"Shit!" Dean hissed, still holding his knife as Shifter Stacey ran from the security office, and lunged toward the door to follow her...only to be stopped as Harold suddenly blocked his exit. "Move," he growled warningly and shoved against the larger man.
"Like hell I will!" Harold barked back. "Drop the knife."
"Like hell I will," Dean returned, tightening his grip around his weapon's handle. "That bitch took my brother!"
Harold frowned at the accusation. "Stacey?"
"That's not Stacey," Dean bluntly informed. "It's a shifter."
"A what?" Harold asked.
"You heard me," Dean snapped. "Which means the real Stacey is probably wherever my brother is. And whether or not you believe me, you know people don't smoke and sizzle when they're cut. Now let me go..." he ordered; his tone hard as he held the knife up to the security guard's face.
Harold blinked at the threatening gesture and glanced at Carl who had come to stand beside him in the doorway.
"He's right," Carl responded. "I don't know what she is, but she sure as hell ain't Stacey. Let him go."
But Dean didn't wait for Harold to relent; instead roughly pushing the security guard back and exiting the office.
"I need you to watch the security footage and tell me where she's headed," Dean told Carl; snatching the old man's walkie-talkie radio from his belt and shoving it into his hands before grabbing the radio from Harold's belt and keeping it for himself.
Carl nodded and pushed past his son; his eyes scanning the multiple television screens until he saw Stacey...or at least, the thing that looked like Stacey. "She's in housewares," he yelled out the open office door.
Dean nodded and turned; knife and radio in hand.
"Wait..." Harold called. "If Stacey's really missing, I'm coming with you."
"Then I suggest you move your ass..." Dean advised and ran in the direction Shifter Stacey had gone. "And grab that letter opener..." he added over his shoulder.
Harold frowned. "What letter opener?"
"This one," Carl replied.
Harold glanced in his father's direction just in time to catch the flying sharp object as Carl tossed it to him. "Jesus, Dad!"
"Shut up and go," Carl snapped before directing his attention back to the security video. "She's approaching sporting goods," he spoke into the radio.
"Roger," Dean's voice came back.
Carl glared over his shoulder at his son. "Go!"
Harold startled out of his daze and followed his father's order; running in the direction of sporting goods and hoping he would catch up with Dean.
A few seconds later, Harold heard his dad's voice over the radio and followed the sound of it; knowing Dean had to be nearby.
"She just went out the backdoor," Carl informed.
"Roger," Dean responded and then glanced at the end of the aisle as Harold suddenly appeared. "Backdoor," he repeated to the security guard.
Harold nodded and followed behind Dean; still gripping the letter opener Dean had told him to bring along...but not sure why. "Shouldn't I pull my gun?" he asked.
"Shut up!" Dean hissed and cut his eyes at Harold before pausing by the backdoor of the store; peering through the small window to double-check the shifter's whereabouts; having no desire to be ambushed. "Carl..." he quietly called into the radio. "Talk to me."
There was silence.
Dean frowned. "Carl..."
There was more silence and then static before Carl finally spoke. "I lost her," the old man admitted.
Dean arched an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"I'm sorry," Carl continued over the radio. "As soon as she went out the backdoor, it's like she vanished."
Dean sighed harshly. "Great," he muttered and shook his head before glancing over his shoulder at Harold and handing the radio back; no longer needing it if Carl could no longer track the shifter over the security cameras. "Get ready."
Harold nodded at the order and hooked the radio back to his belt; holding up his letter opener and feeling completely ridiculous for doing so.
"It's silver," Dean informed; knowing the security guard would be more likely to not screw up if he at least partially understood what was going on. "Or at least, I think it is..." he amended. "And silver's the only thing that works against shifters."
"Oh," Harold responded and nodded like that made perfect sense.
Dean snorted and shook his head; reminded of how weird his life was since that explanation did make perfect sense to him. "Alright..." he sighed. "Stay sharp."
Harold nodded once more and followed behind Dean as Dean kicked open the backdoor.
Dean froze on the loading dock and immediately surveyed the area lit by the bright lights mounted to the side of the building; his eyes crawling over every box and crate as he turned a slow circle with his knife in hand; searching for any signs of the shifter.
But here was nothing.
"Oh my god..." Harold remarked; his tone indicating his shock and disgust. "What the hell is that?"
Dean stared at the heap of gooey, flesh-colored slop on the pavement and sighed. "Looks like our shifter shifted," he reported dryly.
