into the other room, and Sam's not leading him, Dean is just choosing to follow.

Dean sits down on one of the beds— not because Sammy pushes him there or anything, but because they walked a long way today and his legs are sort of tired and the bed looks like as good of place to sit as any. He takes off his jacket and shirt because he's a little warm, and yeah, that burn is sort of uncomfortable, but it has nothing to do with the way Sam threatens to cut both garments off him with a pair of safety scissors.

"I can put on my own damn ointment," Dean snarls when Sam produces the little white jar from a duffel bag.

Sam gives him another prissy look, but this one has raised eyebrows that indicate he's waiting for Dean to snigger at his own use of the word 'ointment.' Dean does, but only because the word ointment is always funny and he can't help it. In no way is it permission for Sam to start rubbing the stuff all over his shoulder but apparently Sam missed that lesson in Social Skills, like so many others.

"Sam," Dean growls, and it's definitely a growl, not a whine despite the way Sam's eyebrows go up again and he laughs. "Knock it off."

"Who would've thought you'd be such a baby?" Sam teases, still smiling. "This isn't even that bad. Pull your arm back."

"Easy for you to say." Dean pulls his arm back, but just because it feels more comfortable like that. Also Sam's sorta freakishly strong for being so skinny. "They didn't stab you with a red-hot poker." He starts to straighten up, a thought striking cruelly through his brain. "Did they stab you with a red-hot poker?"

"No." Sam laughs again like there's something funny about the idea. He pulls out the bandages and keeps fussy over Dean's shoulder, long-fingered hands moving too fast and efficient for Dean to bother to shake them off. Sammy's always had those hands, even when he was short and chubby with baby fat, they there were at the end of his arms like delicate creatures that belonged to someone else. When they were younger Dean used to tell him they looked like spiders until he realized Sam actually liked spiders and he'd patter fingertips down Dean's arm during the night then snort with laughter when Dean flailed for the light switch. Then Dean told him they were like mutated octopuses but the weird kid liked those too so Dean just started calling them girly and abnormal. He never told Sam he had hands exactly like their mother.

There's the unmistakable crinkle of plastic and something is plastered to his forehead, and it takes Dean a moment to realize what it is, because Sammy knows how to be gentle when he wants to and though Dean would knock out Sam's teeth if he ever fucking caressed Dean when he's bandaging his wounds those big hands pressing and taping do feel sort of like a massage, and spending two days searching for your kidnapped brother only to find him at the mercy of a bunch of crazy hicks does entitle a man to be a little tense, so that whole massage thing was feeling kinda good. But Dean only zones out for a second before his right hand flies up to his forehead.

"A band-aid?" he shouts, fingers scrabbling at the offending smoothness like it's hurting him worse than the wound beneath it. "Seriously, dude? A fucking band-aid?" How do they even have band-aids? They're the Winchesters, their first aid kit is made up of dental floss, stolen scalpels, strips of old t-shirts, and a bottle of whiskey.

"It's not that big of a deal," Sam replies as he neatly tucks away the ointment and bandages. "I even bought the Dora the Explorer ones instead of Hannah Montana because I thought they'd make you feel more manly. You know, she's kind of like a hunter in a lot of ways."

Dean gapes at him, caught by the indecision of whether to rip the fucking thing off or murder Sam first. Then Sam starts laughing, really laughing, head thrown back and mouth open wide, loud and bright and wonderful. Dean still punches him on the arm, but he can't bring himself to make it that hard of a punch when Sam is laughing like that, and he actually kinda has to resist turning the punch into a totally girly one-armed hug.

"Okay," Dean says once Sam's calmed down enough to stop shaking the bed and to draw in some breaths between all the guffaws. "We're checking you over now."

Sam makes this indistinct noise in his throat that gets swallowed by shuddery end of another laugh, and yeah, he said he was fine before and Dean let it slide because he couldn't see any obvious bloodstains or broken bones and there was the whole house full of Crazies to deal with, but ever since he was about fourteen Sam's self-definition of being fine has included anything from viral pneumonia to a fucking knife jutting out of his thigh, so Dean's not taking any chances.

But before Dean has so much as raised his hand again there's a knock on the door and Sam's up like a fricken rocket and practically drowning in drool he's salivating so hard, and that's Dean's wallet he grabs off the table and the jackass definitely knows it, but Dean can't even be that mad when Sam flings open the door and the salty warm smell of pizza floods the room.

The delivery guy looks a little startled as Sam all but snatches the boxes from his hands, and Dean understands more than anyone that a looming tower of excited Sasquatch can be a little overwhelming, but then the delivery guy glances around Sam to where Dean is sitting shirtless and bandaged on the bed, and suddenly Dean knows what's coming and he wishes he didn't leave his gun in his jacket so he could just shoot the fucker and be done with it already.

