A/N: I seem to be stuck in season 1 or pre-series for all my stories. Also, as you may be able to tell from this story, I have a problem with the way Missouri treated Dean in the episode Home. This short story was written for a prompt by grlkat2 at livejournal. Her prompt was Nobody Said It Was Easy. The challenge was to write a story within 24 hours of recieving the prompt and I ended up with about 5 hours of available writing time within that particular 24 hour period. So if the story seems too short or to end too quickly, that's why. I hope you like it anyway.

The Cruelty of Strangers

By Disneymagic

This is the third poltergeist they've hunted in as many weeks. The damn things are coming out of the woodwork – literally, ha – ever since Lawrence, Kansas. Ever since they had limped away from their childhood home a little bit wiser and a whole hell of a lot more bruised in his case, crushed in Dean's. Dean had been stripped bare of every last one of his defenses by that hunt and into the breach had stormed one Missouri Mosley, psychic extraordinaire. Sam shakes his head and keeps on driving.

He knows what's going on here, he's a pretty sharp guy even if he does have to say it himself and he can read a pattern, especially one as obvious as this one. Each time it's Dean's turn to pick a hunt his brother is going out of his way to find signs of poltergeist activity, trying to recreate that perfect firestorm of events that led to the appearance of their mother. The only problem is, he's missing one very important ingredient; Mom's spirit isn't in any of those other houses. She's gone.

Sam knows Mom is gone and she's not coming back this time. Dean knows it too, but…but he's having a hard time letting go. Loyalty and dependence often go hand in hand.

Glancing over at his brother slouched in the passenger seat, Sam notes the sunglasses firmly in place although the sky is a bit overcast. So it's going to be one of those days, cloudy with a chance of irritable, uncooperative and brooding. Sam sighs.

"What?" Dean asks, managing to sound both bored and impatient at the same time.

"Nothing, man. Just thinking about the hunt." Sam deflects.

Dean nods as though thinking about poltergeists in the middle of the day is good and proper. After all, for them nothing could be more normal. "You thinking anything in particular? Looks pretty cut and dry to me. We get in using the gas leak story, throw a couple hoo-doo bags in the corners and get the hell out before the sonofabitch knows what hit it. Just like last time." Dean turns to look out the passenger window as though he can camouflage the yearning ache in his voice with a study in indifference.

Last time had gone relatively smoothly, Sam reflects, it was three times ago when they had been kicked in the guts and handed their own hearts on a platter. But he knows better that to bring Lawrence up, at least not directly. "How many of those bags do we have left?"

They had made a supply of the bags Missouri had taught them about to keep with their arsenal of hunter's tools. At least the woman had done one thing to help them out. Yeah, Sam's a little bitter about the part their Dad's so-called psychic friend had played in the Lawrence hunt, but he has good reason to be.

"Enough." Dean says as though there's a shortage of words and he has to save them up, economize. "I stocked up after the last hunt." He relents and adds after a short silence.

"That's cool." Sam says, disguising approval in his flippant answer because that's about as close as Dean will let him get to giving his brother a pat on the back without some kind of snarky comeback.

When they arrive at the scene of slamming doors, chairs stacked inexplicably on top of tables and a rat infestation that no one can ever catch a glimpse of, the family buys the story about a gas leak hook line and sinker. The father, mother and twin girls are out of the house so fast Sam thinks they must have watched the movie and be a bit more savvy than the average civilian. They seem more than happy to vacate the premises and leave this job to the professionals.

For some reason the fact that they pull up in a vintage Chevy wearing blue jeans and leather jackets doesn't elicit a single question. The caps on their heads are the only article of clothing they have proclaiming that they work for the gas company. Sam chalks it up to his honest face and lets it go at that.

The duffle bag they bring with them into the house has everything they need already packed; hatchets for easy removal of drywall and the poltergeist-dispelling leather pouches most importantly.

"You take the second floor, I'll take the first floor." Dean directs.

Just like Lawrence, Sam notes, but keeps his observation to himself instead nodding briskly and taking the steps to the second floor two at a time. Luckily, there is no basement, so they don't need Missouri's help or any other third person for that matter. It's just the two of them and that's the way Sam prefers it.

Working quickly, Sam gets all four of his bags placed without any trouble, as long as you don't count the books flying off the bookshelf as trouble and Sam doesn't. He hears a loud crash from downstairs at the same time as he feels the by now familiar surge of energy that signals the poltergeist's departure.

"Dean!" He yells, more as prudent wariness than because he thinks anything is wrong. Dean knows how to handle himself. His brother is more than competent.

However, when his call gets no response his heart begins to slam against his ribs. He flies back down the stairs and finds Dean lying face down in the living room, a large ornate mirror covering his back and head, jagged pieces of broken glass scattered all around the floor next to him.