"That's..." Harold swallowed and cringed like he didn't even have the words to describe how repulsive it was.
"Yeah," Dean agreed; staring at the pile of shed flesh – like the skin had just melted away from the shifter's frame – and then glanced over his shoulder at the security camera mounted on the side of the building; not surprised that the corner where the shifter had changed was conveniently out of the camera's range.
...which would explain why Carl had lost sight of it after it had exited the backdoor.
"Now what?" Harold asked, glancing around the loading dock.
"Good question," Dean returned, also scanning the area. "The shifter doesn't look like Stacey anymore."
Harold frowned. "Then who are we looking for?"
"Anybody," Dean responded bluntly. "The shifter can be anybody. I mean, hell...it was me when it took Sam."
And Dean was never going to get over that; a supernatural creature wearing his face to harm his brother.
"So, what now?" Harold repeated.
Dean shook his head and was about to answer when he saw it – a manhole cover in the far corner.
Harold arched an eyebrow as Dean began to smile and followed Dean's gaze. "What?"
"Home sweet home," Dean informed and crossed to the corner as Harold matched his steps.
"Shifters," Dean replied simply.
"Huh," Harold mused, surprised by how calm he felt – as if this particular sequence of events happened every day at Walmart – and stared down at the manhole cover. "I guess we're going down, right?"
"Well, I am..." Dean responded.
Harold nodded – having expected that answer – and reached to help Dean lift the manhole cover; both men holding their weapons in one hand while removing the cover with the other.
A billow of steam and sewer gas immediately filled the air.
Harold coughed and took a step back, watching as Dean snatched the flashlight from his belt and then instantly entered the hole; climbing down the ladder with one hand while he held the flashlight under his arm and gripped his knife.
"Dude. You're like Indiana Jones..." Harold commented, not sure if Dean heard him, and waited for the splash that indicated Dean had reached the bottom of the ladder before following behind; tucking the letter opener in his pocket and climbing down into the sewer.
"Who the hell wants to live down here?" Harold asked as he joined Dean; wrinkling his nose at the sour odor that filled the tunnel; feeling the shallow water seeping into his boots.
Dean ignored the question; glancing left then right as he swung the flashlight's beam in both directions. "Okay, listen..." he began, waving the flashlight in front of Harold's face to get the security guard to focus. "The shifter could be anywhere and could be anybody. Or there might even be several of them...I don't know. But no matter what, all shifters have the same reaction to silver. So when it doubt – "
" – cut first, ask questions later," Harold finished, once again gripping the letter opener and remembering what had happened when Dean had cut the shifter back in the security office.
Dean quirked a smile. "Very good," he praised and then turned; shining the flashlight's beam down the tunnel. "Let's go. Stay close, stay alert, and stay quiet. We don't need to announce we're coming any more than we already have."
Harold nodded his understanding and followed; feeling a rush of adrenaline.
Because while this was definitely one of the most bizarre days he had ever had at work, it was also turning out to be one of the most awesome.
Several minutes passed.
The sewer tunnel twisted and turned the deeper they went and eventually led to a drier area; the concrete still damp but no longer wet with standing water.
Harold sighed; wanting to ask how much further they had to walk but not daring to open his mouth; knowing he was older than Dean but still feeling intimidated; knowing that as strange as it seemed, Dean was the one with more experience in this situation.
So, Harold continued to follow in silence.
More minutes passed before Dean suddenly stopped; sensing Sam was close even before the flashlight illuminated the kid sitting on to top of several stacked crates.
"Sammy..." Dean murmured in relief and immediately crossed to his brother.
Sam blinked in the beam of the flashlight as Dean approached; his mouth gagged; his ankles tied; his hands secured behind his back; and several loops of rope securing his small body to the massive pipe he was sitting against on the crates.
"Sam..." Dean called again – so incredibly thankful to see the kid – and motioned for Harold. "Come hold this..." he ordered and handed over the flashlight.
Harold took it; standing beside Dean and shining the light on Sam.
Sam immediately squinted; grunting as he turned away.
"Not in his face!" Dean snapped and resisted the urge to punch the security guard. "He's traumatized enough without you blinding him. Jesus..."
"Sorry," Harold quietly apologized and readjusted his grip; lowering the flashlight's beam.
Sam cautiously turned back to face them; watching them warily.
"It's okay," Dean assured and reached to remove the gag from his brother's mouth as his eyes scanned Sam's face; instantly feeling his anger return.