The delivery guy gives them this look, this oh-my-god-what-the-hell-kind-of-weirdos-are-you look they've seen a hundred times before, and while Dean is pretty great at handling them with a smirk or a deliberate hand gesture, Sam isn't. He takes them like they're some sort of personal attack, a confirmation of the all shame and contemptibility of their chosen profession that's so far from his precious ideal of 'normal.' It's been worse since Stanford; he'll flush and stammer at first, then spend the next several hours being sullen and bitchy on an epic scale.

Tonight, it seems, is an exception. Sam definitely sees the look but he doesn't do anything more than ask the guy how much he owes and Dean is pretty sure he even throws in a tip. Still using Dean's wallet, the little bitch.

Sammy still needs to be checked over for injuries, Dean thinks, grabbing a shirt as Sam digs around in the fridge for the beer. He's about to say so too, but in the time it takes to pull the soft gray cotton over his face and give a totally manly groan at the pain the motions send through his shoulder, Sam's already at the table, and somehow he's managed to open two beers and two pizza boxes and grab napkins, and maybe most people wouldn't think of that as an almost stupidly nice domestic gesture, but Dean's not most people and he decides Sammy's injuries can wait until after they eat.

Dean sits down at the table and starts in on his delicious, flavorful, not-at-all-pansy-like-Sam's pizza. He eats quickly and messily because two days of stomach-sickening worry and no food makes for quite the backlog of hunger, and he'd expect some prissy comment from Sam about his table manners if Sam wasn't fucking going to town on his own pizza like he hasn't seen food for weeks.

"Dude." Dean actually pauses in his own feasting to stare at the human trash compactor that's suddenly sprung up in front of him. "Slow down. You're gonna make yourself sick."

Sam mumbles something that could be "thanks, I'm not five years old anymore" but it just as well might be "great, I want to bang Drew Barrymore." It's impossible to tell with the enormous loads of pizza he's shoveling into his mouth, and Sam did always love ET.

Sam finishes his pizza first which isn't surprising given that he seems a few seconds away from grabbing their gun cleaning rod and using it to ram the stuff faster down his throat, but when he starts eyeing the third box that's supposed to be their lunch tomorrow Dean has to put his foot down.

"What the hell, man?" he asks, resting his hands on the table just in case he has to snatch the box out of Sam's reach.

"What?" Sam's all wide-eyes and innocence which is definitely not going to work Dean.

"I haven't seen you eat like that since you were fourteen and growing three feet every night. What's the deal? Those psychopaths surgically implant you with a second stomach or something?"

Sam shrugs, loose and easy. "I was just hungry, I guess. Want another beer?"

"Yeah." Dean watches Sam as he gets up and opens the fridge. There's no sign of tension in the lines of his body but Dean's not fooled, something's up in that crazy brain of Sam's and he hates not knowing what it is. Dean thinks back to when he finally found the room with the cages and Sam's face behind the bars, drawn and pale but practically bursting with relief at the sight of Dean. Maybe Sam had been more frightened than he let on. After all, those motherfuckers put him in a cage for two days and were planning on making his bones into tree ornaments. That kind of shit would mess with anyone's head.

Christ, Dean thinks as Sammy hands him his second beer. He probably needs to talk about it. But Dean's no good at talking about things. He's much happier accepting they're both alive and never having to think about his brother at the mercy of such sick fucks ever again. But Sammy likes to talk about things, and sometimes Dean thinks Sammy needs to talk about things, and if Sammy needs it, Dean will make it happen. Problem is, he doesn't know how to start. He doesn't think "Hey man, if you're having some post-traumatic mental freak out thing from being treated like a fucking animal by crazy people we can talk about it but please stop inhaling shit like a vacuum cleaner 'cause I really don't feel like dealing with your puke tonight" is gonna cut it.

Luckily, Sam brings it up before Dean gets around to thinking up a second option.

"They were people, Dean," he mumbles around a swallow of beer. "I mean… what the hell?" He does this breathy thing that's maybe supposed to be a laugh and Dean realizes Sam doesn't really want to talk about this any more than Dean does, which would be great if that didn't feel so wrong.

"I don't know, Sammy," Dean answers carefully, leaning back in his chair, the fucking picture of ease even though his skin is crawling as he thinks about that house again and all those body parts lying about, and not in a normal whoops-they-got-eviscerated-by-a-hungry-supernatural-monster kind of way.

"But how could they do something like that?" Sam is making that face that says he really does not want to talk about this, but the words keep on coming out like something's pulling them. "I mean, people, normal people—"

"They were hardly normal," Dean interrupts, not sure why he makes his voice so sharp, why it's suddenly important to derail Sam from whatever thought he's currently latched on to. "They were insane. Generations of inbreeding, I'm guessing, and some very poor hygiene choices. And you know as well as I do that serial killers—"

"But they were human," Sam says, and this seems to be the heart of the matter because he leans forward and Dean looks at the bruise on Sam's cheek rather than at his eyes because his eyes are dark and wide and full of fear, and Dean tends to do stupid things when Sam's eyes look like that. "We face the supernatural every day, and it makes sense when it's demons and shapeshifters and ghosts and things, but when it's just humans, doing things like that to other humans… It makes me think maybe…"

Dean's about to say "People suck, Sammy" when his brother trails off, but then something clicks and he remembers Max, who was just a human and who killed two people and who Sam cried for that night when he thought Dean was asleep. And Dean wants to get mad, he really does, because no way is Sam looking at some Hannibal-level crazies and fucking internalizing, thinking a few weirdo visions puts him in potential league with homicidal maniacs.