"Shit. Shit, Dean. Shitshitshit." Sam's vocabulary seems to have been mysteriously reduced to those two words by the sight of his incapacitated brother.

He eases the heavy frame off Dean's body and throws it across the room, heedless of the damage he might cause to the already wrecked decoration. He couldn't care less about the furniture right now.

There's blood, of course there's blood. Trickling down the nape of Dean's neck, mating in his hair and running in a stream onto his face. "Shit." Sam says again. In one swift move he has his jacket and shirt off. The flannel long-sleeve shirt makes a fairly absorbent bandage when necessary. He presses the material to the back of his brother's head where the blood is still welling, bright red against the sandy blond hastily-styled spikes.

"Hey, Dean. Time to rise and shine, dude. We need to move." Sam cajoles quietly. As much as he'd rather give Dean as much time as he needs to rouse on his own, his brother's stillness scares him and they can't stay in the house for long. The energy blast from the poltergeist will bring curious on-lookers and the house's owners might not be altogether happy with the state of their home when they return.

Dean groans and one eye slits open to wander aimlessly around the room before slipping closed again.

"No, no, no, Dean. You can sleep in the car. Come on, up and at'em." Sam tries to talk his brother into alertness, not wanting to shake him or handle him roughly in any way. His poor head is going to be killing him enough as it is without being jarred needlessly.

"Sam…" Dean slurs uncertainly.

"Yeah, I'm here." Sam reassures. "Let's get going. Can you walk or do you need me to carry you?"

The possibility that Sam might try to carry Dean out of the house has the desired effect on his older brother. Dazed and confused or not, there's no way Dean would knowingly consent to being carried. With Sam's help he wobbles to his feet, as unsteady as a newborn kitten. "Whoa." He whispers to the carpeting.

"I gotcha." Tucking his shoulder under his brother's arm and placing a bracing hand on his chest, Sam guides the seriously listing man out to the Impala.

Once they reach the car though, Dean balks at being manhandled into the passenger seat.

"What're you doing, Dean? Get in the car." Sam glances around and frowns at the couple peeking through the curtains of the house next door.

"I'm not stupid, Sam. I…I know lots of stuff." For all that Dean looks as though he can barely stay upright, he's doing a brilliant job of evading Sam's every attempt to get him into the car, dodging and ducking out from under Sam's reach.

"Not really the point here, man. We need to go and you're not driving so you need to sit in the passenger seat before you fall over." Trying to reason with Dean in his current condition is about as effective as trying to reason with a moody toddler. That is to say, not effective at all.

"Missouri thinks I'm an idiot." Dean says and pouts, honest to God pouts with his lower lip sticking out and trembling for good measure.

And that - that right there - sums up Sam's disdain for the woman.

"What does Missouri know? Huh? She doesn't know you. She doesn't know us." Sam denounces vehemently.

But she should have. Of all the people who routinely condemn the Winchesters just by looking at them, Sam had expected Missouri to be different. He'd been sadly disappointed. If she can read people's minds like she claims she must only be able to pick up the surface thoughts. Either that or she didn't care to dig any deeper with Dean, saw the cocky trouble maker on the outside and dismissed him out of hand.

Sam thinks back to their time in Lawrence and racks his brain for the specific comment Dean is referring to. Ah yes, 'not the sharpest tool in the shed' she'd said when discussing Dean with Jenny. Nice, real nice. Sometimes the cruelty of people is truly astounding.

Well, that's all right, they don't need Missouri, they have each other and that's enough.

Nobody ever said a hunter's life was easy.

"Sam? I don't…what?" Dean sways and Sam manages to get a hand on his brother's arm.

"You had your clock cleaned, dude. But it's gonna be okay. I've gotcha."

All the fight goes out of Dean instantly at that one touch, as though they had been playing a strange game of Catch Me If You Can and once Sam 'caught' the other man he won the grand prize – an armful of limp older brother. Dean leans into Sam's enfolding arms and his still bleeding head comes to a weary rest on Sam's shoulder.

Nobody said it had to be this hard either.

"Missouri doesn't know what she's talking about. You're brighter than most of the people I've ever met." Sam confides in a hushed tone. "You have street smarts and you have amazing instincts. Don't you let that woman sell you short, Dean. Just because she's dad's friend doesn't give her any power over you."

Dean is quiet and docile this time as Sam maneuvers him into the Impala, compliantly folding into the passenger seat.

Sam pats his shoulder before jogging around to the driver's side. The knot on Dean's head and probable concussion are fixable. Sam hopes the deeper, more painful hurts are as well.

The End.

A/N: Thank you so much for reading. Please leave a review on your way out.