Because the shifter had obviously knocked the kid around as evidenced by the blood streaked across Sam's forehead and down his temple along with the swollen, bruised knot that had already formed beneath the torn skin at the point of impact.
Dean sighed harshly and then paused when Sam flinched away from his touch; the kid's eyes wide and scared as he wordlessly stared at Dean.
But Sam's expression said it all.
Dean felt his heart twist; hating the shifter even more for causing his little brother to be afraid of him. "Sammy. It's me, kiddo," he soothed. "You know it's me. Right?"
Sam nodded hesitantly; knowing the person in front of him was indeed his brother but unable to shake his lingering fear at the sight of him.
Because the last time he saw Dean – or the shifter that had looked like Dean – Sam had been dragged out of the store and pushed down in the sewer, had been knocked unconscious, and had woken up alone in the damp darkness; tied to a massive pipe while listening to the hiss of other pipes and to the squeaks of rats as the rodents had splashed through the tunnel's puddles.
Sam glanced at the man holding the flashlight; vaguely wondering if he was a second shifter.
"Sam..." Dean called, attracting his brother's attention before carefully easing the gag from the kid's mouth; dropping the torn, dirty fabric to the floor.
Sam breathed deeply through his mouth – just because he finally could – and then swallowed and blinked.
Dean frowned. "Talk to me, Sammy," he urged; knowing he needed to free his brother from his bonds so they could find the real Stacey and get the hell out of the sewer...but hesitant to do so until the kid snapped out his shocked daze.
But Sam just continued to blink at him; clearly studying Dean for signs that he was really his big brother and not the shifter back for Round #2.
Dean sighed. "Okay, kiddo..." he allowed, deciding he would give Sam time to sort things out. "I'm gonna cut you loose now..." he warned, showing Sam the knife before slicing the ropes behind his brother; freeing the kid's body and hands from the pipe.
In response, Sam immediately sprang forward; almost falling off the crates he still sat on as he threw himself against Dean; wrapping his skinny arms around his brother and holding on tight.
"Whoa..." Dean commented at the unexpected reaction but held the knife away from Sam and regained his footing; quickly returning his brother's hug. "It's okay, Sammy," he whispered, rubbing the kid's back in silent comfort. "You're okay now. I'm here."
Sam nodded; his bony chin digging into Dean's shoulder before he inhaled shakily and pushed back to stare at his brother with misty eyes. "Dean..."
"I know," Dean soothed. "It's a shifter. But it's okay," he repeated, knowing Sam needed the reassurance, and then lightly touched the bloody bump on his brother's head. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
Sam swallowed and glanced down. "My ankle hurts. I think I sprained it when the shifter pushed me down the ladder."
Dean clenched his jaw – having yet another reason to kill the shifter – and turned his attention to his brother's ankle; carefully slicing through the ropes that still bound the kid's feet.
Harold adjusted the direction of the flashlight's beam; shining the light on Sam's right ankle as Dean rolled down the cuff of Sam's sock and gently palpated the swollen skin.
Harold cringed at the inflamed, bluish-purple flesh. "Ouch..." he hissed as Sam flinched. "That looks bad."
Dean cut his eyes at the security guard. "Nobody asked you."
Sam winced in pain and then glanced at Harold; blinking expectantly.
Harold smiled. "Hi. I'm Harold, Walmart's security guard."
Dean snorted at the lame introduction. "We're all very impressed," he commented dryly and then pulled Sam's sock up before looking at his brother. "It's definitely sprained, Sammy. No way you're walking out of here."
Sam nodded his agreement; because his ankle hurt.
"Want me to carry him?" Harold asked helpfully.
Dean scowled but didn't answer; his expression speaking for itself – that Harold would be sorry if he reached for Sam.
Sam laughed softly; knowing his brother's thoughts and being incredibly thankful to be back with the real Dean. "I missed you," he said quietly, not even realizing he had spoken that thought aloud until Dean looked at him.
Sam smiled shyly and ducked his head.
Dean returned the smile. "Same here, kiddo," he told his little brother – even though they had only be separated for an hour or so – and affectionately squeezed the back of the kid's neck.
Harold smiled as well; unexpectedly touched by the brothers' interaction.
There was a beat of silence.
"Now...enough of you making me act like a girl," Dean teased and nudged Sam's shoulder. "We need to get the hell out of here before the shifter comes back."