But it's been a long couple of days and Dean's really fucking exhausted, and he doesn't want to talk about that even less than he wants to talk about what happened today, so he closes his eyes and tips back the rest of his beer and sighs, "Don't, Sam. Just… don't."

And for once, Sam listens.

"Wonder if there's anything good on TV," he says after a pause, and Dean knows it's an apology.

"Doubt it," Dean grumbles, so Sammy knows he's forgiven.

They watch anyway, sitting together on the far bed because these motels always insist on shoving the TV in the farthest corner they can, and neither Dean nor Sam can be bothered right now to move it. Dean flicks through channels while Sam fidgets obnoxiously next to him for what feels like four hours at least before finally giving up and rolling to the floor, digging in his duffel until he comes up with a t-shirt and a pair of sweats.

He changes right there, and Dean's hardly paying attention but he thinks if even he were in the next city he'd be able to see the dark bruise that covers Sam's left side from rib to hip. He's off the bed and over to Sam so fast he thinks he really should try running a marathon one of these days, because if he could find a way to put money on that shit and a wounded Sam at the finish line he'd clean up like crazy.

Sam pushes his hands away when Dean tries to touch the bruise so Dean pushes them right back, thinking about broken ribs and internal bleeding and not listening one bit to Sam's whines of, "It's not that bad, I didn't even notice it, Dean, I swear."

As soon as Dean determines it is, in fact, just a bruise, he pulls away immediately. Sam's looking at him kind of like he wants to laugh and kind of like he wants to bitch, and Dean could make any excuse from the standard "can't be too careful" to the sneering "you're such a delicate flower" but he doesn't feel like it tonight. He goes and gets the remaining beers from the fridge instead and presses one cold bottle to the exposed strip of skin on Sam's lower back, making him squeal then swear in an attempt to cover the fact that he squealed.

Dean settles back on the bed, and after what he apparently deems is an appropriate amount of time spent glaring, Sam joins him again. He brings the third pizza box with him, stubbornly ignoring Dean's incredulous, "Dude, you already ate your weight in cheese tonight!" and angry, "And that's food for on the road tomorrow, bitch, so don't even think about it."

With the pizza box and both of them on the bed it's a little cramped and they end up pressed together, shoulder to hip. Both of them throw a few elbows and complain for a good ten minutes so they can pretend like they mind before they give in and relax.

They watch the end of some gangster movie then half a sitcom before Dean finds a local news story about some people organizing a rescue brigade to save a bunch of kittens that got trapped in a well.

"Restore your faith in humanity?" he asks Sam, who snorts and reaches for the pizza. "I told you, save some of that for tomorrow." He knocks his arm into Sam and Sam kinda tips over, head landing half on Dean's shoulder, his hair tickling Dean's neck so badly Dean considers hacking it off with his knife right then and there. Sam's obviously exhausted and a little drunk— freaken lightweight— so he might not even notice till morning.

"I wasn't scared," Sam murmurs and for a moment Dean thinks he's talking to the piece of pizza he's swallowing whole. "Not really."

"You mean… in the cage?" Maybe Dean's a little buzzed himself because he only feels a tiny echo of the gut-wrenching feeling he first felt when he found Sam in that place.

"Yeah." Dean can feel every motion of Sam's jaw against his arm as Sam devours another piece of pizza and it's pretty damn gross but Sam is heavy and warm and these cheap motels in the Midwest get really fucking drafty at night so Dean doesn't try to move him. "I wasn't that scared. It was weird. I knew I should be, but… I knew you were looking for me." Sam stops chewing with this big sigh that leaves him limp and warm and safe next to Dean. "I knew you'd find me."

"Always, Sammy," Dean whispers, and pokes him once in the ribs, well away from his bruise but right where he's the most ticklish.

They stay on the local news long enough to see the kittens come out of the well, because that ginger one is really tiny and at one point it looks like they're going to drop it, but in the end it makes it out safely, and Dean coulda told you that one was a fighter.

He thinks about trying to find some porn next just to see Sam blush and squirm with embarrassment, but he finds a movie starring Drew Barrymore instead and he nearly busts a vein laughing when Sam asks him to go back to it.

They have an early start tomorrow because neither of them want to stay in this place any longer than they have to, and they really should shut the TV off and go to bed properly, but even though they're both exhausted neither of them feel much like sleeping once the buzz from the beer wears off, so they stay crowded on the small bed, watching infomercials and being generally happy neither of their teeth ended up in a jar.

As far as a post-kidnapping-by-hicks night goes, it's not so bad. Dean thinks about yanking off his band-aid but decides it can wait till morning. Sammy eats the entire third pizza by himself. Bitch.