"What about Stacey?" Harold asked, glancing around the sewer tunnel as if he expected to see her.
Dean glanced at Sam. "Sammy. Did the shifter bring anybody else down here?"
"I don't know," Sam admitted and carefully rubbed at the drying blood on his forehead. "Sorry."
"It's okay," Dean responded; even though he was freshly pissed at the realization of why Sam didn't know – because the kid had been knocked out.
"Well, she's got to be down here somewhere," Harold insisted. "You said – "
" – I know what I said," Dean interrupted; knowing it was the right thing to do but annoyed that he had to save someone else now when all he really wanted to do was get Sam out and take care of the kid.
Sam shifted uncomfortably as he continued to sit on the stacked crates; wincing as he once again touched his head.
Dean frowned. "What's wrong?"
Sam shrugged. "My head just hurts. And my ankle..."
Dean nodded and sighed; glancing at Harold and preparing to speak when another voice called out in the darkness.
Harold immediately swung the flashlight's beam toward the voice deeper in the sewer tunnel. "Stace?"
"Harold?" the voice called back.
Harold glanced over his shoulder at Dean. "That's her."
"You think it's her," Dean corrected. "It could be the shifter again."
"Harold?" the voice called once more.
"Yeah," Harold answered the voice and then glanced back at Dean. "That's her," he insisted. "I know it." He paused and nodded at Sam. "Just like the kid knew you weren't the shifter this time."
Dean sighed, unable to argue against that logic; because sometimes you did indeed just know, especially when you loved somebody.
"Fine," Dean relented. "But if she so much as looks at me wrong, I will stab her in the heart," he warned; still remembering Shifter Stacey's smug smirk as she had taunted him about Sam.
Harold's eyes widened. "Um...yeah. Okay..."
Dean nodded and then looked at his brother. "Sammy..."
Sam returned the nod; not needing any other words from his brother to know the plan.
Dean smiled. "Just like old times...right, kiddo?" he asked as he crouched and felt Sam climb onto his back.
"Mmhmm," Sam agreed; concentrating on not accidently jarring his injured ankle as he wrapped himself around his brother.
"You ready?" Dean checked; feeling Sam's arms around his neck and helping to support the kid's legs with one hand while still holding the knife in the other.
Sam nodded; his bony chin once again digging into Dean's shoulder.
Dean glanced at Harold. "Let's go."
Harold nodded and directed the flashlight down the tunnel as they walked. "We're coming, Stace..." he called as they approached.
"Who's 'we'?" Stacey asked, sounding confused and then blinking up as the answer revealed itself. "Oh."
Harold smiled as his ex-girlfriend stared at the strangers standing beside him. "Stace, this is Dean and Sam. They're customers."
"Oh," Stacey repeated as Harold crouched and began cutting the ropes that bound her. "I saw you earlier," she told Sam. "When that thing brought me down here, we passed right by you. But you were unconscious. Are you okay?"
Sam nodded; clinging to Dean's back and not feeling very talkative.
"He'll be fine," Dean assured the store manager. "Just as soon as we get the hell out of here..."
"Amen to that," Stacey heartily agreed and allowed Harold to pull her to her feet. "Does anybody know what the hell is going on?"
"There's a shifter among us," Harold announced dramatically, like he was an expert on the subject.
"A shifter?" Stacey repeated. "Like a shapeshifter? For real?"
Dean chuckled. "For real," he confirmed.
"Huh," Stacey mused and rubbed her sore wrists; her skin raw from the ropes. "Well, I guess that explains it..."
Dean arched an eyebrow. "Explains what?"
Stacey sighed. "I thought I was going crazy," she told them. "I was back at the break room and came out of the stall in the women's bathroom. And there was..." She shook her head, still not believing it. "There was me."
"Whoa," Harold commented. "Freaky."
"Yeah," Stacey agreed dryly. "To say the least. Then the next thing I know, I'm being grabbed by...myself...and shoved out the backdoor, down the loading dock, and down into this sewer."
"Sounds about right for a shifter," Dean agreed and felt Sam sigh against his back; the kid clearly exhausted and in pain and beyond ready to go home. "Alright, enough talking. Let's get the hell out of here. Unless you saw somebody else...?"
Stacey shook her head. "No. Just him," she responded and stared at the blood on Sam's forehead as the kid continued to rest on his brother's back. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes," Sam replied quietly, even though his head and ankle throbbed with his heartbeat. "Are you okay?"
Stacey smiled; touched that Sam was obviously injured and shaken yet still concerned about her. "I'm fine."
"That's a relief," Harold told her and smoothed her tangled hair from her face.
Stacey's smile widened at both Harold's words and his touch.
"Is he your boyfriend?" Sam suddenly asked with the curiosity of a 12-year old.
Stacey laughed lightly. "Maybe," she responded.
Harold blinked at the announcement. "Really?" he asked; his tone surprised but hopeful.
"Maybe," Stacey repeated.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Alright, enough of that crap. I'm getting my brother out of here, and you two lovebirds are welcome to join us. But move your asses..." He glanced at Harold. "And be ready."
Harold sobered at the reminder about lurking danger in the sewer and nodded; once again holding out his letter opener.
"What the hell are you gonna do with that?" Stacey asked as they started walking; retracing their steps in the sewer tunnel to return to the ladder.
"It's silver," Harold reported proudly. "It's the only thing that works against shifters."
Stacey nodded, adequately impressed that Harold knew that, and kept walking beside her maybe-boyfriend as they followed the brothers through the sewer tunnel.
"You okay, Sammy?" Dean checked; feeling the kid begin to sag as Sam's arms loosened their hold around his neck.
"Yeah," Sam agreed quietly. "Just tired. And my head hurts."
Dean nodded, having expected that report. "How 'bout your ankle?"
"That, too," Sam added. "Can we..."
But his voice trailed off as his gaze focused further down the tunnel.
Dean frowned at his brother's sudden silence but then realized why; narrowing his eyes at what he saw at the far end of the tunnel toward the ladder.
"That's him," Sam whispered; his voice impossibly quiet...and scared. "Or it...whatever. But it's – "
" – I know," Dean soothed; proud of his little brother for spotting the shifter so far away; the kid hurt, tired, and traumatized...but still a hunter at heart. "It's okay, Sammy."
Sam said nothing; but Dean could feel the kid's small body tremble as his little brother continued to ride on his back.
"We got company," Dean announced quietly, alerting Harold and Stacey to potential trouble ahead.
Harold shifted behind Dean, angling for a better view, and then blinked. "What the hell is my dad doing down here?"
Dean shook his head as they continued to walk; readjusting his hold on his brother and his grip on his knife. "I doubt that's your dad."
Harold frowned. "Why?"
"Just trust me..." Dean responded; because sometimes it was hard to explain a hunter's instinct to a non-hunter.
But Dean had been expecting this meeting; had known they would probably not escape the sewer without some type of run-in with the shifter.
"It looks like dad from here," Harold countered still staring down the tunnel.
"Seriously?" Dean asked incredulously as he stopped walking. "You're using that argument in this situation?"
Harold cringed and shrugged at the reprimand; not used to dealing with shifters as Dean apparently was. "Guess not."
"Why did we stop?"
Dean glanced at Stacey as she spoke. "Because you and Sam are waiting here," he replied and glanced over his shoulder at his brother as Sam clung to him. "Sammy. I need you to stay here with Stacey for a few minutes while me and Harold go handle this situation."
Sam shook his head; knowing the potential danger. "No, Dean..."
"I'll be fine," Dean assured and carefully eased his brother off his back. "Stacey..."
Stacey nodded and stepped forward; lightly grasping Sam's shoulders and holding the wobbly kid steady as Sam balanced on one leg beside her.
"Dean..." Sam tried again.
"Be right back," Dean responded casually to his brother and then nodded at Harold.
Harold returned the nod and fell in beside Dean as they continued walking down the sewer tunnel, leaving Stacey and Sam behind them.
Shifter Carl approached from the opposite end of the tunnel, smiling.
"Remember..." Dean advised Harold, tightening his grip on the knife he held. "That's not your dad."
"Yeah," Harold agreed; still holding the letter opener and hoping he wouldn't be forced to use it...especially on some creature that was wearing his father's face.
"Hey..." Shifter Carl pleasantly greeted as he stopped in the tunnel and allowed Dean and Harold to advance toward him. "I see you two found Sam and Stacey."
"We did," Dean confirmed but said nothing more.
Shifter Carl's gaze looked beyond his son and the hunter. "Good. They look okay for the most part."
Dean arched an eyebrow at that phrasing; remembering how the shifter had said something similar when it had been disguised as Stacey and was taunting him about Sam's condition.
For the most part he was fine...
"Yeah. They seem okay," Harold agreed nervously.
Shifter Carl nodded. "So why are they all the way down there?"
"Sam needed to rest," Dean replied smoothly; his smile tight; his expression hard.
"I see..." Shifter Carl responded; his gaze flickering between Dean and Harold like he knew the jig was up.
"What are you doing down here, Dad?"
Dean glanced at Harold as he spoke; surprised but proud that the security guard would ask such a casual, normal question to keep up the pretense.
Shifter Carl shrugged. "Well, when I didn't hear back from you boys on the radio, I thought I'd come see if I could help out. Make sure you hadn't run into trouble..."
"That's nice," Dean praised and smiled again; then immediately let the smile drop. "But we didn't tell you we were coming down to the sewer. The last you heard on the radio, we were just exiting the backdoor."
"True," Shifter Carl agreed, having expected that argument. "But when I came out on the loading dock, I saw the open manhole cover and just – "
" – and just assumed we were down here," Harold finished; coldly staring at the creature in front of him.
"Exactly," Shifter Carl replied and smiled; his gaze once again flickering to Sam and Stacey at the far end of the tunnel.
Dean glanced at Harold, subtly nodding his cue.
Harold returned the nod and swallowed.
In the next instant, both lunged forward; Harold slicing Shifter Carl's arm to test for a reaction...and Dean plunging his silver knife into the shifter's chest when the cut from the letter opener predictably sizzled and smoked.
The shifter's body twitched under Dean's knife; its face grimacing in a twisted smile before its eyes dipped closed, and its body slumped in Dean's grasp.
Dean stared at the dead creature – thinking he should probably be disturbed by the cold satisfaction he felt – and jerked his knife from the shifter's chest; allowing its body to fall with a splash to the shallow water that once again covered the tunnel's floor.
Harold stared in fascinated detachment at what appeared to be the dead body of his father...even though he knew it wasn't. "Where's my dad?" he asked Dean.
Dean wiped the blade of his knife on the shifter's sleeve. "Probably still in the security office where we left him," he replied confidently and turned; walking back down the tunnel and back to his brother.
Sam smiled and sighed shakily as Dean approached; feeling weak with fatigue and overwhelming relief that his brother was okay...but also feeling energized by how incredibly awesome his big brother was.
Dean smiled at Sam. "Told you I'd be right back..."
Sam nodded and relaxed into Dean's arms as his brother took him from Stacey's grasp.
"You okay?" Dean checked, holding the kid steady against him as Sam continued to balance on one leg.
"Yeah," Sam responded. "But can we please go home now?"
Dean chuckled. "Best idea I've heard all night," he told his brother and handed his knife to Harold as the security guard stood behind him. "Here, fellow Shifter Slayer. Man the knife. I've got a kid brother to carry."
Dean winked at Sam and then smiled at Harold.
Harold laughed. "Thanks," he replied and glanced at Stacey as she slipped her arm through his and smiled up at him; the status of maybe-boyfriend instantly morphing to definitely.
Dean quirked a smile at the scene and squeezed Sam's shoulder. "Let's go, kiddo..." he called and crouched; helping Sam climb on his back and looping his arms under the kid's legs, careful not to jar Sam's injured right ankle.
A few minutes later, they were at the ladder again; the bright lights from the store's loading dock shining down into the darkness of the sewer.
"Who's first?" Harold asked, staring up the open manhole.
"You and Stacey," Dean answered and once again lowered Sam to the ground. "After you two are up, you can help me with Sam."
Harold nodded at that plan and gave the knife back to Dean before climbing up the ladder.
Dean watched him go; returning the knife to his boot with one hand while holding Sam steady with the other as the kid stood on one leg.
After Harold climbed out, Dean nodded at Stacey. "Your turn."
Stacey returned the nod and followed Harold up the ladder and out of the sewer.
Dean sighed and glanced at his brother. "Sammy..."
"I know," Sam agreed and held onto the ladder as Dean crouched low enough for Sam to climb onto his shoulders.
"Ready?" Dean asked.
"Ready," Sam returned and wobbled slightly on his brother's shoulders as Dean stood up.
"Be careful up there," Dean warned and slowly started climbing the ladder. "I hope we never have to do this when you get older and bigger..." he remarked; his shoulders and neck already hurting.
"Yeah," Sam agreed quietly; concentrating on his part of this deal – his hands grabbing each rung and helping to ease himself up the ladder.
The process was slow – especially since Sam was tired and especially since Dean was being careful not to accidently hit the kid's injured ankle as they climbed; but within a few minutes, they had reached the top.
"Take him," Dean called up to Harold and Stacey. "But he careful with him," he warned sharply. "Don't hurt him."
Sam smiled; always feeling loved and protected when Dean fussed over him, even if he usually acted like he was annoyed by his big brother's motherhenning.
"We've got him," Harold told Dean as he and Stacey both crouched by the manhole and reached for Sam; carefully pulling the kid up.
Dean quickly followed; Sam hardly putting his uninjured foot on the ground before Dean was there to pick the kid back up.
Sam grunted as he climbed on Dean's back again.
"Dude..." Harold commented as he and Stacey slid the manhole cover back in place. "What a night."
Stacey laughed at the understatement and straightened to her full height before focusing on the Dean. "Thank you."
Dean shrugged; feeling Sam shift on his back with the movement. "You're welcome. Just doing my job."
Stacey arched an eyebrow and then narrowed her eyes. "I probably don't want to know what your job is, do I?"
"No," Dean confirmed and shook his head. "Ignorance is bliss. Trust me."
Stacey nodded her agreement and glanced at Harold. "Shall we?" she invited and motioned toward the illuminated backdoor.
"Absolutely," Harold heartily agreed and led the way.
Several seconds later, they were back in Walmart; other employees and a few of the lingering customers giving curious looks to the tattered-looking group as they passed by them on their way to the front of the store.
"Dad..." Harold called as they approached the security office and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Carl still sitting in front of the security monitors.
Carl turned at the sound of his son's voice and stood. "Well, it's about damn time..." he groused and crossed to meet the group in the doorway. "I kept trying to call you on the radio."
Harold shrugged. "Guess there was no signal down in the sewer."
"The sewer?" Carl echoed. "What the hell?"
"Long story," Stacey told him and shook her head, still holding onto Harold's arm. "The important thing is that the shifter is dead, and we're all fine."
"And together," Harold added.
Carl arched an eyebrow and nodded his approval of the apparently rekindled relationship between Harold and Stacey before glancing at Dean and Sam standing behind the happy couple.
"You two okay?" Carl asked the kids and frowned when he saw the blood on Sam's head.
"He's okay," Dean assured. "I'll take care of him."
Carl smiled. "I've got no doubt about that," he answered confidently.
Dean returned the smile and shifted his brother's weight on his back. "Well...we're heading out. As always, Walmart has made the evening exciting and memorable."
Stacey laughed. "Never a dull moment," she agreed dryly and then smiled. "Again, thank you. And if there's anything we can do..."
Dean shook his head. "We'll be fine," he replied. "Good night..."
"Good night," Sam echoed to them and tightened his grip around his brother's neck as Dean turned from the doorway of the security office and exited the building.
Sam sighed and shivered in the night air as they crossed the parking lot.
Dean frowned at the reminder that his brother was wearing damp clothes and unlocked the Impala's driver's side door.
"What's the plan?" Sam asked as he was eased to his feet and then climbed into the car.
"Wait a minute..." Dean called distractedly and crossed to the trunk; quickly assembling a makeshift icepack with their stash of plastic baggies and cooler full of ice before grabbing one of their blankets as well.
Sam waited patiently on the bench seat and glanced at Dean as he returned.
Sam blinked at what was suddenly shoved at him but took the icepack with the towel wrapped around it; smiling to himself because he would've bet money that Dean would have done this – assembled an icepack – before they even left the parking lot.
"And this..." Dean added, tossing the blanket at Sam. "I didn't rescue you from a shifter just to have you catch pneumonia."
Sam snorted at the exaggeration. "I'm not that wet," he defended. "And the motel isn't that far away..."
"It's at least half an hour from here."
"Well, yeah...but – "
Dean glared; indicating the issue was not open for discussion.
Sam sighed. "Fine," he agreed and accepted the blanket. "What's the plan?" he asked again, figuring they were leaving town within the hour after what had happened tonight.
"Home, shower, first aid, bedtime," Dean outlined and slid behind the wheel; cranking the Impala's ignition and glancing at Sam. "Lean against me, take off your shoe, and prop your leg on the seat," he told his brother. "I want that ice on your ankle, not in your hands. Your ankle already looks bad enough."
Sam nodded – because his ankle was definitely sore – and did as he was told; taking off his shoe and resituating himself on the bench seat until his back was leaning against Dean's shoulder and his right leg was stretched into the passenger seat.
"Are we switching motels?" Sam asked as he carefully positioned the icepack on his throbbing ankle and then hissed at the sudden coldness.
"No," Dean replied; figuring the shifter was probably telling the truth earlier – that the supernatural tracked the Winchesters as well and as accurately as the Winchesters tracked the supernatural – and deciding he didn't want to haul his injured, exhausted little brother several miles away now.
They would be fine through the night and would just move on tomorrow; a few days earlier than expected.
"Okay," Sam agreed to Dean's plan; too tired to ask why they weren't leaving town tonight; figuring Dean knew best because he usually did.
"Cover up with that blanket, Sam..." Dean motherhenned and then switched the Impala's gears; slightly adjusting the heat before easing the Chevy out of the parking lot and back onto the highway, heading toward their motel.
There was silence.
Sam sighed, pulling the blanket closer. "Are we gonna tell Dad?" he asked, settling more fully against his brother.
"I don't know," Dean responded, because he hadn't decided that part yet. "We need to tell him about the shifter being dead. And we're gonna have to tell him something to explain your bruised noggin and sprained ankle."
Sam nodded. "Maybe we'll think of something else," he suggested vaguely; not wanting his brother to get in trouble because Dean had left him alone in the store.
Dean quirked a smile; knowing exactly what Sam was thinking and loving the kid all the more for it.
It's you and me against the world.
"Yeah, maybe..." Dean agreed about telling John something else besides the truth about Sam's injuries.
"And what about the supplies we didn't get?" Sam pressed.
Dean shrugged. "We'll worry about that later. But for now..." he glanced at his brother as the kid leaned against him. "How do you feel? I know your ankle must be throbbing like a bitch, but how's your head?"
"The same," Sam answered and smiled tiredly. "But I'm okay."
Dean smiled at his tough little brother and at the typical Winchester insistence that no matter what physical injury had been sustained...everything was okay.
And Dean guessed that was true – that everything was okay...as long as they were together.
There was silence in the Impala as her engine rumbled down the highway.
"Hey, Sam..." Dean called; nudging his brother as the kid sat beside him on the bench seat.
"Hmm..." Sam hummed; feeling himself growing sleepier with every mile.
"Did the shifter say anything to you?" Dean asked; because he knew how shifters worked and didn't want his brother poisoned by lies or twisted truths; the idea of such worrying him more than he wanted to admit. "Sammy..."
"No," Sam answered and shifted on the seat. He paused. "He just said that...that if I didn't come with him or if I yelled and made a scene, then he would kill you."
Dean swallowed at the news and clenched his jaw; nodding tightly and understanding why Sam had remained silent while the shifter had led the kid away earlier.
Sam sighed; the shaky sound indicating he was still upset by the threat and by what had happened.
"It's okay now," Dean told his brother.
"I know," Sam agreed but sighed again.
There was silence.
Dean hesitated, not wanting to push the kid to talk about something that was clearly upsetting...but still wanting to know one more thing before he let the issue drop for the night.
Dean sighed. "Hey, Sam...when the shifter approached you in the store wearing my face, how did you know it wasn't me?"
Sam smiled as if he had been expecting that question. "I just did," he responded; glancing up at his brother as he continued to rest against Dean's shoulder.
Dean arched an eyebrow at the simple answer. "That's it?"
Sam nodded. "Yep. I mean...you would've known if it wasn't me."
"Damn right," Dean agreed heartily; although the thought of a shifter taking on his little brother's likeness made him feel physically sick.
"Well, there you go..." Sam replied as though that explained everything and then yawned before adding, "There's only one you, Dean."
Dean smiled at his brother's words; swallowing against the knot of emotion they brought forth; the kid's simple assertion somehow being explanation enough and the message being as clear as if Sam had said it aloud – I love you; I trust you; I know you.
Dean swallowed again. "Back at 'cha, kiddo," he responded genuinely and then affectionately nudged Sam's head as it rested on his shoulder.
Because out of all the things in Dean's life, Sam was the only thing that was irreplaceable; the only thing he would literally die for if it meant saving.
Sam sighed and closed his eyes; allowing Dean's proximity and the Impala's rumble – both comfortingly familiar – lull him into a light sleep.
Dean glanced at his brother as he felt Sam lean more heavily against him – knowing the kid was dozing after one hell of a night – and then eased his arm more fully around Sam; holding his little brother close as they headed home together.